In the beginning, Adam talked with God. Adam’s ability for verbal communication was given to him so that he could speak with God — pray. That holy and sacred gift of speech, then, was shared with Eve. His talk with God led to a desire to communication with others.
We learn to talk at an early age. We learn to communicate our whole lives. It’s quite possible to talk and never connect with people. It’s also possible to pray for reasons that have nothing to do with God — so said Jesus in Matthew 6:5-8.
None of us are experts in prayer. I guess I should speak for myself — I’m not! I’m still learning. It seems that new phases in life and new experiences require me to learn something new about prayer and I discover new reasons to pray. I get frustrated with myself and feel guilty because I don’t pray enough. In fact, guilt oftentimes grows as I lose sight of why I pray and to whom I’m praying.
I come back to Jesus’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. From the outset to this prayer, it is simple and intimate: Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
First thing I notice in Jesus’s prayer is that I’m not an only child! This is OUR Father.
While it is a personal relationship, it is not a private relationship with God. When we bow our heads in prayer, we join the chorus of God’s children the world over! We enter into a conversation that started before us and we are at the table because of the gracious work of Jesus. All of God’s children pray! And, together, we cry out to God our Father.
This is precisely what Paul says in Romans 8:14-16 —
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Each of us prays to the Father knowing that none of us prays alone!
Second, we are not approaching a distant and uninterested deity, but our FATHER.
In my last post, I stated that our view of God impacts how we pray. Right from the top, Jesus wants us to know just how deep and intimate our communion with God is. Father. Abba. Daddy!
Immediately, we are reminded of the person on earth we call dad, or father… or as my friend in high school called him, “Ron”! The fact is, there’s a lot of baggage with this word father — some good, some not so much. This may be a stumbling block for you; you can’t utter the words, “Father” when addressing God because of the memories you have of your father. There’s a lot to say about this, more than I can do in this one post. Suffice to say, Jesus’s prayer is part of the healing you need — we all need. Some of us had to grow up so quickly that we never learned to be a child. Jesus’s prayer puts us back into that place of a child before a loving and caring parent.
Think about this: God is the original father! He is the perfect and ideal Father. All other fathers are created in His fatherly image. Just as sin has vandalized our gender, so it has vandalized what it means to be a father. When we begin our prayers by calling out to God as our father, we are declaring that He is our true and perfect Father. He is the one from whom we have our life and are secured in this life through His love!
Moreover, He is far from passive or uninvolved. His involvement in our life is always perfect and is always seeking our very best for His glory! Praying to God the Father prepares us for this fatherly intrusion into our life. He corrects us; He is good to us; He has compassion on us; and by His love we are transformed! When we pray, “Our Father,” we are like a child with open arms!
“My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Prov 3:11-12)
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (Jam 1:17 ESV)
“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)
“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Is 64:8)
Instead of being haunted by a abusive, permissive, or overbearing father, in prayer we are yielding ourselves to God the Father. And so, as C.S. Lewis says, we are free to, “Lay before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us.”
Next, it is noteworthy that in this opening line of Jesus’s prayer God is identified in a paradoxical way: FATHER, who is in HEAVEN. He is near to us like a father; yet far removed from us in heaven. He is imminent and transcendent. Paradox doesn’t mean that God is an inherent contradiction; it means that from our limited perspective it appears contradictory. That’s the effect the mystery of God has on us. Scripture reminds us of this truth about God often:
God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.” (1 Tim 6:16)
“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Ps 24:3)
Take time to read Isaiah 55:6-9 for another example of this paradox.
Prayer, in other words, engages the mystery of God’s character. He is accessible to us, yet shrouded in mystery. Sometimes our prayers may seem to us going nowhere and heard by no one. Jesus prayed that God would “let this cup pass from” him in the garden. Scripture doesn’t say that God answered him. Yet, Jesus was faithful to God, even when the mystery was painful and perplexing. He was sweating blood!
For those who can’t believe that God is near, they can only see God in heaven, they usually stop praying. For those who have stripped away the mystery and see God as, say, their co-pilot, they wrongfully assume that God is their errand boy. For them, prayer is about getting something from God instead of engaging God and worshipping God.
Is heaven far removed from us? Heaven isn’t a place we are simply trying to find or waiting to die so that we can enter. Heaven is where God dwells and with God all of our hopes and fulfillment. Heaven is our deepest desires at the feet of God. Heaven is coming toward us and will eventually encapsulate all of the earth, renewing it and once and for all redeeming it!
Finally, what do we do with the mystery of God, who is our father and who dwells in heaven: HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME. Literally, the phrase could be translated: Let your name be kept holy.
As God’s adopted children, we take the name of our Father. Our prayers are declarations that His name would be made holy in our life and on this earth. In other words, that our lives would be dedicated to “glorifying God and enjoying God in all that we do.”
“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving,” (Ps 69:3). By communing with God in prayer, we are yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit to equip us to be vessels for God’s glory. As this happens, God’s glory can be found in the most gritty and grimy places of our life! God’s glory in our grit!
Hallowed be your name in… [insert the place you think is least holy]! God is glorified there!
This part of Jesus’s prayer reminds me of Paul’s prayer in Romans 11:33-36 —
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.(Romans 11:33-36 ESV)