“Our Father in Heaven”

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Jesus teaches his disciples whom to address in prayer: God alone. Not a “generic god,” whether one god among many, or an impersonal force, or even a supreme being who remains ultimately unknown, but the only true God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus definitively reveals God to be his Father and ours. He receives us into his own life with God, inviting—commanding!—us to relate to God as he himself does, as the Beloved Son to the Father. Learning to pray doesn’t mean learning techniques or formulae, learning to enter into trancelike states through mantras, or learning to pull cosmic levers to coax the universe into giving you what you want. Learning to pray is learning to relate personally to God as our Father in Christ. In order to pray as Jesus teaches, you must trust that God is who Jesus says he is.

Jesus begins this way because this is the prior reality that shapes and controls all our prayer. It is the most important thing, the foundational thing, the essential thing to know about prayer. It is the starting place of Christian prayer; before you even thought of praying, God made you his child. Your prayer is a response to your Father. Through faith in Jesus you really may pray this way, out of the fullness of knowing yourself to be the Beloved of God. The one who prays as Jesus taught is no longer lost and desperate to have God as his Father. “The essence of true prayer is found in these two words, ‘Our Father.’ If you can say from your heart, whatever your condition, ‘Our Father,’ in a sense your prayer is already answered” (David Martyn Lloyd-Jones).

You are never alone in prayer. Each person of the Trinity is present and engaged in his distinct way. We pray to the Father, mediated by and joining with Christ the Son, through the Holy Spirit. So, even if you’re in your closet (Matt. 6:6), prayer is a community conversation. Furthermore, the Lord’s Prayer is explicitly the prayer of the church, the community of God’s people. Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father…” You are not an only child. Your spiritual relationship is meant to be lived in community, and prayer best reflects God’s intent when it is corporate. This is not to minimize private prayer, but to recognize the emphasis on unity in Jesus’ teaching on prayer. So we pray this way together in Worship as the family of God.

We pray to God who is in Heaven, that Holy Place accessible to us only because of the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19). With his life Jesus has purchased our right to enter Heaven—even now, by his Spirit—and approach God with confidence, as only a Son would do. Though prayer may not always feel like a mystical, ecstatic, beatific-vision-level experience of God, you do have audience with the one on the throne of heaven. And he is your Father!

Apart from learning to pray from Jesus, how are you prone to conceive of prayer? What do you instinctively assume you need to improve about your prayer in order to pray “more adequately or effectively”? Can you think of prayer as a personal-relational activity with this God who has graciously initiated your relationship? When you go long periods of time without prayer, do you feel like you have to say or do something before you’ll feel at home in God’s presence, or do you imagine God as a Father who is always delighted to hear his child’s prayer? Is it easier for you to pray alone or with others? How do you think about individual and corporate prayer differently? Are they, in fact, fundamentally different things?

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