I am praying that the present pandemic will not be wasted in your life, but that the global and personal miseries of the coronavirus will mingle with this CROSS missions conference, and with ten thousand divine influences that have made you who you are — that this pandemic and this conference and these influences would mingle, in the mysterious working of God’s providence, to make hundreds of you into lifelong missionaries.
Few things cause me more joyful amazement than watching the mystery of God’s providence in turning people into missionaries. I’ve watched it happen before my very eyes for forty years. Nobody can explain this. We can write books about knowing the will of God until we are blue in the face, and in the end, why some of you will devote the rest of your life to making Christ known among unreached people in a different culture and language is an unfathomable mystery. It cannot be explained — not by mere man.
Virtually none of you knows where you will be, or what you will be doing, in ten years. And the fact that some of you, beyond your wildest dreams, will be in places you do not know, in partnerships you cannot see, speaking a language you thought unlearnable, loving people you never heard of, making known the best news in the world, is a beautiful mystery of God’s providence. How God does that, we do not know.
“As you walk through hard seasons, one of the gifts God may have for you is to see things in his word that you never had seen before.”
But we do know a few of the ten thousand influences God uses to make ordinary people into missionaries. One of those is suffering; hence the pandemic. One of those is the preaching of God’s word; hence the CROSS conference. One is prayer, because Jesus said, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38).
So let’s pray, and then let’s connect the suffering of the pandemic with the preaching of God’s word, and watch in the years to come as the mystery unfolds in your life.
Mission Through Suffering
I know from personal experience and from Scripture that God creates proclaimers of his word through suffering. God changed the entire course of my life in the fall of 1966 (when I was twenty years old) by putting me flat on my back in the hospital for three weeks. He took out of my life all desire for the premed track I was on, and filled me with a passion that has never ceased to understand and herald the word of God.
There were thousands of other influences. But those three weeks in the hospital were decisive. One river flowing into the future was dammed up. And another river — another future — was opened up — and I thank God for the small price it took to open my eyes to what I was called to do. The unfolding of a mystery.
In the book of Acts we read this:
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. . . . And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. . . . Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 7:59–60; 8:1, 4)
Jesus had told them in Acts 1:8 to go from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And they were still in Jerusalem. Therefore, he dislodges them from Jerusalem and catapults them into his mission through suffering — Stephen’s death and a spreading persecution.
So, whether it is persecution in the first century, or mononucleosis in 1966, or a pandemic in 2020, one of the means by which God puts his people on mission is suffering.
‘Hallowed Be Your Name’
Another means is the ministry of the word of God into the lives of God’s people. So, we turn now to my text — namely, “Hallowed be your name” from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9–13. Jesus said,
Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Even the word of God, rightly understood and heralded, is a gift through suffering. The insight that I’m going to share with you from this text, I saw for the first time in 2010, which was a very difficult year for our family. You don’t need to know the details. But you ought to be encouraged so that, when you walk through hard seasons, one of the gifts God may have for you is to see things in his word that you never had seen before. Let me share with you one of those, because it is so relevant for your engagement, as a goer or a sender, in missions.
Our Greatest Petitions
Going into that difficult year, I had already made the discovery that “hallowed be your name” along with “your kingdom come” and “your will be done” were not acclamations, but petitions, requests, pleadings in prayer. For some reason, as I was growing up, I just didn’t hear these first three petitions as petitions. They sounded more or less to me like praising: “Your name is being hallowed! Your kingdom is coming! Your will is being done!” In my mind for years they were acclamations.
But in fact, they are petitions, requests, pleading: “O God, cause your name to be hallowed! Cause your kingdom to come! Cause your will to be done! Make it happen, Lord.” So, I brought that much understanding of the Lord’s Prayer into the year 2010. I also brought the understanding that the Lord’s Prayer has two sets of three petitions each.
First set of petitions:
- Hallowed be your name.
- Your kingdom come.
- Your will be done.
Second set of petitions:
- Give us this day our daily bread.
- Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
- Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
And, as far as I could see, the second set of petitions served the first set.
- I need daily bread for life, so I ask for it.
- I need forgiveness for my sins because I’m a sinner, so I ask for it.
- I need guidance and protection from temptation and Satan, so I ask for it.
And then with (1) bread-sustained life, (2) a forgiveness-liberated conscience, and (3) a heart protected from the evil one, I can throw myself into the glorious work of
- hallowing God’s name,
- seeking God’s kingdom, and
- doing his will the way the angels do it in heaven.
That’s the way I saw the prayer. And I think that’s basically right — as far as it goes.
