God Our Father –
Sermon 2 of 12 from the And When You Pray: The Deeper Meaning of The Lord’s Prayer series
October 2009 – “Our Father in Heaven.” Matthew 6:9
Before we begin: What words describe your earthly father? Do you feel comfortable addressing God as “Father?” Why or why not?
“Who is God?”
The interviewer looked at me expectantly while I fumbled to find an answer. Since the cameras were rolling, I had to say something so I more or less said what I learned in seminary many years ago: “God is an infinite, personal, eternal Spirit who created the universe by His own power. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and present everywhere at all times. And he exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” As I look back on that definition, I like the first two words: “God is.” Everything after that, while very true, sounds like a recitation from a theology lecture.
Dr. E. V. Hill preached at a Promise Keepers rally in Chicago on those two words: “God is.” In his own unforgettable style, he pressed home the point that everything in the universe flows from this one truth. Dr. Hill would preach for a while and then he would say, “God is.” He’d preach a while longer and then he’d say (or whisper or shout) “God is.” He’s right, of course. Figure this out and you’ve got a handle on life. Deny this and nothing else makes sense. Either God is or he isn’t. And if he is, that changes everything. The voice from the burning bush told Moses to tell the people that “I AM” has sent you (Exodus 3:14). And what precisely does that mean? The only further explanation is “I AM who I AM,” which points to God’s eternal self-existence. If you know that “God is” and that he is the great “I AM,” you know the most fundamental truth in the universe.
When You Need to Know
A young couple came to see me with the good news that they plan to be missionaries. They are eminently qualified and will do a wonderful job, and there was only one small problem. After months of prayer they had no idea where they would like to go. "You mean in the whole wide world you have no idea where God wants you go?” I asked. They didn’t have a clue. And they can’t start raising support until they at least know what country they are going to. As we talked I said something like this: “The reason you don’t know now is because you don’t need to know now. If you needed to know now, God would have shown you. Since you don’t know now, it must be true that you don’t need to know because when you do need to know, you’ll know, and not one minute sooner. If God is God, that must be true.” I more or less made that up on the spot, but looking back I decided that it was good advice because it is based on the truth that God gives us guidance when we need it, and generally that guidance comes just in the nick of time. When I shared that with my congregation, people chuckled because it sounds humorous. The key phrase is: “If God is God, this must be true.” A few months later that same couple came to see me with the news that through a very unusual set of circumstances (it always seems to happen this way), God opened the door for them to go to Russia to work in a theological school not far from the Black Sea. When I talked to them earlier, they had no idea such a place existed, much less that they would be going there. But now God has answered clearly and they are preparing to leave soon for the mission field.
The Lord’s Prayer is not a “private” prayer.
In Psalm 81:10 God gives a wonderful invitation to his children, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it." Ask what you need, God says, and I will do it for you. Years ago I heard someone say that Jeremiah 33:3 is “God’s telephone number” because it contains a very clear promise: “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know" (NASB).
We Do Not Pray Alone
The Lord’s Prayer begins with a simple statement about who God is. Jesus invites us to say “Our Father” when we pray. The key to understanding the Lord’s Prayer is rightly understanding what that phrase means. First of all, when you say, “Our Father in heaven,” you are admitting that you do not pray alone. The Lord’s Prayer is not a “private” prayer. The words “I” and “me” are nowhere to be found. You are admitting that you are not the only one in the world who has a concern to bring to God. To begin with the word “our” means that you are in a fellowship and a community of God’s children around the world. This is an important insight because it is very easy to become me-oriented when we pray. But when you pray “Our Father,” you are confessing that your problems are not the only problems in the world. You are admitting that there are millions of people around the world who have concerns just as great as yours. To pray like this imparts a bigness and expansiveness to your prayer because it includes all of God’s children everywhere. When we pray “Our Father” as a congregation, we cease to be individuals coming to church with our own particular burdens. Instead, we become part of a family with a common heritage and with shared values. And that family of brothers and sisters is even more decisive than a biological family. It is a family created by the new birth and made possible by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ for our redemption.
The first step in prayer is to learn to call God “Father."
