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Pray, “Our Father”

(Matthew 6: 9-13)

John Baugh
March, 2009

 

Matthew 6

6"But you, when you pray, go into your inner room,
close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret,
and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
7"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do,
for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.

 

8"So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

9"Pray, then, in this way:
         'Our Father who is in heaven,
         Hallowed be Your name.
    10'Your kingdom come
         Your will be done,
         On earth as it is in heaven.
    11'Give us this day our daily bread.
    12'And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    13'And do not lead us into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
[For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]'

 

 

How should we pray?

 

Most of us (if we pray at all) have asked that question at one point or another. Once we understand that all communication coming from us to the Father is prayer, and as we grow closer to him, we grow hungry for understanding of what it means to pray and how we should pray. We want to be certain that we are “doing it right”. As we come to know Christ Jesus and grow in our understanding of him we learn that there is one certainty about God’s son. He knew how to pray. In fact, the Gospels are full of examples of his prayer life. He prayed at his baptism. He prayed over the few fish and loaves before feeding the five thousand with them. He prayed on the mount before his Transfiguration. He prayed before naming the apostles. He prayed in Gethsemane as he waited for Judas to return with those who would take him away for the mock trail and his execution. He prayed on the cross. He prayed many other times, as a part of his daily life and before any significant occurrence in his life.

 

In his book on prayer entitled Talking to our Father, Pastor Ray Stedman wrote,

"True prayer is an awareness of our own helpless need and an acknowledgment of divine adequacy. For Jesus, prayer was as necessary as breathing, the very breath of life itself."

 

The situation shown in Matthew occurred during a moment when Jesus was teaching his disciples about prayer. The disciples had many opportunities to observe their master praying and I am certain they eagerly/earnestly listened as he addressed communication with the Father so that they might learn what was missing in their own prayer lives. 

 

We have called this teaching “The Lord’s Prayer” for centuries and scholars have accepted that statement or disagreed with it. Other categorizations of this prayer include”

 

·        “The model prayer”, in that Jesus was providing a model for how we should pray.

·         “The model for prayer”, rather than the model prayer. A model for prayer teaches us the framework that we should use when we approach God, where the model prayer simply teaches words that we memorize and feed back in repetition like a spinning Tibetan prayer wheel. In the second case, it is possible to lose our personal relationship with the father as we feed the words we learned years earlier in the same way we have fed them hundreds of times before. It makes sense to look at the prayer Jesus shared that day as a model that provides spiritual insights to the secret of effective communication with the Father and as a help in approaching the full potential of a prayer life with our heavenly father.

·        “The disciples’ prayer”, in that Christ gave the prayer as a teaching to his disciples, with how applicable it is to our lives depending on how our relationship to him as disciples to make the prayer more or less applicable in our lives. Reading the prayer as Jesus taught it, the disciple is immediately struck that it encompasses all that prayer life should be and as a teaching remains significant for study for the rest of the disciple’s life.

Regardless of what we call this prayer, (one or all of these) there is much to be learned from it, beginning with the very first words that Jesus taught that day:

 

9"Pray, then, in this way:
         'Our Father who is in heaven,
         Hallowed be Your name.
    10'Your kingdom come
         Your will be done,
         On earth as it is in heaven.
    11'Give us this day our daily bread.
    12'And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    13'And do not lead us into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
[For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.]'

 

When I read this prayer, I see in it a beautiful picture of Jesus here on earth, sitting at the feet of his father in heaven, praying this prayer in full faith and belief, speaking for all of us as he looks toward his patient, loving father and begins:

 

“Our Father who is in heaven.”

 

Jesus addressed this relationship in a beautiful way in Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel (what we call the high and priestly prayer):

 

22"The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;  23I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (John 17:22-23)

 

Jesus knew that our relationship with the Father (his father) was tied to the relationship of Jesus standing between us and the father in heaven. To explain the new covenant link we have with the father, Jesus used the words:

 

That they may be one, just as we are one”

 

Through our acceptance of Christ and our reliance on him as Lord, we are able to call on God the creator and eternal master of all as “Father”. In our presence as corporate members Christ’s Church, we are able to call on God the creator as “Our Father” (Our father with Christ the son and our brothers and sisters in Christ’s Church).

 

17And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona,

because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

18"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church;

and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

19"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."
(Matthew 16:17-19 NASB)

 

Many have described our relationship with God as one of adoption, where God sought us out (“For God so loved the world” – John 3:16) and provided a way for us to enter the kingdom of God as his adopted sons and daughters, through Christ Jesus. (“For God did not send his son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him” John 3:17 NASB). And so we call on God through prayer as the father who sought us out and provided a way for us to become his family through adoption as his children.

 

“Our Father”

 

At times I have heard people open their prayers with expressions similar (if not identical) to:

 

“Oh great and almighty creator of the universe, all powerful and omnipotent force of creation”

 

As I think about prayers that use these types of words, I am struck at how the model prayer teaches us to addresses the one who rules all of creation, who has placed the stars in their positions across the vastness and spins the planets in their orbits around the sun. In the teaching of Jesus, I see no references to a vast power force uniting everything or substance or matter. Jesus tells us that we are to pray to a “father”. Specifically, we are to pray to “our father”.

