Be a Radically God-Centered Pastor

Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference

Phoenix, Arizona

My main message to you is very simple: Be a radically God-centered pastor. My text is the first petition of the Lord's prayer: "Hallowed by your name." I simply want to spend the few minutes we have together pressing the God-centered implications of this first petition of the Lord's prayer into your minds and hearts and ministries.

Or another way to say it is that my aim is to unpack the way I understand the theme of this conference, which I love: "ASPIRE: Yearning to Join God's Kingdom Activity." The word aspire and the word yearning capture the emotional side of the theme. Desire this. Long for this. Ache for this. Want this. Be passionate for this. Have zeal for this. Yearn for this. Aspire to this. Plead for this.

Our First and Deepest Longing

Yes, plead! If you yearn, you plead. If you aspire, you plead, you pray! And what did Jesus tell us to pray? What did he say to aspire to first? Desire first? Yearn for first? Long for and plead for first—above all? What did he tell us to make our preeminent aspiration? Our first and deepest longing? Our all-defining, all-shaping, all-controlling, all-consuming desire?

He said, "Desire this first: Hallowed be your name." Plead for this above all: "Father, cause your name to be hallowed!" "Do whatever you must do in me, in my family, in my church, in my denomination, in my city, in this world, so that your name is hallowed."

Command, Not Acclamation

I grew up thinking this was an acclamation, not a petition—like I was saying, "Praise God! Your name is hallowed." For years it never occurred to me that I was asking God to do something. That I was desiring, aspiring, pleading, "God, act! Act for the sake of your name. Cause your name to be hallowed." For so long I thought I was praising him for the holiness of his name, not pleading with him about the holiness of his name.

But the verb hagiastheto is a third person imperative. We don't have these in English. We usually translate them, "Let your name be hallowed." But that sounds like we are asking him to give permission for his name to be hallowed. Which is not all the idea.

No. It's the same form as the verb for "baptize" in Acts 2:38 (baptistheto): "Let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus." This is not an acclamation. It's not about giving permission or allowing. This is a command. What should you do in response to the gospel that Peter has just preached? Act. Repent and be baptized. It's an imperative.

And so is hagiastheto in the Lord's prayer. Father in heaven, act! See to it God! See to it that your name is hallowed. Cause your name to be hallowed in my life, and my family, and my ministry, and in this world. Cause you name to be hallowed among millions of Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and Jews and animists and post-Christian secular Westerners.

Why Not Focus on the Second Petition?

But you might ask, "If you are trying unpack the theme of the conference, why not focus on the second petition of the Lord's prayer, not the first?" The conference theme is, "ASPIRE: Yearning to Join God's Kingdom Activity." And the second petition is "Your kingdom come. This would be perfect wouldn't it? The theme is telling us that God is acting to exalt himself as King. To establish his saving kingship in the hearts of millions. To reassert his sovereign dominion over his creation. Yes, he is!

And the theme calls to us: Join him! Yearn to join him! And what could be more clear than that the second petition of the Lord's prayer is just that. "Your kingdom come!" "Yearning to Join God's Kingdom Activity." There it is. So, if I am trying to unpack the conference theme, why not go there? Why the first petition, and not the second?

The Uniqueness of the First Petition

Here's the reason. When I took an eight-month leave last year to do a soul check, marriage check, ministry check, I meditated on the Lord's prayer a long time in relation to what my forty years of ministry have been about. And I saw something that I had never seen before, that was profoundly moving to me and confirming to me for the way I have tried—with so many failures—to live my life and do my ministry, namely, with a focus on God's God-centeredness and my effort to join him in his unwavering commitment to glorify his own name.

I saw that there is something unique about the first petition of the Lord's prayer, "Hallowed be your name." Before this, I had basically seen the Lord's prayer as two sets of three petitions. The second three served the first. I need daily bread for life. So I ask for it. I need forgiveness for my debts because I'm a sinner, so I ask for it. I need guidance and protection from temptation and the evil one, so I ask for it.

And with bread-sustained life, and a forgiveness-liberated conscience, and a heart protected from the evil one, I can throw myself into the glorious work of hallowing God's name and seeking his kingdom and doing his will the way the angels do it in heaven. That's the way I saw the prayer. And that's basically right, as far as it goes.

What I Overlooked

But it overlooked something. Something profoundly important. The first petition, "Hallowed by your name," not just one of three. It's different in a very important way. In this petition, we hear explicitly (it may be implicit in the others, but only here is it explicit)—we hear the one specific response of the human heart that God requires of all human beings—the hallowing, reverencing, honoring, esteeming, admiring, valuing, treasuring of God's name above all things. None of the other five requests tells us explicitly to pray for a specific human response of the heart.

The coming of God's kingdom gives rise to a response of the human heart, but it's not named. The doing of God's will includes a response of the human heart, but it's not named. Eating our daily bread sustains us to give a response of the heart, but it's not named. Being forgiven our debts frees the heart for a wonderful response, but it's not named. Being delivered from the evil one unleashes a powerful response, but it is not named.

