The Focus of Prayer: For the Glory of God
The disciples had some problems with praying. Though they'd been taught by their parents over the years, and by the priests and teachers of their day no doubt too, they somehow did not feel at ease to speak with God. Was the problem that they didn't know what to say? Was the problem that they felt their prayers were bouncing off the ceiling? Whatever it was, they sought help:
Lord, teach us to pray.Luke 11:1
In His reply to the disciples' request, the Lord Jesus said this:
When you Pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your Name –
and the rest of the Lord's Prayer. The first item of Jesus' instruction about prayer was that the disciples should know to whom they were speaking. The fact that God is not a heavy fisted tyrant, the fact that He is instead a 'Father' as the word is defined by passages at Deuteronomy 32, makes speaking to Him far more attractive, easy.
Jesus' answer to His disciples did not stop with His instruction about to whom they were praying. Jesus continued His instruction by telling His disciples what they were to pray about. That is: Jesus gave instruction about what attitude they were to have in prayer, what the focus of their prayers was to be. It is the first petition that draws out Who is to be central to prayer: "Hallowed be Your Name." Not the self but God is to stand central in our speaking with Him. In what follows, I wish to draw out the Scriptural material behind this petition. A following installment should draw out, in practical manner, the consequences of this instruction for our prayers.
God, three in One, had existed from all eternity. He alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was there, never lonely, never lacking anything, always sufficient in Himself, great beyond measure. It pleased this God to create a world. He did not do so because He was lonely. Nor did He do so because He was bored. He rather did so for the sake of His own good pleasure. I read in Isaiah 43 the following words:
...I have created for My glory (vs. 7).
So it was that when the Lord laid the foundations of the earth, the angels broke out into songs of praise (Job 38:6f). These angels, themselves just recently created, saw the power and wisdom of almighty God in the works of His hand, and so burst out in songs of praise for this God of glory. The heavens themselves "declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1). Indeed, God created the human race in His own image, created mankind to image Him, so that all creation might see the more what God is like and so praise and glorify Him. It's the purpose of every creature, an instruction given to all:
Bless the LORD, all His works,
In all places of His dominion.
Yes, there came the fall into sin. With the fall into sin God was no longer glorified by His handiwork, least of all by the human race. We may say it this way: with the fall into sin the first petition was frustrated; creation was no longer able to give to God the praise that was His due. Satan with his demons could gloat over the success of their vandalism.
But precisely because the Lord God was worthy to receive all glory, precisely because He had made the world for His own name's sake, the Lord could not leave His creation so defaced by sin. For the sake of His own Name and the glory of His holy reputation, the Lord sought out our fallen parents from behind the shrubs of Paradise and proclaimed to them the redemption He promised to give in Jesus Christ. He wished to redeem the elect from the power of the devil – why? "to the praise of the glory of His grace" – says Paul in Ephesians 1:5f.
This, then, is the reason why the world exists, is the reason why you, dear reader, exist, and why I exist too: we are here, the world is here, for the glory of God! I do not exist for me, you do not exist for your own pleasure; you and I and all creatures are here for the glory of God. I exist for God, and therefore everything I do – from things big to things small, be it writing out a cheque for the church or paying for a hamburger at Hungry Jacks – everything I do is to be directed to the glory of God. I exist for God, and so my life is to be God-centered.
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
I am not here for me, you are not here for yourself, and therefore there is no room for selfishness in our lives. I may not be the centre of my existence; central to my existence must be God. It's for Him that I exist in the first place.
Hallowed be Your name.
Well now: if God is to be central to my life, if all I do is to be directed to the glory of God including something so common and this-worldly as eating and drinking if all I do is to be directed to the glory of God, surely my prayers need also to be directed to the glory of God. If the very purpose of my existence is the glory of God, it's just not acceptable for me to pray with myself as the focus of my prayer.
This is the notion that Jesus placed before His disciples when He addressed them on the content of prayer. The disciples wanted to know how to pray. Said Jesus: "when you pray, say: 'Hallowed be Your Name." Said Jesus: when you pray, make sure God is the focus of your speaking with Him, ask God to make His glorious reputation more glorious yet. Says Jesus to Peter and to Nathanael and to Andrew and to the rest: God's glory is the thought that's to dominate your prayers, that's the thought that determines the focus of your praying. Says Jesus to the twelve: praying is not that you come to God with a list of your personal requirements (as you see them); praying is that you come to God with God's glory in mind: 'Hallowed be Your name.'
In response to their request about prayer, Jesus reminded His disciples that all of life is to be focused on God and His greater glory. No one exists for himself; God has created all creatures for His greater glory.