And that leads us to a crucial theological point. The first step in prayer is to learn to call God “Father." In a true biblical sense, the only people who can do that are those who are the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26). I know it is popular today to say “We’re all God’s children” with a kind of glibness that blurs the distinctions between those who know Jesus Christ and those who don’t. But in contrast to those who would apply the Lord’s Prayer to everyone, even to non-Christians, we must declare that this is a prayer only true Christians can pray. That is, this is not a prayer for Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims. They have their own prayers and their own rituals based on their beliefs. Those prayers belong to them, not to those who claim to follow Jesus Christ. And the same is true of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a uniquely Christian prayer based on Christian truth and it is intended for those who have been born into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ. Charles Haddon Spurgeon notes that it is not a general prayer intended for the masses, but is instead a prayer for the true disciples of Christ, those who have been converted by the saving grace of God.
Like Father, Like Son
Second, you are to call him “Our Father’”. When you call God “Father,” you are saying there is one in heaven who hears and knows and understands and cares. Whatever a good father on earth would do for his children, that’s what God in heaven will do for his children. As I write those words, my mind drifts to my own father who died 35 years ago. He was a busy surgeon who went to the hospital early in the morning and didn’t come home until late at night. I smile when I recall that if he found me doing my homework when he came home, he would give me a quarter. I think I earned about 75 cents that way. From him I inherited my love of the Ole Miss Rebels, my Southern accent, and most of values I hold deep in my heart. It occurred to me recently that I had forgotten how my father’s voice sounded. We don’t have any tape recordings of his voice so it’s been a long time since I heard it. As I pondered the matter, I realized with a kind of inner certainty that if my father were to enter a crowded room and say just one word, “Son,” I would know it was him, would know it instantly, would know it without even seeing his face. Though my father is gone, he is not forgotten for he lives on in me and through me.
I now have three sons of my own and they know without me having to tell them that because I am their father, I am always glad to see them. While presiding at a late-night prayer meeting some years ago, this truth came home to me in a powerful way. It must have been about 9:45 PM and I was offering some words of instruction to the people gathered in the room. While I was speaking to the group, one of my boys walked up to me to ask me a question. I paused, listened to him, answered him, and then continued with my talk. When we had a break a few minutes later, one of the men commented on what my son had done. I didn’t even remember it. The whole episode happened so naturally that it didn’t register in my memory. My son knew he could talk to me any time he wanted, and that’s what he did.
Therefore, when you say, “Our father in heaven,” you are proclaiming that he has the authority and power to hear you and to help you when you pray.
Sons and daughters have family rights that guarantee them access to their father. That’s a big part of what being a father is all about. My children don’t need an appointment to see me, and I don’t need an appointment to see my Heavenly Father. Even in the midst of running the entire universe, keeping the stars in their courses, and making sure the planets don’t run into each other, and while he oversees six billion people with all their troubles, cares, worries, fears, problems, and difficulties, our God still has time for us. He listens to us as if He had no one else to listen to.
A Friend in High Places
Third, we pray to our Father who is “in heaven“. That’s usually a throwaway line for most of us. We tend to think it means that earth is where we are and heaven is where God is, which we imagine is beyond the farthest star. That’s not what it means. The phrase “in heaven” refers to heaven as the center of the universe and the seat of all authority and power and dominion and greatness. You are on earth and are therefore limited to this little ball of dirt floating around the sun in a little corner of a big galaxy called the Milky Way. And that galaxy is just one of millions of galaxies in a universe so huge that we cannot accurately measure it. To say that we are “on earth” means that we pray from a position of weakness and comparative insignificance. God is in the seat of all authority and all power. Therefore, when you say, “Our father in heaven,” you are proclaiming that he has the authority and power to hear you and to help you when you pray. It is precisely because God is in heaven that he has the power to help you.
Think of it this way:
“Our Father” - that speaks of Community.
“Our Father” - that speaks of Family.
“In heaven“ - that speaks of Authority.
Or to say it another way:
Our = I do not pray alone.
Father = I am not left alone.
In heaven = I do not struggle alone.
Or from a third perspective:
Our = I pray with others.
Our Father = I pray to One who cares for me.
Our Father in heaven = I pray to one who has the power to help me.