Our Highest Treasure
But I had overlooked something profoundly important. Until 2010. The first petition — the one I am supposed to focus on in this message, “Hallowed be your name!” — is not just one of three. It’s different from the other two in the first group. In this petition, “Cause your name to be hallowed!” we hear explicitly (it may be implicit in the others, but only here is it explicit) the one specific response of the human heart that God requires of all human beings in this prayer: 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 response of the heart.
- The coming of God’s kingdom will give 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 in life so we can 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’s not named.
But in the first petition, it is named: hallowing — the act of the human heart called hallowing. What does it mean to hallow? It’s the very same word in Greek for sanctify: “Sanctified be your name.” To make holy. Or, since we don’t actually make God’s name holy, to value as holy, esteem as holy, treasure as holy. And holy, in reference to God, means infinitely valuable because he is one of a kind, in a class by himself. His holiness is his utterly unique, infinitely pure, transcendent God-ness.
“God’s holiness — his holy name — is the supreme and absolute Treasure in the universe.”
If you put God’s infinitely pure, transcendent being on the balance of a scale on one side, and all other being in the universe — all 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 angels of heaven — on the other side 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.
So, “Hallowed be your name!” is a prayer, a yearning, a pleading from God’s people to God that he would cause his name to be hallowed, reverenced, revered, esteemed, valued, honored, admired, loved, cherished. Supremely.
Only the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for an 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 in 2010. And when I added to this fact — namely, that only this petition explicitly calls on God to produce a response of the heart — the fact that this petition is first in the Lord’s Prayer, and that the term “your name” (“Hallowed be 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 one.
Our Ultimate Aim
So, on October 9, 2010, while I was pondering these things and how they relate to my life, I wrote in my journal,
My ONE Great Passion! Nothing is more clear and unshakable 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 [the hallowing, treasuring, cherishing, admiring, loving of God’s infinite beauty and worth and greatness — his holiness].
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.
“The hallowing of God’s name is the end, the final goal, of all things.”
I want you to join me in that. May the grand, overarching, all-embracing, all-pervasive theme of your life be the magnificence of God — his holiness, his beauty, his worth, his greatness. Pray that God would do this. That’s what Jesus is telling us to do. Pray that he would do it. First in you, and then through you, in the lives of others, and among the nations — that his name be hallowed.
Of course, all the other petitions are essential for this to happen the way God wants it to happen.
- If his kingdom does not come, his name will not be hallowed.
- If his will is not done, his name will not be hallowed.
- If we don’t have food to keep us alive, our voice will disappear from the hallowing of God’s name on the earth.
- If our sins are not forgiven, we perish in hell, where nobody hallows the name of God.
- And if we are not protected from the evil one, we will join in hating the name of God, not hallowing it.
They are all essential. But they are all penultimate, not ultimate. They are all means, not the end. There is one ultimate end.
- We are delivered from evil for the hallowing of God’s name.
- We are forgiven our sins for the hallowing of God’s name.
- We are given bread-sustained life for the hallowing of God’s name.
- We do the will of God for the hallowing of God’s name.
- And we submit to God’s kingly rule for the hallowing of God’s name.
Jesus pushes us up through glorious penultimate aims of God to the ultimate aim of God. All other aims of God serve this aim of God: the hallowing, the treasuring, the loving of God’s name — that is, God himself.
In eternity, we will hallow the name of God not as a means to anything. Hallowing the name of God is not a means to any greater end. The hallowing of God’s name is the end, the final goal, of all things. Missions exists because the hallowing of God’s name doesn’t — yet!
Global Hallowing of God
When Jesus came to his final hour, and knew he was about to die and rise again and unleash a global tidal wave of salvation, do you remember how he brought his troubled soul into alignment with God’s ultimate purpose? Here’s Jesus in John 12:27–28:
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
To be sure, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). But what did this salvation ultimately mean? What does your salvation ultimately mean? “For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Cause your name to be magnified, treasured, hallowed in the hearts of countless disciples of Jesus from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
Which brings us back to where we started: Jesus pursued the personal and global hallowing of God’s name through suffering and death. He is still doing that. Don’t waste the pandemic. Don’t waste the CROSS Conference. Don’t waste the ten thousand divine influences that make you who you are.
There is one ultimate purpose in the Lord’s Prayer, and in the history of the world, and in the endless stretches of eternity: the hallowing, magnifying, treasuring, loving of God’s name — God’s beauty, and worth, and greatness — and all that he is for us in Jesus.
Make that the aim of your life — all of you. And then we will watch the mystery of God’s providence as he makes hundreds of you into missionaries. Amen.