Last week we examined an incident wherein the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Before we look at what Jesus said in response to the request, let us note a number of things he did not say.
Jesus did not mandate that prayer be done with the closed eyes and folded hands so common to Western culture. Neither did he mandate that we pray in any specific posture, whether that be on the knees, standing, sitting, or sprawled out face down on the floor. Neither did Jesus suggest that we speak with an other-than-normal cadence or vocal tone. There is no specific “prayer voice” required to speak with the Almighty.
What seems to be of primary concern to the Lord is the condition of our hearts when we come before our holy God. The only directives Jesus offered regarding our prayer life are that we go to our inner room and close the door for our time of prayer and that we do not litter our prayer with meaningless repetition.1 In saying this, Jesus employed a term that has its roots in the name of King Battus, a man who was known for his stammering.2
Building atop those two directives, Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way:”
The prayer opens with a very telling phrase, “Our Father.” Two such simple words, yet loaded with information and meaning. The first word, “Our,” is noticeably plural. Jesus did not say for us to pray My Father, but rather Our Father. Give us, this day, our daily bread. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil.
In fact, there are no singular pronouns in this prayer. Every pronoun is plural.
The individualized, personal-relationship thrust of modern evangelicalism is somewhat at odds with what Jesus is demonstrating with the opening line of this prayer. We are a community of believers with a common spiritual Father.3
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. – Romans 8:14-16, ESV
The second word was shocking to the disciples. A good Jew would never use a term like “Father” to address holy God, despite the fact that the Old Testament characterized God in precisely that way,4 yet Jesus called him “Father” ten times in eighteen verses.5
The phrase “Our Father” speaks of both privilege and relationship, and we must never underestimate that, or take it for granted. We have received adoption as children of God. It is a right that was granted to us.6
That reality places us in a family, with a Father, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. It establishes both the vertical (us and the Father) and the horizontal (me and you) relationships of the believer’s life. It teaches us that prayer itself is dependent on the reality of that Father-child relationship and the you-and-me relationship, and we know from the statement of the apostle Paul above, that the Spirit of God is what enables those relationships to exist. He restates the same truth in his letter to the Galatian churches:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God – Galatians 4:4-7, ESV
The walk of a Christ-follower is a communal experience. It is we and our, not me and mine. As that community of Christ, we have a tremendous – near unfathomable privilege of addressing the God of the universe as “Father.”
We will pick it up there next week. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Channel. Until then . . .
1. Matthew 5:6-8
2. Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (p. 123). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
3. Malachi 2:10, Acts 17:28
4. Psalm 103:13, Malachi 3:17
5. Matthew 6:1, 4, 6 (twice), 8, 9, 14, 15, 18 (twice)
6. John 1:12
7. Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume. (p. 1860). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
8. Matthew 6:6
9. Matthew 6:7-9a
10. Barbieri, L. A., Jr. (1985). Matthew. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 32). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
11. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 25). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.