Every single word is important. Every single word is crucial. “Our“ opens you up to a big view of the universe. “Father“ encourages you to believe that he cares. “In heaven“ means that you don’t have a problem that he can’t handle. You don’t have a need in your life that he can’t meet because he’s a father in heaven who hears and answers prayer.
A New Way of Looking At God
Without a doubt, the central word is Father. A quick glance at a concordance reveals that the name “Father” is applied to God very infrequently in the Old Testament and never by a person referring to God as “my Father.” It always refers to God as the Father of the nation of Israel. When we come to the New Testament, we discover that Jesus called God “Father” more than 60 times. Why this enormous difference? Because the revelation of God as our personal Father is based on the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. It’s not that he wasn’t a Father to his people in the Old Testament, but that’s not the primary way He revealed Himself. Only in the New Testament do we discover that God is now the Father of those who come to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith.
Jesus called God “Father” more than 60 times.
The word “father” in the Bible means three basic things. First, it refers to source or paternity or origin. God is the source of all that you have. When we sing the Doxology, we begin with the words “Praise God from whom all blessings flow“. Or as the Scripture says, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:25). When you call God “Father,” you declare that your ultimate origin rests with him.
Second, the word Father speaks of parental authority. He is God and you are not. He is running the show and you are not. He is a father; you are his child. We must not use the fact of God’s love as an excuse to reject his right to rule over us. Because he is our Father “in heaven,” he has the right to do as he pleases even if his ways do not always sense to us. “He may send us pain and circumstances that frustrate us. We must not act like spoiled children when this occurs” (Tom Wells). We should affirm our confidence in his goodness toward us at all times.
Third, when you call God “Father,” you confess that he is a God of tender loving care. There’s a Hebrew word in the Old Testament-hesed-which is translated a number of different ways. In the King James, hesed is usually translated as lovingkindness. As in “thy lovingkindness is better than life”. The newer translations take that concept and add the concept of faithfulness to it. This word speaks of God’s loyal love to all His children. It is the love that keeping on loving no matter what we do or how badly we blow it or how many dumb mistakes we make. He is a God who never lets his children go. He loves his children with an everlasting love that is faithful and loyal no matter what happens.
When we turned our back on him, he loved us.
When we were far away, he loved us. When we turned our back on him, he loved us. When we broke his law, he loved us. When we went our own way, he loved us. When we said, “Leave us alone, we don’t want you around anymore,” he said, “I’m going to stay around anyway.” And when we ran, he followed. When we hid, he found us. When we cursed him to his face, he just smiled and said, “I love you anyway.” That’s what loyal love is all about. That’s the Father’s love for his children. He is always near us whether we see Him or feel Him or even whether we believe He is there or not.
He calms our fears.
He cheers us on.
He provides what we really need.
He lets us go our own way.
He welcomes us back from the far country.
Good News For Prodigal Sons And Daughters
Jesus told a story in Luke 15:11-32 that beautifully illustrates this truth. We call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s all about a young man who made a foolish decision and what happened to him as a result. The story begins with a younger son who chafes under his father’s rule and perhaps feels put down by his obedient older brother. So he demands his inheritance from his father who agrees to give it to him. Taking the money, he leaves home and journeys to a place the Bible calls “the far country.” There he spends every dime he has on riotous living. Parties day and night, women on both arms, the good life, the fast lane. Whatever he wants, he buys with his father’s money. Eventually the money runs out. When a famine comes, not having any money and being too far away from home, he attaches himself to a farmer who says, “The only work I have is feeding my pigs.” The prodigal son ends up penniless, homeless, starving, feeding the pigs, eating the pods from the carob trees. He who had eaten prime rib just a few weeks earlier now dines with the pigs. In the end he lost everything. The prodigal son has hit rock bottom. That’s when his life began to change.
First, he came to his senses and realized what a fool he had been. Second, he decided to return to his father. Third, he mentally rehearsed how he would confess his sin to his father. Fourth, he got up from the pigpen and started the long journey home.
