In our devotions so far, we have examined the meaning and importance of the words our heavenly Father. They describe the Divine Person we pray to and hint at his character and absolute power. We pray to such a God because he is willing and able to answer us.
But what should we ask for first? Too often, we begin our prayers with a perfunctory nod to God and then immediately get down to more important business, namely, ourselves. Such prayers are exercises in sinfulness. In order to experience God through prayer and develop a mature spirituality, we must get over ourselves and focus on him.
Consider the analogy of two young lovers. How far along the path to marriage do you think a man will get if, at the outset of every day, he talks incessantly about himself, never letting the woman get a word in edgewise? (Or vice versa?) Not far along at all! Everyday human conversation begins with a question—“How are you?”—precisely so we can get to know the other person better. A similar dynamic is at work in prayer. Our first request of God should be to know him better. And that, in fact, is what Jesus teaches our first petition is when he prays, “hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9).
The British theologian John Stott explains the meaning of this request when he writes: “The name of God is not a combination of the letters G, O, and D. The name stands for the person who bears it, for his character and activity. God’s ‘name’ is God himself as he is in himself and as he has revealed himself. His name is already ‘holy’ in that it is separate from and exalted over every other name. But we pray that it may be hallowed, ‘treated as holy,’ because we ardently desire that due honour be given to it, that is to him whose name it is, in our own lives, in the church and in the world.”
Think, again, of the young lovers. You remember being in love, don’t you? It was—and hopefully still is—a marvelous experience. The amazing thing about it, however, is its near total selflessness. All you think about is the other person. All you care about is the other person. All your time, talent, and treasure go to making the other person happy. Love is the most selfless thing we do, whether the object of our affection is another human or God.
Even more amazingly, however, that selflessness turns out to be self-fulfilling. The young man who puts his girlfriend’s interests ahead of his own finds the happiness he seeks when she agrees to marry him. Spiritually speaking, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” as Jesus said (Matt. 10:39). When we seek God’s kingdom first, we discover that he wants to meet all our other needs (Matt. 6:33).
So, when you pray, focus on God; you will discover his powerful love—for you!