 

It is interesting to understand that a father is a being, not a force of physics. A father has substance, conscience and a will. A father speaks toward family relationship and parental caring, expressed as a concern for the good of his children. The term father speaks to all of the philosophical questions we may have concerning the nature of God. As father, he is the one who is available at all times and in bad conditions as well as in good conditions.

 

Scripture is plain in the understanding that we are to come to God in faith and belief. Those two characteristics are key to acceptance of our prayers by God. It might be good to understand that if we come to God in prayer with stiff and formal statements of his nature, as in “Oh, almighty ruler of all nature” or “Oh great and omnipotent, eternal force of the universe” that we show our lack of faith and belief, because the one who we call Lord (Christ Jesus) has plainly taught us in two places (In Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 6 after the sermon on the mount and in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 11 at the request of a disciple to “teach us to pray”) that we are to call on God as Father when we pray to him. Anything else points to a lack of belief in Christ and poor faith in the truth of his teachings.

 

God will in all likelihood forgive and forget poor prayer performance on our part especially if we confess our feeble attempts and ask for forgiveness, but to believe that any long statements spelling out the power and authority of God in prayer are required to get his attention is simply not a part of his son’s teaching on prayer. As we consider this we need to remember that Jesus Christ is the greatest authority on prayer that we have. 

 

It is interesting to note that Jesus said we were to address the Father as “our” and not as ‘my”. While we certainly have a personal relationship with our father, Jesus indicated that our prayers should be in a “corporate” form. Our concerns and appeals to the father should include the body of believers. I do not believe that it is wrong to pray for our specific needs. Christ spoke many times of taking our needs to the father, and experience proves that the father hears our prayers, even when they are very specific to our individual needs. However, the teaching that he was giving to the disciples that day shows his concern that we include all of our brothers and sisters in Christ in our daily communication of praise (for), gratitude (to), need (requested) and forgiveness (from) the father.

 

There is great comfort in knowing that God sees us as individual sons and daughters, but that he also includes each of us (as a corporate group) in his kingdom. As we individually call on the name of Christ, we also speak as a group of believers to God the Father – “Our Father”.

 

From a grammatical perspective, the word “our” is a plural possessive pronoun.

 

First of all, with the father in heaven, we have a plural relationship. As individuals, we are part of a group of adopted children of the father. Jesus called that group his Church and said that “even the gates of Hades would not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). If we consider Hades to be Hell, then as individuals who are part of Christ’s church we triumph over Satan and his eternal domain. If we consider Hades to be the grave, then as members of Christ’s Church, we triumph over death and the grave. I see his statement as both.

 

Secondly, with the father in heaven, we have a possessive relationship. Looking back to Christ’s prayer as recorded in John’s Gospel:

 

22"The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;  23I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (John 17:22-23)

 

Our relationship with the father is possessive, just as Christ’s relationship was possessive. As Jesus is with the Father, so are we. As he has unity with the father, so do we. As the Father loves his “only begotten” son, so does he love us. Through his son, we are adopted heirs. As adopted heirs through Christ we possess all that the father is and all that he has and all that he offers.

 

“Our Father”

 

William Barclay tells a story in his discussion on the Sermon on the Mount that illustrates our relationship with God, through Christ.

 

During the times of the Roman conquest, it was common for the emperor to return to Rome in triumphant glory, led by his army through Rome as the citizens cheered their victory. In one such celebration, a lace had been provided for Caesar’s wife and children to witness the parade. As the emperor passed by in his chariot, his young son slipped off the observation platform and through the crowd, running toward the chariot. As he entered the street, a centurion guard grabbed him and held him up as the boy struggled to break free. “You can’t go out there, child. Don’t you know who that is? He is the emperor.”

 

As the child struggled to free himself he responded, “He may be your emperor, but he is my father!”

 

Pastor, Ray Stedman once expressed his understanding of “Our Father” this way:

 

When I was in Israel one time, we had come down from Masada in the heat and headed straight for the pool at the Sheraton Hotel. I jumped in the pool and got cooled off, and then as I was relaxing in a lounge chair, I was watching a one- or two-year-old boy with his father. In the pool he looked like a little, chubby, black-haired, black-eyed cherub. He even had water wings on. His father had maneuvered him over to the shallow steps in the pool where he would be safe, and then he ran over to get a Coke from the cart on the other side of the pool. But the little boy stood up and turned around to show his father how well he was doing, and realized his father wasn't there! There was terror in his big, black eyes, and he cried, "Abba, Abba, Abba!" Over by the Coke cart his father called, "Aji, Aji," and ran back. The little guy came up the steps out of the pool with his wings fluttering on his back and jumped into his father's arms. As his father held him, he turned around, and I saw the boy's face with all the tears coming down, and I heard his little voice saying, "Abba, Abba, Abba," but this time from the comfort and safety of his father's arms. I have never forgotten that. I am allowed to run into the arms of the God of the universe and cry, "Papa, Papa!" Now you tell me a father who won't respond to that cry - imagine what a perfect God will do when his children leap into his arms!

Another writer said that we can look at the opening line to the prayer that Jesus shared that day in two ways:

 

“Our father God is in Heaven”

Or

“The God of Heaven is our father”

 

I prefer the second way of stating my relationship with God the Father.

 

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