As he shuffled along the road, one question went through his mind: What is my father going to say? Will he take me back? With his head down, he walked along that dirt road, embarrassed and humiliated. Certainly his fears were well-founded. We don’t often think about the father’s pain when we read this story. But it couldn’t have been easy for him. First, he lost part of the fortune he had worked so long to amass. Second, he lost his reputation in the community. When a son leaves home in such anger, there’s no way to keep it hidden. The older brother knew, the hired men knew, soon enough the friends and neighbors knew about it. Every time the father went into town, people talked about it behind his back. Dysfunctional families make good gossip for idle minds. They talked about what had happened, they analyzed the problems, perhaps some of the younger men took the son’s side. No doubt the older men sided with the father. Meanwhile, the father knows all about the talk, hears the whispers, and through it all, silently struggles to keep his dignity.
The Lord’s Prayer answers the greatest question of the universe-Is there anybody up there who cares about me?
But the worst pain was the simple fact that the father had lost his son. After all those years, after all those prayers, after holding him in his arms, after teaching him how to hunt and fish, after pouring out an ocean of love, suddenly the dream is shattered, and the father is left with a huge hole in his heart. Words cannot express the pain, the sadness, the loss the father feels. His son has left home, and no one can console him. After all that, could anyone blame the father if he refused to take his son back? No wonder the son worries as he slowly plods toward home. He has no idea what awaits him.
Smothered With Kisses
The Bible says that while he was still a long way off, his father saw him. This is a great moment. His father sees him first. His father saw him and was moved with compassion. Day after day the father watched for his son. Night after night he waited for his return. Nothing deterred him, not the weather, not the jeers and jokes of the skeptics, not the doubting looks of his friends. Deep in his heart, he knew his son would someday come back home. Then it happened. One day, late in the afternoon, when the sun was beating down and sweat covered his face, he saw a figure slowly come over the rise and begin to walk hesitantly toward him. Throwing all dignity aside, he ran to meet his son, embraced him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. The word Jesus used means he smothered him with kisses. In that one moment all questions were answered. The son’s fear melted away in the tears and hugs.
No one could ever have predicted what happens next. It is for this that we love this story. We read it over and over again, we cling to it, believe it, hope in it, stake out lives upon it–all because of the father’s welcome to his erring son.
There are five signs of the father’s welcome:
1. The kiss, the sign of forgiveness.
2. The robe, the sign of honor.
3. The ring, the sign of authority.
4. The sandals, the sign of freedom.
5. The feast, the sign of a joyful welcome.
Verse 24 brings the first part of the story to a close with these wonderful words of hope: “So they began to celebrate." At the father’s command, a party begins that lasts for hours. How does the father feel about his son who has come home? “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of your was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32). Back from the dead! Found! Alive again! Home again! No wonder the father said, “Let’s have a party.” It was the Father’s love that made him run to the son while his son was still a great distance away. And that same love caused him to kill the fatted calf and throw an enormous party. The son who was lost had now been found. Even during the darkest days and the longest nights, the father never gave up hope that one day his son would come home. That’s what God’s “loyal love” is all about.
There is a God in heaven who cares about you. And he is called Father.
You’ve never done anything that could make God stop loving you. “But you don’t know what I’ve done this week.” That’s all right. God knows, and he loves you anyway. You’ve never even imagined anything that could make God stop loving you. “I’m far away from God.” He still loves you. “I’ve sinned.” He still loves you. “You don’t understand.” I don’t have to understand. He knows and he loves you anyway. “I don’t care. I’m going to go my way.” It doesn’t matter. He still loves you. And when you’re ready, he’ll be ready. When you turn around, and you will, he’ll be standing at the door to welcome you back. That’s the mighty love of God. That’s the love of a God who is called Father. Aren’t you glad this prayer didn’t begin, “O First Principle, Hallowed be thy name,” or “O Ground of all Being, Give us this day our daily bread.” We wouldn’t have believed that. That wouldn’t have helped us.
Is There Anyone Up There Who Cares For Me?
The Lord’s Prayer answers the greatest question of the universe-Is there anybody up there who cares about me? Is there anybody up there who watches over me? Is there anybody up there who knows my name? And the answer comes back-Yes. Yes. Yes. There is a God in heaven who cares about you. And he is called Father
This prayer is the answer to the deepest problem of mankind-the problem of fatherlessness. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that if we know Jesus Christ, we are not orphans in the universe. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the image of God within each of us has been marred by sin. I picture a piece of paper with the words GOD’S IMAGE in huge letters. Before Adam and Eve sinned, that paper was clean and smooth. But now for all of us that paper is crumpled, dirty and torn. But it is never completely destroyed. Despite all our failures we still want to know God, and we still want to find meaning in life but just don’t know where to look.
