His Prayer, Our Prayer: Soli Deo Gloria
The Lord’s Prayer is a perfect prayer.
It begins with three great affirmations about God. God is majestic—”Our Father who art in heaven.” God is holy—”Hallowed be Thy name.” God is sovereign -“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” After those three affirmations about God, there are three petitions for humankind which deal with three different tenses and with three different persons of the Trinity. “Give us this day our daily bread”—that deals with our present needs and directs us to God the Father who creates and sustains life. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”—that speaks to the problems of our yesterdays, and points us to Jesus the Son who gives us reconciliation with the Father. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”—that moves us toward the future and speaks to us of the Holy Spirit who guides us in the way that we are to go. Then the prayer ends with a three-part doxology of praise to our great and everlasting God. It is, you see, a perfectly fashioned prayer. I wish to continue our study of it, in just a moment, after we have prayed…
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, according to an ancient Persian legend, there lived a man named Keturah. No one knew from whence he had come, but he was loved and honored by all. It was said that his life was as near perfection as any mere human could attain. There was, however, one man who, motivated by jealousy of Keturah, longed to discover the secret of Keturah’s goodness; or failing that, to discover some hidden imperfection in Keturah’s life. He managed to get himself hired on as Keturah’s servant. He soon realized that there was one aspect of Keturah’s life that he was not permitted to see. Every night, Keturah would leave his home, go out to a lonely hillside, open the heavy wooden door to a cave, enter, and lock the door behind him. The servant was never allowed to follow. Early one morning, however, before sunrise, while Keturah was still sleeping, the servant found the key and went out to the cave. Just as he walked inside, a gust of wind blew the door shut and he was plunged into total darkness. It startled him and he dropped the key. He felt around the walls for a lamp but there was none. He then got down on his knees and began to feel about the floor of the cave for the key. All he found were two shallow depressions in the stone floor, which meant nothing to him until by chance, as he moved about, his knees happened to fit those two slight impressions. As his knees slid into place, he looked up and discovered Keturah’s secret. He saw overhead an opening he had not seen before, and through the opening he could see the spectacle of a star-filled sky. Just as the dawn comes quickly in the desert, just a bare hint of light and then suddenly, all the brilliance of the sun—just that quickly, it dawned on this man that this was Keturah’s place of prayer and that the secret of Keturah’s goodness and greatness was his sheer reverence for God. It is to that kind of profound reverence for God that Jesus calls us when He tells us to pray: “Hallowed be Thy name.”
Jesus’ prayer reminds us that reverence for God must take priority in our own praying.
Of course, we are not prone to do that. Most of us, when we pray, begin with confession and a plea for forgiveness. And certainly, such a prayer is necessary. It is good for us to acknowledge both publicly and privately that we are sinful and that we need God’s forgiving grace. Yet as important as it is for us to confess our sins, Jesus says that before repentance must come “Hallowed be Thy name”—the prayer of reverence for God.
Many of us begin our prayers by seeking God’s will, and that is good. No one is more aware of that than I. It is my task to stand in the pulpit Sunday by Sunday. That is an awesome responsibility which I do not take lightly. A very large portion of my week is spent diligently seeking God’s will for me and for this congregation. I spend more than 25 hours a week in prayer and study and writing my sermon—all of it an attempt to search out the mind of God so that I might have some seed of the Gospel worthy to be planted in the minds and hearts of God’s people. It all comes to a burning point on Sunday morning when I am up long before the sun to immerse myself in what I believe God wants to say to us. Week after week after week, I am engaged in a time-consuming, energy-sapping search for the will of God. I know how important it is for us to plead with God in prayer to reveal His will to us. Yet, Jesus says that before seeking God’s will, we are to pray “Hallowed be Thy name”—the prayer of reverence.
And many of us start our prayers with the prayer of the intercession—asking God’s blessings upon others. And, of course, the Lord’s Prayer encourages that kind of praying. It is a plural prayer. Nowhere in it do you find the singular pronoun—no “I,” no “me,” no “mine.” Rather it says “Our Father…Give us this day…Forgive us…Lead us.” It is a plural prayer. It is designed to encourage us to pray regularly for others. And isn’t it about time we started doing that? Paul wrote to the Romans “Do not be conformed to this world…” J. B. Phillips translates that verse like this: “Don’t let the world cram you into its mold.” But all too often that’s exactly what we do. We let our political or ethical or economic philosophy cram us into the world’s mold, so that we become most concerned about ourselves and our little corner of the world.
You know, we have had a tendency to attack the liberal thinkers in the church because of the scissors and paste approach they take to the Holy Word of God, cutting out the things they find unattractive and leaving in the truths they wish to uphold. But let us not be guilty of the same sin. For if the liberal scholars bring to their preaching a snipped and scissored Scripture, then we too often do the same in our praying. When, for example, have we prayed about poverty reflecting the way Luke talks about it in Luke 6? When have we prayed about war, using the language James uses in the 3rd chapter of his letter? When have we prayed about discrimination using Paul’s language in Colossians 3? Or when have we prayed about oppression employing the vivid language of the tenth chapter of Mark? The fact is that we have had a Japanese garden kind of prayer life—very beautiful, very perfect, but shriveled and shrunken.
