Teach Us to Pray: Our Father Who Art in Heaven
(This is the third post in a ten post series on The Lord’s Prayer)
The Lord’s Prayer—given by Jesus as a model for how the disciples should pray begins with what seems like a typical phrase: “Our Father Who Art In Heaven.” Today we might not be as formal, but we’d use a similar line in our prayers. We might say, “Dear Heavenly Father” or something. It sounds pretty normal as prayers go.
However, Jesus’ instruction to the disciples, to use the phrase, “Our Father in Heaven” were radical, life-changing words, and if we properly understand them, they are life-changing words for us today as followers of Jesus. There are three important things we need to know about prayer from this line. First, we learn about the intimacy with God as our Father, then community with God as our Father, and finally the authority with God as our Father in Heaven.
Our “Father” in Heaven
The word Father that Jesus used here in instructing the disciples to pray was a new word when it comes to addressing God individually. In the Old Testament, God was referred to as the Father quite often, but it was always in a corporate sense. But Jesus introduced a new concept to the disciples. He first introduced it by discussing the relationship He had with the Father. This word father means Abba. It’s a term of closeness, of intimacy, of endearment. This was a very unusual, intimate term to use to describe God. But what is even more radical is that Jesus encouraged his disciples to use this to address God.
Jesus is saying something here that is profound, something you cannot miss. By virtue of Jesus’ life and death, those who know Christ are ushered into a new and intimate relationship with the Father. Jesus’ life and death and resurrection ushered in a new covenant, a new relationship between God and His creation. The Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and reminds us that God is our Abba Father. We clearly don’t have the same relationship with God as Christ does as a member of the Trinity, yet we can call God our Father, because He is. This is a powerful and wonderful intimacy.
What does this mean for our prayer life?
It’s instructive that Jesus taught us to begin our prayer to God by recognizing this powerful truth. That we, by virtue of our salvation, have the right to call God our father. It tells us that God is near, that God is close, that God is a provider, a listener, a sustainer.
This relationship with God as our Father through Christ is what separates Christianity from every other religion. No other religion presents the opportunity to know God personally, as our Father, our Abba Father. He is shaping us and disciplining us, caring for us, providing for us and fighting for us. Because we know God and He is our father by faith in Christ, we have the right to approach him. To know that God cares for us in this way is a powerful way to live life.
“Our” Father in Heaven
You will notice that Christ encourages the disciples to address God as our father. This speaks to the community aspect of our relationship with God. God is not simply your father, but He’s the father of others who have put their faith in Christ. Each of us is an individual. We have a relationship with God through Christ and yet we must be individual without being individualistic.
We have an unique identity and yet we are to be interdependent on each other. So when we think of prayer, we should find times, as Jesus said, for solitude, but in that solitude, we are never alone. Our prayers should not be individualistic, praying only for our concerns, but for the concerns of the community of faith.
You can’t get away with saying that you love God and that you don’t care and love His people. This means we should not just love Christians like us, but all Christians everywhere. You are part of a body, part of a community. And this should affect how you pray, how you approach church.
This speaks to something both wonderful and convicting. It’s wonderful, because this tells us that by virtue of your faith in Christ, you are joined to a family of God that stretches around the world to every nation and tribe and tongue. When you pray you are joining millions of believers around the world, both past and present.
It’s also convicting because it tells us the power of corporate prayer. We should pray more often together than we do. We should use the words, “we” and “us” and “our.” We should confess our corporate sins and appeal for corporate blessings. We should pray for corporate revival. We are not individually God’s persons, we are God’s people.
Our Father “in Heaven”
Lastly, but not least, we pray to our father in Heaven. There are two important truths we learn from having a Father in Heaven.
First, it reminds us that we are not of this world. When we say we are not of this world, we mean that we are not part of the earthly kingdom ruled by Satan but of another kingdom ruled by Christ. Our real home is in Heaven, because our Father is there. That’s what makes it a home.
Why is this important for our prayers? Because it reminds us to pray with a kingdom mindset, to not only crave and desire that which will make this life more comfortable. It reminds us that we will never be truly comfortable on this earth. The truly spiritual person, in touch with His father, lives on this earth on mission for God, but has his heart turned to the frequency of Heaven. This should inform our values, our lifestyle, the way we think and talk and act. We should live as citizens of Heaven.
Secondly, a Father in Heaven speaks of authority. God is our intimate Father, and yet it does nothing to diminish his power. We should be humbled and awed before the majesty of God and yet praise Him at the privilege of an intimate relationship with Him through Christ. We should hold this tension of nearness and farness together.
We have lost a sense of the bigness and transcendence of God. So much of our theology today starts with “This is who I envision God” and we take our own attributes and shape them into our own skewed picture of God. What’s the use of praying to a God a powerless as we are, who is just like us? And what’s the use of praying to a God so powerful, yet distant, a God who doesn’t care?
We have a God who is high and yet stooped low, without losing His glory. And in a sense, when we pray, Our Father who art in Heaven, we acknowledge both, don’t we? We are saying that God is our father, that He is near, that He cares, He loves. And yet we’re saying we need him, we are dependent on him and we are praying to him, because He is our Father, because He is in Heaven, because He is all-powerful and because He rules.
In the next post we will look at the later half of this verse, “hallowed be your name.”