We were made to know God and we want to know him, but our sin has separated us from God. As a result, we are left with a deep “Father hunger” that won’t go away.
To use a very modern phrase, we are left with a kind of “Father Hunger.” That’s a phrase used to describe children growing up in a family without a strong and compassionate father figure. He may have died or he may have abandoned his family. Or perhaps he was so busy that he had no time for his family. Because he barely knows his children, they compete desperately for little scraps of his love and approval. Children growing up in a home like that desperately want a father and sometimes they will look for someone (or something) to fill that void. On a much larger scale that’s the story of all humanity. We were made to know God and we want to know him, but our sin has separated us from God. As a result, we are left with a deep “Father hunger” that won’t go away.
Some people become so desperate that they turn to alcohol and drugs to fill the aching void within. Others float from one failed relationship to another. And some people bury themselves in their work in the hope that climbing to the top of the corporate heap will quell the little voice within that says, “There must be something more.” In the end, a few tortured souls take their own lives because, like Solomon of old, they discovered that nothing in this life satisfies for very long. They end up saying, “I hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17).
Everything God has for us and that He is for us is wrapped in the word “Father.”
Good news! Good news! In Jesus Christ we have discovered the greatest news of all-that our God is not some impersonal deity, not fate or chance or some mechanical kismet or karma, not something mystical, not a God who’s so far off he doesn’t care. In Jesus Christ we’ve discovered the most important truth of the universe. Our God is a father. He loves you so much that he did something we would never think of doing. He gave his own Son to die for you. He loves you inconceivably because he did the inconceivable. He gave his Son for you, proving that he is a Father who truly loves his children.
All that a good father is to his children God will be to his children when they approach him in prayer. And that is why the most profound prayer you will ever pray has only three words-"Our Heavenly Father.” Pray that and if you really understand what it means, that is the prayer and everything else is just the P.S.
Jesus made prayer simple because in the end, we are simple people. If it were difficult, most of us would forget it or mess it up somehow. Yet these simple words are profound beyond our understanding. Everything God has for us and that He is for us is wrapped in the word “Father." When we come to Him in Jesus’ name, we are not coming to an angry God, but to a friendly Father. So don’t be afraid to talk to God. Your Father is waiting to hear from you.
Lord God, you have called us out of darkness into your marvelous light and by grace you have blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. All things are ours because all things are yours and we are your beloved children. We claim no merit of our own but cling to the imputed righteousness of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We make bold to pray the Lord’s Prayer because Jesus commanded us to do so and with his own blood he opened the way into your presence. We thank you for the privilege of calling you Father. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
A Truth to Remember: In Jesus Christ we’ve discovered the most important truth of the universe. Our God is a father.
1. What do you think of when you hear the word “father?” Are your mental images positive or negative? How does your experience with your earthly father impact your view of God as your Heavenly Father?
2. How have you experienced God’s “parental authority” in your life? How do you balance the concepts of intimacy and reverence that the word father implies?
3. Read Luke 15:11-32 slowly and thoughtfully. Put yourself in the prodigal son’s place. What made him want to leave home? What made him finally decide to come home? How do you think he felt as he prepared to meet his father?
4. Now put yourself in the father’s place. Think about the range of emotions he must have felt when his son asked for his share of the estate. How would you have responded in that situation? How did he feel during the long months or years his son was in the “far country?” Why didn’t he punish his son when he finally came home? Would you have been tougher than he was?
5. Read Psalm 103:13-18; Matthew 7:7-11; 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12; Hebrews 12:4-11. What do these passages teach us about the characteristics of a good father?
6. What does the term “father hunger” suggest to you? How is your own prayer life strengthened by seeing God as your Father?
An Action Step
Since God is your Father, He invites you to pour out your heart to Him. Take a 3 x 5 card and jot down three prayer requests that are on your heart right now. At the top write “Ask, Seek, Knock – Matthew 7:7-11.” Use this as a simple reminder to bring all your requests before your Heavenly Father.
Unfortunately, most believers have
committed the Lord’s Prayer to
memory but have never
examined it closely
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