In times when you feel your prayers are not being answered have you ever wondered whether you are praying correctly? How encouraging it is to discover that Jesus’ disciples were aware of their need to know how to pray. Without their request we might not have the model prayer that Jesus gave them!
‘When you pray’ we read in Luke 11:1, ‘say, “Our Father in heaven”.’
The words “in heaven” are striking. They remind us of the understanding of God that we find in the great prayers of the Old Testament, for example, those of Moses, Isaiah, Job and Daniel. All of them understood God’s awesome holiness and majestic power. So, when Isaiah saw the vision of God in the temple, high and lifted up, his first response was “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Jesus’ opening words in the prayer he gave his disciples, remind us of God’s awesome majesty.
But there is a breath-taking new dimension that Jesus introduced with his first two words:
“Our Father…” For his first followers these words would have been electrifying. While the Jewish people understood the notion of the fatherhood of God and had heard prophets like Hosea speak of God’s people being his sons and daughters, the idea of calling God, ‘Father’ was quite unknown. Nowhere is this found in the Old Testament.
When we think about it, the idea of calling God ‘Father’ is one of the surprising distinctions between the Old and New Testaments.
In his, Knowing God, Dr J.I. Packer asks the question, ‘How would you define a Christian?’ He answers with, ‘Someone who knows God as ‘Father’.
To know God as Father is an even more important and richer idea than our being justified! Yes, justification is essential to our relationship with God – we can’t reconcile ourselves with God by our own efforts, church-going or charitable-giving. But, as Packer rightly notes, it is not the highest idea of Christian teaching. What is most important is our being adopted by God as his sons and daughters.
Through his death on the cross Jesus has provided the legal and just way for God to adopt us. That is our highest privilege. And in this model prayer Jesus tells us what this meant when it came to speaking with God. It is the greatest privilege of all, to be able to call him, ‘Father’. From now we can approach the great, majestic God of the universe in a very personal way.
These first words of the Lord’s Prayer encourage us to see that this big, exciting God delights in us knowing him personally and intimately as his children. When I think of this, I for one, want to pray, “Our Father in heaven…”