That the first three petitions of this prayer have in mind God’s concerns teaches us that the things of God should always have priority with us, even in our own prayers. ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God’ is the principle which our Lord gives us – and then ‘all these things will be added unto you’. So the pattern of prayer given here reminds us that, when we pray using our own words, as we should, we should still pray for God’s work and His interests, before our own. ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ should come after ‘Thy kingdom come’. Concern for God’s glory, first and foremost, is more important than concern for our own needs; the furtherance of His name, His kingdom and His will should be of greatest importance.
‘What’s in a name?’ Everything, for as far as God is concerned, His name reflects what He is, as well as what He is called. Knowing someone by name, in Hebrew culture as well as in some cultures today, is to show an acquaintance with someone, to have a hold over them, or authority with them. When God told Moses to return to Egypt and tell His people he had come from God, Moses replied, ‘When I come unto the children of Israel and shall say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they shall say to me,What is His name, what shall I say to them?’ Exod. 3. 13. In other words, If I don’t know Your name, how can I claim to come from You or to represent You. So God gave Moses a name by which He would be called. God’s name is very important to Him. To ‘hallow’ something means to set it apart, to make, or to acknowledge, it to be holy. We can either hallow, or profane, God’s name by the way in which we use it or bear it.
‘Holy and reverend is his name’, writes the Psalmist in Psalm 111 verse 9. So ‘thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain’, was one of God’s commandments to His people, Exod. 20. 7. This means that all, whether Jew or non-Jew, should treat the name of God, as well as His person, with respect. We should only ever take the name of God upon our lips with reverence and with godly fear. Any misuse of God’s name is equivalent to profaning His name, Lev. 19. 12. We are to ‘exalt his name together’, Ps. 34. 3, and to ‘give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name’, Ps. 96.8. When people use the name of God as a swear-word, or as an expletive, they misuse it and God will not hold them guiltless for this. It is sad to hear professing Christians becoming so much like unbelievers that they, too, use God’s name without reverence.
But we can also hallow God’s name by the way in which we bear it, not just the way in which we speak it.We bear God’s name when we both claim His authority and claim His identity. In Old Testament times, God insisted that when a prophet claimed His authority for what the prophet said (when he claimed to speak in the name of the Lord) the people were to watch and wait to see what happened. If events transpired as the prophet had said, the people were to respect that prophet as one who evidently knew the mind of God, and therefore rightly claimed to speak in His name and with His authority. ‘When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, [however] if the thing follow not,nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet has spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him’. Deut. 18. 20. In fact, that prophet was to die, for ‘speaking lies in the name of the Lord,’ Zech. 13. 3.Now, though we do not have prophets in this sense in the church today,we need to be very careful when we say to other people, ‘The Lord told me to say this, to do this, or to tell you this’, for when we say that we are trying to claim greater authority than when we merely say, ‘I think this’. If God genuinely did reveal that to us, that is one thing; if we merely wish to reinforce the importance of what we say or think, however, that is another thing altogether. Any one of us who claims to speak in God’s name should be careful that we are not misusing His name. It is as much possible to speak lies in the name of the Lord today, as ever it was. We also bear God’s name when we claim His identity.The name ‘Christians’ was first given to disciples of the Lord Jesus at Antioch, Acts 11. 26. The word identified people as ‘Christ’s ones’. Bearing His name, they became His representatives. We do not hallow His name if, when we bear His identity, we live lives that reflect badly on Him. So, ‘let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity’, is the instruction of 2 Timothy chapter 2 verse 19. It is a dreadful thing when ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles’ through His people, Rom. 2. 24. Instead, we should pray ‘that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified’ in us, 2 Thess. 1. 12.
