Only when we can pray, “Our Father,” from a full heart can we say truly, “Hallowed by thy name.” This message looks at hallowing the name of “our Father, the One in the heavens.”
You live in two worlds – maybe more – simultaneously. One is the real world, which God made, and sin marred. The real world is comprised of the sum total of all that is, from quantum physical processes to spiritual powers to hidden motives. The real world is where real things really happen.
But you also live in what the psychiatrist Jerome Frank in 1961 labeled an “assumptive world.” The assumptive world is the world that you assume exists. It overlaps with the real world on a great many points but diverges from it on others. God created the real world, but you created the assumptive world, as do each of us.
I’ll give you an example from real life. About 30 years ago, there was a pastor in Toledo who was loved and admired by his congregation. They considered him caring, hard-working (he was always on the go), and holy. Then, in a move that surprised everyone, even the pastor’s wife, he was arrested for bank robbery. It turned out that he had been robbing banks for a long while. In further revelations, people learned that he had a second life, including a second home and a second wife (or lover; I don’t remember which).
That congregation’s assumptive world included a pastor who was kind, caring, and hard-working, but the real world included an immoral, thieving, hypocrite and grifter.
When a person’s assumptive world – we all have one – collides with the real world, a person experiences all kinds of emotions: fear, despair, uncertainty, hatred, and more. Sometimes these emotions are so powerful that a person is incapable of carrying on their life and routine.
This is the case with many people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. When some trauma forces them to acknowledge that the world in which they thought they lived does not exist, they don’t know how to live. When they discover that they are not the people they assumed they were, they lose their identity.
The real world and the assumptive world are always scraping up against each other, though the result in not always so catastrophic. People who used to attend church stop doing so because their assumptive world has collided with the real world and has suffered damage. Some people stop believing in God because such a collision. Others change jobs, divorce, separate from parents, experience midlife crises, and so on.
In a head-on collision between the assumptive world and the real world, it is always the assumptive world that changes, not the real world. But that doesn’t mean that a collision between the two is always negative, or that the emotions it evokes are always painful.
The assumptive world of the disciple of Jesus is continually changing to become more like the real world. But remember that “real world” does not mean the world of the physicist or the politician or the philosopher – they all have their assumptive worlds too; it means the world as it really is—God’s world.
Psychologists think that a person’s assumptive world is designed to make them feel safe and worthwhile. They take for granted that collisions with the real world will cause pain and insecurity, and this is often the case. But the merging of the Christian’s assumptive world with the real world can be a source of joy, growing confidence, and insurmountable hope. Jesus’s teaching is intended to help his disciples enter the real real world – God’s world under God’s loving rule – with the result that their lives will be much better, full of peace and joy and love.
Jesus lived in the real world in a way that no one before or since has done. He invited people to enter that world with him by trusting him. But when we begin following Jesus, we bring our assumptive world – with all its false ideas and mistaken images – along with us.
That world needs to – and can – be carefully disassembled, false ideas and mistaken images removed, and rebuilt. By paying careful attention to Jesus, listening to what he says, watching, what he does, and obeying what he commands, we can do that. Our assumptive world will not perfectly reflect God’s real world in this lifetime, but we can make real progress in that direction, the direction of love, joy, and peace.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, many of us may experience a divergence of sorts between our assumptive world and the real world. Jesus tells us to pray, “Our Father in heaven” or, in a literal, word-for-word translation, “Father of us, the One in the heavens.” When we speak those words, there may be hidden deep in our assumptive world an image of God that can derail us right from the outset of our prayer.
Here is what I mean. When many of us read “in heaven” our minds assume – I don’t say we think it, but that we take it for granted, which is more problematic – that heaven is a long way off. So, if our Father is in heaven, he is an absent Father. Phrases like, “the highest heaven,” accentuate that image in our mind. Heaven is out there somewhere – maybe in the Pleiades, 135 parsecs, 444 light years away. If I did the math right, that is about 260 trillion miles. And the Pleiades are, cosmically speaking, on our side of town, even in our neighborhood. So, if God is in heaven, he must be a long way off.
