Cornelius Hanko is an emeritus minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Ques. 120. Why hath God commanded us to address God thus: “Our Father”? 

Ans. That immediately, in the very beginning of our prayer, he might excite in us a childlike reverence for, and confidence in God, which are the foundation of our prayer; namely, that God is become our Father in Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of him in true faith, than our parents will refuse us earthly things. 

Ques. 121. Why is here added, “Which art in heaven”? 

Ans. Lest we should form any earthly conceptions of God’s heavenly majesty, and that we may expect from his almighty power all things necessary for soul and body. 

Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 46


We pause at the portal of God’s sanctuary.

As we bend our knees in prayer we do well to reflect on this deeply spiritual undertaking. We are about to enter into the presence of the Holy One of Israel, the Most High and living God, who dwells in the dazzling brightness of His own glorious perfection as God above all, blessed forever. We will stand before His face, pour out our souls in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, worshipping in holy adoration the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. We want to experience that intimate communion of life which God establishes with us through a living bond of faith that unites us to Him. We seek His approval, which is more to us than life itself.

We realize, as Jesus teaches us, that we must not pray as do the hypocrites, standing on the street corners to be seen of men. Men see them; they have their reward. Nor must we pattern our prayers after the pagans, who attempt to impose their wishes upon their vain idols by shouting, crying, pouring out volumes of words. Our Father knows what we have need of even before we ask it of Him.

Our Lord gives us a “model prayer”, brief, so that it can be spoken in a few minutes; simple, so that a small child can grasp it; yet at the same time so rich, so fully expressive of all our needs, that it takes us a life-time to learn it. Well may we ask that the Holy Spirit apply that Word of Christ to our hearts, teaching us also a proper approach to God in prayer!

Our Lord teaches us to say: “Our ,Father which art in heaven.”

We are to address our God in the deep awareness of our own insignificance and His exalted majesty as God above all, blessed forever! He is so infinitely far beyond us! Heaven is His throne, yet even the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him. He is Light, in whom is no darkness whatever. He is Life, the eternal fullness of light, in whose light alone we see the light. He is the only and perfect source of all light and life, the fullness of blessedness and infinite, eternal glory. With whom would we liken God? What is man? A mere speck of dust!

We are aware that almighty power belongs to .Him. Apart from Him there is no might, no power, no creature that stirs. He is the sovereign Creator, who calls the things that are not as though they were. By His eternal providence He upholds and governs all things, so that in Him we live, and move, and have our being, carrying out the counsel of His will unto His glory, even according to His eternal purpose. What are we? Helpless, dependent creatures!

Holy is His Name. The angels hide their faces before Him in worship and adoration, as they declare: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, heaven and earth are full of thy glory! The saints in heaven never cease to marvel in amazement and worship as they behold His infinite majesty, endless perfections, and eternal blessedness! The heavens declare His glory, the firmament shoxYs His handiwork, all creation joins in singing its Maker’s praise! And thou, my soul, bless thou Him above all!

God is the righteous Judge, Who judges according to strictest justice as sovereign Ruler over the angels, over the demons of hell, over every man, woman and child that ever lives upon the face of the earth. Whom He curses is indeed cursed; whom He blesses is richly blessed. Both His curse and His blessing are eternal in perfect righteousness, that every tongue may be stopped, and God be justified into all eternity.

Jehovah is His Name, for He is the almighty, unchangeable, ever faithful and gracious God, who lives His own glorious covenant life in intimate communion of the three divine Persons within His one Being, and who brings His chosen ones into His fellowship and life, to be blessed forever to the praise of His glory! Blessed is that people whose God is Jehovah!

Never would we know Him unless He reveals Himself unto us. No one has ever seen God or can see Him. No creature can discover Him. Canst thou by searching find out God? No one is worthy to stand in His presence; especially not we who are conceived and born in sin, and increase our guilt daily with our many transgressions. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His Holy Place?

In a mercy far beyond human comprehension, God has willed to reveal Himself to us as the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus. He has condescended to come to us, for we could never come to Him. He emptied Himself of His divine glory, was born like any one of us from the virgin Mary, the most blessed among women. He took upon Himself the form of a Servant, humbled Himself in complete self-surrender to the Father, bowed His mighty shoulders under the burden of divine wrath against our sins, even unto the accursed death of the cross, the horrible isolation and anguish of hell, until He had delivered us from the curse and merited for us eternal access to the Father. Even that was not sufficient to prepare for us a living way to the throne of grace. Our Lord conquered over death and the grave, ascended to heaven, where He now intercedes for us before the Father. We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous!

Well may we pause before we utter a single word of prayer to remind ourselves that our God is in the heavens, while we are on the earth. Well may we breathe the prayer of worship in fear and adoration:

O Lord Most High, with all my heart

They wondrous works I will proclaim;

I will be glad and give Thee thanks

And sing the praises of Thy Name!

Only then can we sincerely say: “Our Father!”

True it is that there are many other names that God has given us whereby we may speak of Him and address Him. The saints of the old dispensation had many names whereby they spoke of God and to Him. We have evidence of that in Psalm 91:1, 2, where the sweet singer of Israel confesses: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.”

It seems to me that it came as a surprise to His disciples that among all the possible names whereby they were accustomed to address God, among which stood out the name Jehovah, that Jesus should teach them to address God as Father. They likely had never done that before. In the old dispensation the Father-Name is rarely used. Christ had not yet come. The church was still under the law, tenaciously clinging to the promise of the coming Savior. Even while Jesus was among them they were not accustomed to hear or use that Names. But our Lord was reaching out into the future, beyond Pentecost, beyond the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, when the richer Spirit would give them a richer revelation of the wonder of our salvation, a far more intimate communion of life with God. The Spirit of adoption would teach them, even as it teaches us to cry out: Abba, Father!

As we take that name of Father on our lips we are reminded that of ourselves we have no right to that name; dare not, may not, and cannot utter it! We are by nature children of wrath, sold under sin. Our sins rise up against us, testifying how unfaithful we have been, even as those who are called the sons and daughters of God. But the Spirit of Jesus Christ in our hearts gives us confidence, testifying in us of the right to confess our sins, to seek forgiveness, assured that we will find mercy. Though our sins be as scarlet, our God is able to cleanse us and make us as white as snow in the blood of Jesus Christ.

Child-like humility prevents us from imposing our will upon Father, who certainly know what is good for us. We do not dictate, but we pour out our souls, telling Him all our needs, our cares, our anxieties, our doubts and fears, and then asking for complete submission to Father’s will.

In child-like trust we cast away all concern, for He who cares for the sparrow on the housetop cares much more for us. We only ask that we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and in whatever befalls us to rest in contentment!

We do not try to repay Father for His benefits; we know He does not expect that of us. What, indeed, shall we render unto the Lord for all His benefits that He bestows on us? We take up the cup of salvation, thankfully mindful of all His gifts of mercy, and extend needy, dependent hands to heaven, always asking for more, alone from Father!

As we are about to pray, there is still one more lesson we must learn. We must say: OUR Father which art in heaven! That ‘our’ is very important.

Not as if we never approach God as individuals with our personal needs, but it is our privilege to pray through our Mediator Jesus Christ, so that our prayers mingle with the prayers of all the saints of all ages, and arise as a daily sacrifice before the face of God.

This people is our people, their God is our God, their needs are our needs! O the blessedness to belong to the family of God, now, eternally!

With them we ask: Teach us, Lord, to pray: “Our Father which art in heaven!”