A difference has been drawn between God’s kingship and God’s kingdom. God’s kingship is His sovereign rule in His world. ‘The Lord most high is terrible; He is a great king over all the earth … God is the King of all the earth’, Ps. 47. 2, 7. ‘The Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will, and sets up over it the basest of men’, Dan. 4. 17. The New Testament even goes so far as to say that our Lord ‘is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords‘, 1 Tim. 6. 15. God’s kingship is something that is true throughout all history and across all dispensations. God’s kingdom, on the other hand, is God’s spiritual rule in the hearts of His own. Thus it is spiritual new birth that enables someone both to see and to enter the kingdom of God, John 3. 3,5, and without it nobody can. When we are saved, or born again,God delivers us from the power of darkness, and moves us out of the sphere of Satan’s control and ‘into the kingdom of his dear Son’, Col. 1. 13. It is this spiritual kingdom to which the Lord Jesus refers when He says, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’, John 18. 36, and in this spiritual sense, the Lord Jesus could say ‘the kingdom of God is within (in the midst of ) you’, Luke 17. 21. (The kingdom of heaven is something different, as seen in the parables of Matthew 13). The kingdom of God has, therefore, a present spiritual aspect, but it also has a future aspect.When eventually the Lord Jesus returns to this earth in power and glory, bringing His saints with Him, as opposed to coming for them, He will usher in a period when He will rule on this earth. Then, ‘the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them’, Isa. 11. 6. It is this earthly rule of Christ that is referred to when God says ‘the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be’, Gen. 49. 10. It is into this kingdom that the sheep will be welcomed with the words, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’, Matt. 25. 34. God’s kingdom, or rather Christ’s kingdom, in its future aspect will come when both His kingship and His kingdom come together in that millennial day.
God’s will can be seen in a variety of ways. His sovereign will is seen when He does as He pleases in this world.‘He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and none can stay His hand or say to Him, What doest thou?’, Dan. 4. 35. It is, for instance, God’s sovereign will that His Son will one day reign and rule. So, despite what the nations of men plan to do, ‘He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision… Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion’, Ps. 2. 4 & 6. God is the one who declares ‘the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure’, Isa. 46. 10. God’s sovereign will consists of His prescriptive will (what must take place) and His permissive will (what He allows to take place).
There are many aspects of this sovereign will of God that we cannot understand because they are not revealed to us. These things belong to the secret will of God. ‘The secret things belong unto the Lord our God’, Deut. 29. 29. He knows what He is doing, and why, but He does not always choose to reveal this to us. It is not up to us to speculate why God does, or allows to be done, what transpires in this world. His secret will is His alone.
Yet we do also have the revealed will of God. ‘The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law’, Deut. 29. 29. The important thing for us is not to try to pry into God’s secret will, or to try to alter His sovereign will. Instead, we are to desire to know the revealed will of God, Psa. 86. 11, to discern it, Eph. 5. 17, and then to do it.‘Teach me to do Thy will, for thou art my God’, Psa. 143. 10. We are to do the will of the Lord ‘from the heart’, Eph. 6. 6. Our prayer should be, as our Lord’s was, ‘Not my will but thine be done’, Luke 22. 42. So many people waste their time speculating about the secret will of God, instead of knowing and doing His revealed will. Here, amongst many instructions which show us God’s will for mankind, are two fundamental things: ‘God commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent’, Acts 17. 30; ‘He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God’,Mic. 6. 8. How can we pray, Thy will be done, if we do not even begin to obey it in its very first steps?
So the teaching of this prayer applies to us in this way, that when we use His name we must do so with reverence; when we bear His name, either claiming His authority in what we say or claiming His identity in who we are, we do so in such a way as to recommend the gospel and Christ to others; when we think of His kingdom we ask God to further His work in establishing both His spiritual rule, and His eventual earthly rule, in the hearts of men and in the kingdoms of this world; and when we think of His will, we remind ourselves that the revealed will of the Lord is something that we have to desire, discern and do ourselves.There is no point in praying ‘hallowed be thy name’ if we proceed to profane His name by our words and our works; we cannot pray for the furtherance of His kingdom if we are not in it and it is not in us; and it is great hypocrisy to pray that others will do the will of God if we ourselves refuse to do so. Concern for God’s glory should have priority in my prayers, and, more importantly, priority in my life.