That kind of mental image, present in so many of us, makes praying in faith almost impossible. A distant heavenly Father, like a distant earthly father, cannot be counted on. If God is way up there somewhere, I’m going to have to make it on my own. If that’s been part of my assumptive world all along, what’s the sense of praying? And doesn’t the prayer Jesus taught us reinforce that assumption?
It does not. In fact, it collides head on with that assumption. The problem for us is one of language and culture. For us, heaven is up there somewhere. It is a long way off. But the Jews did not think merely of heaven but of “the heavens.” When Jesus was on earth, they routinely spoke of three heavens, the first was the air around them, the second the sky above them, and the third God’s throne room that is over all.
“The heavens” start right here – in the air around me. To pray to our Father in the heavens is to pray to the God who is all around me. Yes, he is in the Pleiades and a thousand parsecs beyond, but he is also in the atmosphere that enfolds me. When I pray to “Our Father in heaven,” I am not sending up a flare hoping that the distant God who resides in the Pleiades might notice. I am speaking to the God who (in David’s words) is at my right hand and who hears my whispers. More than that, he hears my thoughts, for David said, “Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord” (Ps. 139:4).
To pray to the Father in heaven is to pray to the God in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28). To pray to the Father in heaven is to pray to the God who sees. The wise prophet Asa said, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). It is not that he might notice. He is watching.
When Hagar (the story is told in Genesis 16) was in trouble and utterly demoralized, God rescued her and her son. This is what she then understood about the Lord: “You are the God who sees me,” and that he saw her was a very good thing. People who are not burdened with sin and shame want to be seen.
The former Surgeon General of the United States, Vice Admiral Murthy, has said: “During my tenure as … surgeon general … the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.” The research firm YouGov has documented a surge in loneliness among people 23 to 38 years old, who are now 10 percent more likely to experience loneliness than their parents.
But if they could pray, “Our Father in heaven,” and understand it and mean it, their assumptive world would change. They would know that they are never alone. They would know that Isaiah was right when he said: “… you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I” (Isaiah 58:9). They will know that they are seen.
If we get right who we are praying to – “Father,” the one who loves us and is ready to help us – and get right where he is when we pray – not far away but with us, watching us, and listening for our call, like a dad with a beloved child – then we will get right the next line of the prayer: “hallowed be your name.”
The request, “Hallowed be your name,” expresses a desire to see God’s name honored, loved, and held in highest regard. We can pray this and mean it when we think so highly of God that we want everyone else to think of him like we do.
It’s like that with all the things we delight in: we want other people to delight in them too. If I love a book, I want you to love it too. If I eat at a restaurant that is off the charts good, I tell you all about it. If I think our Father in heaven is “greater than all” (as Jesus put it), I will want everyone else to think the same.
When a boy thinks his dad is the best and tells his friends about him, he is hallowing his dad’s name. If some kid then put his dad down, that boy will be deeply bothered and will object. He wants everyone to honor his dad.
So do we. We pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Christian Smith has done extensive research into the religious views of American teens. He has learned is that teens pray more frequently than we knew: 40 percent say they pray daily or more than once a day, and only 15 percent say they never pray. The numbers are encouraging, but there is a problem: the faith of many of these praying teens is sub-Christian.
Here is what some of them said about their prayers: “If I ever have a problem, I go pray.” “[Praying] helps me deal with problems. … it calms me down for the most part.” “Praying just makes me feel more secure, like there’s something there helping me out.” “I would say prayer is an essential part of my success.”
According to Smith, many young Americans pray to a “distant God” who asks nothing of them “because” – I quote – “his job is to solve problems and make people feel good.” No reverence. No repentance. “There is nothing here to evoke wonder and admiration.” A faith that lacks wonder and admiration is not a Christian faith.