And our only hope is to have the Spirit of God tear us up by the roots and then plant us deep in the soil of the total witness of this Book—a witness which can both change the hearts of people and conquer the evils of society. So it’s good to pray for others. It’s good to have a profoundly beneficial effect upon the lives of others. It’s good to be like Keturah who gave himself to the service of others. But remember Keturah’s secret: he could be a blessing to others only because his knees wore a place in the floor as he prayed. That’s why Jesus says to us that our first prayer must always be “Hallowed be Thy name.” Reverence for God must take priority in our praying.
But Jesus’ prayer reminds us also that reverence for God must take priority in our living.
Let’s look at Jesus’ words: “Hallowed” means “set apart, lifted up, exalted, honored, made holy.” The word “name” in our time is simply a way of identifying someone, but in Jesus’ day it represented the total person, the whole being of the individual. The person was the name, and the name was the person. So in essence, Jesus was giving us this instruction: “Let God be God in your life.” The way you exalt and honor and make holy the name of God is to let Him take command and control of your life. John Calvin’s motto in life was “Soli Deo Gloria—to God alone be the glory!” It was a recognition that all of life, including his own life, is lived under the sovereign power of Almighty God.
The question raised by so many people today is “Who am I?” All of us, to one degree or another, are seeking some sense of identity in an otherwise impersonal world. But the question “Who am I?” is not so important to me, because I know who I am. There is no arrogance or boastfulness in saying that. It’s just that I know who I am because I was reared in the spirit and the atmosphere of the Lord’s Prayer. I am first and foremost a servant of God, a disciple of His Son. The very minute I say “Hallowed be Thy name,” I am declaring that my first commitment in life is not to myself or even to my family or to my country or to my church. The first commitment of my life is to God in Jesus Christ. That is why every time I prepare to do anything in life, whether it is preaching or anything else, I always say “Soli Deo Gloria—To God alone be the glory!” I say it and I mean it. You see, the Lord’s Prayer calls us first of all to hallow, to honor, to exalt God’s name in all that we do.
We need to be remembering that, my beloved. Too many of us sprinkle our speech with blasphemies, and that certainly is not hallowing God’s name. Too many of us come to God’s house with our eyes so sleepy and our minds so far away that we move through an hour of worship like programmed robots, and that is not exalting God’s name in our lives. And perhaps, worst of all, too many of us, and I include myself in this number, fail to take advantage of the opportunities which are ours to speak a word of witness to our God and to His Christ.
The other day I was talking to a man who is a member of this church. He had come to me, he said, to make a confession. The story he told me cut right to my heart. He said that he had been having a business lunch with a business associate and business was what they discussed. Yet as they talked, he noticed that the other man seemed disturbed. Tension was written all over his face. The man telling the story said: “All during lunch I found myself wanting to say something to him about the God I love and the Christ I serve but I never did.” When the meal was finished, the two men got up to leave. The other man started to walk away, then suddenly he stopped, turned, and said: “I hope you can forgive me. I’m not myself today. You see, I am a Christian and right now I am undergoing tremendous temptation in my life and I can’t seem to be able to get a handle on it.” Now get the picture, please! Here are two Christians talking to one another—one is so beset by difficulty in his life that he cannot carry on a normal conversation, and so obvious is that that the other man sees it. Yet the two of them were together for an hour and a half and they never spoke about the God they both love and the Christ they are seeking to serve. They were not hallowing God’s name. And as I listened to that story, I thought of how many times I have done the same thing. Reverence for God must take priority in our living, Jesus says. The motto for everything we do in life ought to be “Soli Deo Gloria—To God alone be the glory!”
I have been praying the Lord’s Prayer all of my life, and I never realized this before. Jesus does not command us to pray first for faith, for He knows that our trifling faith will never measure up to God’s hopes and expectations.
And Jesus does not tell us to pray first for commitment, for He knows that our level of commitment will never properly honor God. And Jesus does not urge us to pray first for love for He knows that our love for God will never match the Grace which God has showered upon us. So what does Jesus say? He says: “Pray first that God’s name will be hallowed. Pray first that God will be glorified. Pray first that God will be God. For the faith you don’t have in God, God does have in you. The commitment you are unwilling to make to God, God does make to you. And the love you will never be able to muster for God, God bestows upon you every day. So when you come into the presence of God, pray first: “God, be God. Be holy. Be who and what you are, not because of what I am, but because of what You are.” And, of course, that’s our only hope in life, isn’t it, that God will be our God.
So the messenger boy came rushing up to the Emperor Napoleon, the front of his soldier’s uniform stained with blood, and he cried out: “Sire, the victory in the battle is yours!” Napoleon reached out to him and said: Son, you’re wounded, you are wounded.” And the boy throwing his arms wide, cried: “Sire, I am killed”—and he died in his emperor’s arms.
Jesus said: “Just get to God even if it kills you, and when you get there pray, ‘Lord, God, Father. Glory to Your name. The battle is won. And I am Yours
Forever and ever!