By J.R. Miller
The order of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer is not accidental, for it was Jesus who said, "After this manner, pray." We should notice, therefore, what we are to put first--when we come to God. It is not a request for anything for ourselves. Important and pressing as our personal needs may be, we are to set them all aside, while we ask first for the hallowing of God's name. In the opening word of the prayer, we are taught not to pray to God for ourselves alone--but always to bring others with us, "Our Father."
Here we learn further, that God himself must be put first. As the evening star is the brightest star in the heavens, so among all the petitions, this shines with the most brilliant luster, "Hallowed be your name."
Yet if we were making a form of prayer--we should probably not have anything like this in it. "Prayer," we would likely say, "is asking God for things that we need--or that we think we need. It is pleading with God for favors, for help to get on with our ambitions, for prosperity, for freedom from trouble and trial."
As for our friends and neighbors, so far as we put them into our prayers at all, we usually ask earthly good things. For the members of our own household, for whom we probably pray at times, if we really ever pray, we are apt to solicit things that will advance them socially, or in their work or business. For ourselves, most of us think of prayer, only as a way . . .
to make life easier,
to get what we want,
to add to our earthly comforts,
to get rid of inconveniences,
to escape trial.
It is scarcely likely, therefore, that if we were preparing a form of prayer we would have anything in it about hallowing God's name. We should probably make a number of changes on "Give us this day our daily bread," amplifying the petition and adding to it requests for a number of other things besides daily bread. But we would not likely rise above the level of earthly things. Almost certainly we would not rise to anything so sublime as a prayer for the hallowing of God's name.
We would better learn well, however, the lesson taught us by our Lord, when he set this petition is the place of highest honor, bidding us begin with it. Really we cannot advance to any petition that comes after it--until we have offered this one. It is dishonoring to God, when we go into his presence, to begin to clamor for poor paltry things for ourselves, with no thought or aspiration or pleading for the glorifying of God's name. We pray not as we ought, acceptably to our Father, unless we plead first of all--that God himself may be honored.
It is related that a French boy rode up to Napoleon, during one of his battles, and told him that the victory was won. "But you are wounded, my boy," said Napoleon. "Killed, sire," said the lad, dropping down dead. The boy thought only of the honor of his general, giving no attention whatever to his own condition. Our Lord, in putting this petition first in the form of prayer he gave to his disciples, teaches us that we should come before God in the same self-forgetful spirit, not telling him of our own sufferings and needs first of all--but pleading for his glory and honor.
Of course we need bread. Our bodies have their hungers, and God is not indifferent to our physical needs. A little later in the prayer we have a petition for bread. But before we come to this, we have three other petitions--for the hallowing of God's name, the coming of his kingdom, the doing of his will. All these great objects are to be put before any request for ourselves, even for bread, or for the forgiveness of our sins!
This teaching applies also to the spirit in which all our prayers should be offered, as well as to the order of the petitions. Indeed all our life is to be lived with a view to the glorifying of the divine name. God must be first in everything. We are to love him with all our heart, with all our strength, with all our mind. We are to seek first his kingdom and righteousness. We are to aim in all our life to give honor to him. "Whether you eat, or drink," says Paul, "or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Again, "Whatever you do, in word or in deed--do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." We are never to think in our daily and hourly living, what will most honor us, what will be the easiest thing, or the most profitable--but what will most honor God. How it would modify human ambitions and change the whole aim of living if this were to become the universal rule, if our question should always be, "What will please God--and make his name more glorious?"
Then, in all our praying as well as in our living--the first desire of our heart should be for the hallowing of God's name. And not only is this prayer to be offered as a specific petition at the very gate, as we enter the temple--but in all our praying, to the very close, the first object should be, not the obtaining of our requests for ourselves--but the honoring of God. You want something very much. It seems to you to be essential to your happiness. Yet do you know that the granting of this thing so dear, would glorify God? You are not sure. Instead, therefore, of pressing your requests for things you would like to have, you would better refer the matter to God, saying: "I dare not decide. I would rather leave it to God, asking that he would grant my requests, only if to do so, would most honor his name."
If we had learned this effacement of self in all our desires, whether in our work or in our praying, if God were always first in our desires, it would lift up our commonest life into a splendor as radiant as that in which the angels live! And if we but lived thus altogether for the glory of God--we would have God's divine companionship and help in all that we do.
"Those who honor me--I will honor," is his promise. Poor indeed may be the work we do, with no beauty in men's eyes; but if it is wrought in pure love and with a sincere desire to do honor to our Lord--he will take the endeavor of our clumsy hands and give it the grace it lacks, transforming it into a loveliness which will really honor him whom we so earnestly sought to glorify.
In our praying, too, the same is true. It seems to us that the things we desire for our own comfort or pleasure, are the things that will be best for us. Indeed we think we cannot be happy, can scarcely even live, unless we get these things that are so dear. Yet if we press these desires with all human eagerness, thinking only of what we want for ourselves, and give no thought to the honoring of God, we are very short-sighted, and, at best, are choosing the lower rather than the higher good. To leave out thought of God in anything we seek--is to drag our life in the dust, when it ought to soar away into the clear blue of heaven.
If, therefore, we make our prayers always for the hallowing of God's name, first of all, whether the thing we desire is given to us or not, we take our place with God as co-worker, and are lifted up into fellowship with him. It may be that the thing we sought so earnestly may be withheld form us, or that the sorrow of loss against which we pleaded with such intensity desire--shall come with all its crushing weight; still if our prayer was "Hallowed be your name--whatever the cost may be to me," we shall find the glory of God shining in the very darkness about us, and the blessing of God in the very bitterness of the grief in which we sit.
Nothing that this world can give us is really good--unless it comes to us out of our Father's hands, the choice of his wisdom for us, with the blessing of his favor upon it. Though all of earth's joys and possessions are taken from us, leaving us bare of comfort, bereft of human love, broken and suffering--if God has been honored in what we have passed through and in all that has come to us--we are rich with an enriching that shall never lose its luster or its preciousness.
We should learn well this lesson, therefore, that the very first thing in praying always should be the pleading that God's name may be honored, though the thing we seek are not given; that it is not given, unless its bestowal would glorify God. When we have learned to pray in this spirit, we shall find ourselves exalted into fellowship with Christ himself. It was thus he prayed in the temple that day, in what seems to have been a preliminary Gethsemane agony: "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify your name." If we learn to pray thus, our prayers will always be acceptable to God--and our life shall show forth his praise.
"Once it was the blessing,
Now it is the Lord.
Once it was the feeling,
Now it is his Word.
Once his gifts I wanted,
Now himself alone.
Once I sought for healing,
Now the Healer own."