Hallowing God

But in the first petition, it is named. Hallowing. We are praying, aspiring, yearning, pleading that human hearts (including our own) would "hallow" God's name.

Hallowing. This means valuing as holy. Esteeming as holy. Treasuring as holy. And holy means infinitely valuable because he is one of a kind. His holiness is his utterly unique, infinitely pure, transcendent Godness. If you put God's infinitely pure, transcendent being on the balance of a scale, and all other being—the waters of the oceans, the sand of the deserts, the rocks of the mountains, and all the nations of man, and all the galaxies of the universe, and all the demons of hell, and all the unfallen angels of heaven—on the other balance of the scale, all other being goes up like air, because God's holiness—his holy name—is the supreme and absolute Treasure in the universe and over the universe. All other treasures are as nothing by comparison.

The Last Five Serve the First

Only the first petition is a prayer for the explicit act of the human heart in response to the infinite Treasure of God's holiness—hallow it. Hallow the holiness of this name. Revere the holiness of this name. Honor, esteem, admire, value, treasure supremely the infinite worth of this name.

That's what I saw on my leave of absence last year. And when I added to this fact—namely, that only this petition calls on God to produce an explicit response of the heart—when I added to this, the fact that this petition is first in the Lord's prayer, and that the term "your name" ("Hallowed by your name") comes closer than "your kingdom" or "your will" to expressing the character and person of God himself (that's what his name is!), then I saw that this petition is the main point, or the ultimate purpose, of the prayer and all the others are meant to serve this one.

In other words, the structure of the prayer is not merely that the last three petitions serve the first three (which they do), but that the last five serve the first.

The Ultimate Work of God

So on October 9 last year during my leave of absence while I was pondering these things, I wrote in my journal:

My ONE Great Passion!

 Nothing is more clear and unshakeable to me than that the purpose of the universe is for the hallowing of God's name.
 His kingdom comes for THAT.
 His will is done for THAT.
 Humans have bread-sustained life for THAT.
 Sins are forgiven for THAT.
 Temptation is escaped for THAT.

And then on the next day, October 10, I wrote:

Lord, grant that I would, in all my weaknesses and limitations, remain close to the one clear, grand theme of my life: Your magnificence.

So in unpacking the conference theme ("ASPIRE: Yearning to Join God's Kingdom Activity"), the reason I do not go to the second petition of the Lord's prayer ("Your kingdom come"), but to the first petition ("Hallowed be your name") is because the activity of God in establishing his kingdom in the world and in the human heart is so that those human hearts would hallow his name, reverence and treasure his name above all things. I am pushing us up through glorious penultimate works of God to the ultimate work of God. All other works of God serve this work of God—the hallowing, the treasuring, the loving of God's name.

Hallowing God as an End in Itself

In eternity, we will not hallow the name of God so that anything else happens. Hallowing the name of God is not a means to any other end. The hallowing of his name is the end, the final goal of all things. O, we will be engaged joyfully in ten thousand activities in the age to come, but those ten thousand activities will glorify the infinite worth of God only if they come from hearts that are treasuring God above those activities. The King will give ten thousand gifts to his children in the age to come, but those gifts will honor him only where they are received by those who value his name above every gift.

When I said that my goal is that you would be a radically God-centered pastor, what I meant was this: that the hallowing of God's name would be the supreme goal of your ministry and the aim of every breath you take. Whatever other glorious and precious works of God and ways of God and attributes of God grip you and thrill you over the course of your life (as they should!), may God entrance you above them all, and through them all, with his own holy name—himself—in the hallowing, the treasuring of his name above everything.

One Last Reason

There is one last reason why I focus on the ultimate goal of hallowing of God's name and why I call you to be that kind of radically God-centered pastor. Southern Baptists are driven by a passion for world evangelization. For that I praise God. Which means that you love the gospel of Jesus Christ which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.

It is for the sake of this gospel—the truth of this gospel, the purpose of this gospel, the ¬power of this gospel—that I am summoning you into the God-entranced hallowing of his name above all things. "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). And how did he do it?

God Hallowed Most Greatly in the Gospel

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world to vindicate the infinite worth of God's holiness which had been desecrated by sin, and which seemed to be treated lightly in God's passing over sins for nothing more than the blood of bulls (Romans 3:25). Jesus came to set all that right. The holiness of God would be vindicated by more than the blood of bulls in the forgiveness of God-desecrating sinners. An infinite sacrifice repaired an infinite injustice against God's infinite holiness.

And so in the gospel, more clearly than anywhere else in the universe, God's name was hallowed—the infinite worth of God's holy name was infinitely treasured by the obedient suffering of the Son of God. The infinitely valuable Son of God, infinitely treasured the holiness of God's name, and paid infinitely for the vindication of God's infinitely pure, transcendent name.

Therefore, brothers, for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the name, for the sake of the nations, be radically God-centered pastors. Amen.