There are those who believe that the Lord teaches you a lesson again and again until you get it. I can easily believe this when it comes to prayer. Perhaps that is why in the space of eight days I am sharing on the Lord’s model prayer three times. (I refer to this prayer as the Lord’s model prayer because it is a template for our prayers—“pray like this” [ Matthew 6:9].)
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today 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 the evil one.
(Matthew 6:9b–13 NIV)
We note straight away that the prayer is God-focused and not need-focused. Many of us do not pray, or we just go through the motions of prayer, or we turn to God in times of need. I am continually astounded by the grace of God that He would receive us even when we seek him just for our needs. Indeed, I suspect He sometimes allows problems to enter our lives just to get our attention.
However, the Lord’s model prayer begins not with our needs but by teaching us who we are praying to. I believe this is the most important part of prayer—clarity as to who we are praying to. There are many books on prayer out there that teach us techniques on prayer, but the most important thing is to know who we are praying to. We are praying to our Father in heaven.
We are praying to our Father—this is an incredible relationship of intimacy and our reminder that our primary identity is “child of God”. The New Testament makes it clear that the primary identity of followers of Jesus is “child of God” (Romans 8: 15–16; 1 John 3:1). The story of the prodigal son (I prefer the title “The story of the gracious father”) gives us a glimpse of what awaits when we turn to the Father (Luke 15:11–32). Father is always waiting for us with arms wide open. Sometimes we are reluctant to turn to God because our lives are in a mess and we feel that we need to get our act together before we come home. Instead, we should come home first, and Father will help us get our act together.
So, when we pray we are turning to our Father. Therefore, we should never doubt the fact that we are welcomed, that He loves us, and that He cares about the things that we are concerned about. We pray in confidence.
But we also need to remember that He is our Father in heaven. He is our Father but He is also God. A number of implications stem from this truth. One, we should never project our experience of our earthly fathers back onto heaven. Some of us have good experiences with our earthly fathers. Some of us have very bad experiences. Our source of knowledge about our heavenly Father is not our earthly fathers but the Son of God (John 14:9), and indeed how God has acted in history as recorded in the Bible.
Second, because Father is God we also need to approach Him with the requisite awe and reverence. He is also the God of the burning bush (Exodus 3) and the God that Isaiah encountered (Isaiah 6:1–8). Invariably, when we approach a holy God we will be conscious of our sins. But the Lord’s model prayer will go on to address that. It is almost an impossible balancing act to approach God with both confidence and awe, but we can with His help. My concern for a lot of our public worship is that we swing to one extreme or the other—either an over-familiarity with God, devoid of awe, or an unhealthy fear of God that keeps us from drawing near.
That our heavenly Father is also God gives us added reasons to pray in confidence. When we bring our concerns to Him we remember that He is all-knowing and all-powerful. He will know what to do. And He will have the power to deal with it.
Hence it is crucial that we begin our prayer remembering who we are praying to. Otherwise, we may not have the confidence to draw near, or we may not be confident that He cares, or that He understands, or that He can do anything about our concerns. Remembering that our God is our heavenly Father begins our prayer with the answers to two primary questions:
- Who is God? Our heavenly Father.
- Who am I? A child of God.
We will continue our reflection on the Lord’s model prayer in subsequent ecommentaries.
Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.