A quick glance at my home library and I see that I own at least a dozen books on prayer. It's not surprising. Prayer, while a simple thing in many ways, is also at the same time challenging for us.
Consider the disciples who grew up praying in the synagogue. Even though they had likely prayed their whole life and probably knew certain prayers in the Bible by heart (such as those in the Psalms), they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Perhaps they saw how he withdrew from them on a regular basis to seek his Father in prayer. Perhaps they heard him pray, not in rote memorization, but in belief, trust, and confidence. Perhaps they witnessed firsthand the results of his prayers. Whatever their reasons for asking, Jesus did teach them to pray by giving them what we call the The Lord's Prayer:
"Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.a
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil." (Matthew 6:9-13)
For many believers, The Lord's Prayer is something we can recite in our sleep. Many of us learned it as child in Sunday School. Some of us say it in church every Sunday. It's also a prayer that forms and shapes our personal prayers—using it as a model to help us include the important elements of prayer such as praise, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.
Sometimes, when we know something so well, we take it for granted. We recite it without paying attention to the words. We overlook its meaning and significance. When that happens, we need a fresh reminder of why we say it to begin with.
In the case of The Lord's Prayer, do we know how significant it is that we get to pray that first line, Our Father in Heaven? Do we understand the privilege of coming before God as our Father and laying our requests before him?
God Our Father
Through faith in Jesus' perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection, we are saved from sin. We are justified. God looks at what Christ has done for us and declares us righteous. This is a legal act. Upon our salvation, we are also brought into right relationship with God. We are adopted into his family, the church. This adoption concerns our relationship with God. Because of Jesus' sacrifice, we can "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).
When Jesus referred to God as Father in this prayer, it is translated as Abba. It was the name Jewish children used to refer to their fathers. Some compare it to our own children referring to their father as "Daddy." Because of our adoption as God's children, we get to pray Our Father. Just as our children can run to their own Daddy when they are hurt, curl in his lap and find rest and comfort, praying Our Father means the same for us. It is an intimate, familiar, and familial reference. It denotes trust, security, and love. In praying, Our Father, it reminds us of God's great love for us. "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God" (1 John 3:1).
To pray Our Father means that we have a familial relationship with the God of the universe. The One who flung the stars across the sky, who holds the earth in the palm of his hand, who controls the wind and mighty oceans, is our Abba. He cares about every detail of our lives, down to the number of hairs on our head. He hears our every cry and knows our every need—before we even speak it.
J.I. Packer asserts that adoption "is the highest privilege that the gospel offers." He wrote in Knowing God, "Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship."
Our Father in Heaven
Jesus didn't simply pray, Our Father, he qualified it with, "in heaven." This phrase tells us that our Father is in heaven. It reminds us that God isn't just any father, he is also the Sovereign God who rules and reigns from his throne above. "The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19). This means he is far above and beyond any earthly father. He is a father who is holy, perfect, right, and true.
For those who can't help but think of their fallen relationships with their earthly father, this prayer reminds us that our Father is in heaven. He is nothing like our human fathers. He will never forsake us. He will never leave us, fail us, or reject us. So as we pray to our Heavenly Father, we can trust that he hears us, he loves us, and he is for us. "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-14)
Because our Father is in Heaven, it also means he owns all things. He is the source of all we have. He determines our length of days and gives us life, breath, and health. All of creation is dependent upon him. "He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry" (Psalm 147:8-9). Each and every day, we wake up sustained by God's power and grace. When we pray Our Father in Heaven, we ought to respond in wonder and praise that the God of the universe hears our prayers.
Prayer is a privilege. How amazing it is that we get to come into our Father's presence! When we pray the The Lord's Prayer, may we take time to dwell on what it means to pray Our Father. May it remind us of our adoption into God's family and cause us to rejoice at God's generous and daily provision of grace.