So, whether one eats or drinks, gets dressed or makes a purchase, all is to be done to the glory of God. Since all of life is to be God-centred, it follows that speaking with God is also to be God-centred. That reality needs to be worked out concretely. As it is, so many of our prayers to God focus on ourselves. What is a God-centred prayer to look like? How am I, in the concrete circumstances of my life, to pray according to the Lord's instruction in the first petition?
A couple of days before He had to go to the cross, Jesus spoke with the Father according to His own instruction in the first petition. Jesus verbalised the actual circumstances of His life with these words: "Now My soul is troubled" (John 12:27). That is: Jesus was not looking forward to the coming cross with its horrors and pains and sufferings.
Because He looked up against the cross, Jesus asked a question of Himself: "What shall I say?" He conversed within Himself: "Shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour, spare Me from the cross"' Please note what the point of Jesus' discussion with Himself was. Jesus was considering whether He should look after His own interests, His own safety first, or not. He's a true man, and He looked up against the horrors of the cross in the same way we would. Hence His question: "Shall I say: 'Lord, it's all too much, I can't stomach the coming horrors of Calvary; save Me from this hour'?" Now note Jesus' answer to His own question. He does not begin to pray with Himself as the focus of His prayer. Jesus does not do that because He knows He may not do so. Jesus knows the Scripture: He exists on this earth for the glory of God.
Since life revolves around the God who created life for the sake of His own glory, Jesus determines what to do. Says He: 'No, I'll not pray for Myself; I shall instead pray that first petition: Father, glorify Your Name, hallowed be Your Name.' Jesus prays here according to the prayer He taught His own disciples to pray. He prays on the eve of His betrayal and sufferings on the cross with God, God's glory, in the centre of His attention. Here is nothing selfish; here is instead total self-denial. God was to be glorified. So Jesus laid Himself at God's disposal. Father, He says, here I am; lead Me down whatever track You want, do with Me whatever You wish, as long as Your name is glorified and praised through what I may do. That's His prayer: "Father, glorify Your name." Self-denial.
And see: Jesus' prayer is answered!! Did He not say, "Ask, and it will be given"? (Luke 11). Jesus asked that God's name be glorified: And lo, it happened! To Jesus' prayer heaven straightaway responded, responded with delight. Said the voice: "I have both glorified it, and I will glorify it again." Here was promised that God would direct things in such a way that God's Son would indeed be triumphant on Calvary. Christ's triumph on the cross would bring glory to God, glory because Satan would be defeated, yes, and thousands upon thousands chosen to life would be redeemed from Satan's power, forgiven of their sins and justified before God. Truly, that's glory for God!
How, now, shall we pray? The point is clear: central to our prayer cannot be our personal desires. Yes, central to our lives cannot be ourselves. The focus of our prayer is to be God, His glory, His praise. That requires denying the self, setting the self aside as Jesus did in John 12. No, that does not mean that our personal circumstances may not feature in our prayers. Our personal circumstances very much need to feature in our prayers. Whether I eat or drink, whether I seek a life partner or go to work or do some painting or clean up behind the children: I am to do all not with the self in mind, but with God in mind. In my specific circumstances I may speak to my God about where I'm at, tell Him my troubles and joys. Yet as I tell Him my concerns, as I pray for strength, as I lay before Him my longing for a life partner or my frustration with the always needing to clean up behind the children, it is not myself or my happiness that is to be central to my thinking, nor to my prayer nor even to my desires. As I tell Him my concerns, as I pray for strength in my circumstances, it is His glory that is to be the focus of my thinking, my prayer, my desires.
The angel Gabriel once appeared to Mary with the news that she would become pregnant even though she had no husband. Socially, such a pregnancy was highly embarrassing. Gabriel made it clear to Mary: the Lord wanted to use her to bring His Son into the world. Her response?
Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.
Here was no concern with self; here was instead self-denial for the sake of the Lord God. That's the attitude, that's the focus Jesus teaches in the first petition. That's the attitude, that's the focus our lives – and hence our prayers are to have. 'Lord, here I am in my specific circumstances, at Your disposal, available for Your greater glory. Here I am, Lord; use me to hallow Your name.
So many of us wonder why we have trouble praying, wonder why our prayers are not answered, wonder why we have the impression that our prayers bounce off the ceiling. We ask, and don't receive; we seek, and don't find; we knock, and it's not opened to us – contrary to Jesus' promise in Luke 11! I wonder: is this because we ask with ourselves in the centre of our prayers? The apostle James once wrote this:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (4:3).
Jesus promised that those who ask would receive. We need to bear in mind, though, that these words about asking and receiving were spoken immediately after Jesus gave His instruction about praying. It is illegitimate to assume that we'll receive what we ask for if our asking is not according to the instruction of the Lord's Prayer. Specific to the first petition: our focus in prayer must be God, and if then we ask for something, then it will be granted. That's the promise.