When C. S. Lewis learned that his mother was dying, he prayed for her healing, but she died. Years later, he wrote: “I had approached God, or my idea of God, without love, without awe, even without fear. He was, in my mental picture … neither … Savior nor … Judge, but merely … magician; and when he had done what was required of him, I supposed he would simply—well, go away. It never crossed my mind that the tremendous contract which I solicited should have any consequence beyond restoring the status quo.”
The young Lewis prayed in a way that was similar to that of millions of American teens today. He became an atheist for the next two decades. I’m afraid that some of them will become atheists for the rest of their lives. But people who hallow God’s name – who think the world of God, want everyone to know him, and are grieved when he is dishonored – those people don’t become atheists. They become joyful, hopeful, and confident.
It has been said that until we truly long for God’s name to be hallowed – to be loved and treasured above every other name – “the human compass will always be pointing in the wrong direction, and individual lives as well as history as a whole, will suffer from constant …disorientation.” Ours is a disoriented and disorienting world.
But we cannot hallow God’s name with words alone. St. Paul rebuked people who used words – they taught, preached, and told other people how to live – but whose lives contradicted their words. “God’s name,” he told them, “is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24). Blasphemed, not hallowed, because their lives cancelled their fine words. That is the worst kind of “cancel culture.” We who were baptized in the Name, must not engage in it.
The opposite of hallowing God’s name is taking his name in vain. When I was a new Christian, I was under the impression that taking God’s name is vain was all about saying, “God” or “Jesus Christ” as a kind of a swear word, which happened often enough in my experience. But there are other, even more damaging, ways to take God’s name vain.
Using God-talk – whether with children, grandchildren, or other adults – as a tool to get people to do what you want is one. It is manipulative and, in the long term, always harmful.
So is using God’s name to try to convince people we are telling the truth. This happens when we say things like, “I swear to God.” I wonder if God sometimes says, “Hey! Don’t bring me into this!” Jesus warns us explicitly against doing this. He told us to let our yes be yes and our no be no. Anything beyond that comes from (and leads to) evil (Matthew 5:37).
I could list other ways to hallow or profane God’s name, but we don’t need a list. We need to become a certain kind of person—one who longs for our Father’s name to be hallowed.
For that to happen, we must encounter him for ourselves. People assume (part of their assumptive world) that such encounters almost never take place, and they shouldn’t expect one. But in the real world – God’s world – such encounters happen regularly.
And many people are committed to avoiding them. They know that such encounters would change their lives and so they fear them. They try to stay busy and always have a distraction at hand in case God should come too close. They don’t have time, they say, to read the Bible, though they spend hours watching TV and fiddling with their phones. Their prayers are like emails: they push “send” whenever they’re in trouble, but never check the inbox to see if God may be reaching out to them.
The truth is that a person can avoid God if they so choose … for a while. They can maintain the illusion that they are in control … for a while. They can so distract themselves that they hardly think of God and can quickly redirect their thoughts when they do. If I were to suggest to these people that they were avoiding God, they would deny it, but God knows and, deep down, I suspect, they know too.
The other side of all this is that people can find God if they so choose. God has set up the world in such a way that anyone who truly wants to find him will find him and those who want to avoid him can do so. (Hell, the outer darkness, is the final refuge for those who choose to avoid God.)
Encountering God doesn’t happen by accident, though. Listen to God’s word through Jeremiah: “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD…” God will let you avoid him, but he will also let you find him.
J.P Moreland said, “God maintains a delicate balance between keeping His existence sufficiently evident so that people will know He’s there and yet hiding His presence enough so that people who want to choose to ignore Him can. This way, their choice of destiny is really free.”
Seek him and you will find him. And when you do, you will discover that the awesome, powerful, all-knowing, joyful, kind God is your Father and that you are never alone. Then you will pray for his name to be hallowed.
One hint for you who seek (and seeking is a life-long occupation). You will need help. And you’ll have it. “Christ … suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God…” (1 Peter 3:18). He is the key. He not only knows the way to God; he is the way.
 Adapted from Tim Keller, Prayer (Dutton, 2014), page 294
 C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p.259.