Lord’s Day 46
Question 120. Why hath Christ commanded us to address God thus: “Our Father”?
Answer. 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.
Question 121. Why is it here added, “Which art in heaven”?
Answer. 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.
“Lord, teach us to pray.”
Because our praying is difficult and deficient, and because we are forgetful sinners, we need instruction in prayer. This prayer, which we call the Lord’s Prayer but which is really the Disciples’ Prayer, is Jesus’ instruction to His disciples and to us in prayer.
In this first lesson, Jesus teaches us not only what words we should use to address God in prayer but also, because prayer is worship, how we should be thinking of God as we approach Him in prayer.
“Our Father, which art in heaven.”
The biblical idea
To understand what a “father” is, we must begin with Scripture and with understanding who God is as our Father. The earthly father was made by the Eternal Father as a dim reflection of Himself.
We also live in a fallen world in which this reflection has been destroyed by sin. How many do not know the pain of fatherly neglect and even abuse? How much do we not, even as Christian men, fall far short of the ideal in our role as fathers? To understand who God is as Father and to be what God intends as fathers we must let Scripture inform our thinking. Only then can someone whose experience with their earthly father was bad find comfort in thinking of God as his/her Father.
Biblically, the father is the male head of a home in which there are children, whose role is to be the provider, teacher, example, protector, and spiritual leader of his family (Gen. 3:19; Eph. 6:4; Job 1:5). Fatherhood, however, describes not just a person and a role but also a relationship. All of this is reflective of who God is as Father.
The fatherhood of God begins eternally in the Trinity where Father and Son love each other in the Holy Spirit. This rich relationship is given some beautiful and unfathomable descriptions in Scripture. In John 17, Jesus speaks of His righteous Father and the love that they enjoyed with each other before the foundation of the world (John 17:24-25). In John 1:18, Jesus is described as “the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father.”
The term “Father” is used in reference to God just a few times in the Old Testament, but many more times in the New Testament. In fact, it is Jesus’ most used designation for God, and He teaches us to use this name when we call on God. The reason for this is that God is and can be our Father only through Jesus. In John 1:12 we are told, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power [that is, “the right”] to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” Galatians 3:26 says, “…Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”
This teaches us that the family of God is spiritual, that God is not the Father of all mankind and we a universal brotherhood, but that it is through adoption and regeneration that we who are by nature children of the devil (John 8:44) are brought into God’s family. As a part of this family, we bear a spiritual likeness to God our father and we are constantly being transformed into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).
There is an urgency that everyone who does not believe in Jesus ought to feel and hear from us, an urgency to believe the gospel of God’s Son. There comes a day when God the Father will say to some, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23), and when Jesus will say to others, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).
A rich relationship
When Jesus instructs us to call God “Our Father,” He wants us to be thinking of a two-sided relationship: God’s relationship to us as Father, and our relationship to Him as children. Our interest is personal: “What does it mean that God is my Father? How does that affect my coming to Him in prayer?”
There are four things for us to remember about God in His relationship to us as our Father.
First, the term “Father” conveys an intimacy, a love and affection. Psalm 103:13 refers to this as a father’s pity. Pity is the expression of a deep and strong emotion in tender and gentle affection. Jesus wants us to think of God this way as we come to Him, because this is how He knew and approached God (Matt. 26:39). Perhaps the best description of this in Scripture is the father’s reception of his prodigal son in Jesus’ parable: “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
Second, the term “Father” denotes a full awareness and involvement of God in the details of our lives. The omniscient God knows our “downsitting” and “uprising” and is “acquainted with all our ways,” even “understanding our thoughts afar off” (Ps. 139:2-4). When it comes to prayer, the Father knows all our needs before we tell Him (Matt. 6:31-32). Just as a committed earthly father knows his children and their needs and situations and is committed to their care, so God knows and cares for us.
Third, the term “Father” speaks of God’s commitment to correcting and disciplining us. “For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov. 3:12). This can be painful for me as a child of God, but it is the one of the surest marks that I am one of His children. Hebrews 12:6-8 tells us that such chastening is evidence to us of God’s love, of His receiving us, and of His dealing with us as sons. We understand that this is how things are in a healthy Christian family, and as God’s children we thank Him for the chastisements and pray for humility to learn and grow through them.
Fourth, as our Father, God is committed to our spiritual growth, not only through discipline, but also by providing for us all that we need for our bodies and especially for our souls. He does this by exhorting, comforting, and charging “as a father doth his children” through the Word, both in Scripture and preached (I Thess. 2:10-11). To put this another way, God is a communicating Father. For prayer, this means that we should be praying with our Bibles open, hearing God’s voice as we lift our prayers to Him.
For our part, properly understanding God as our Father, should produce in us a childlike reverence and trust as we come to Him in prayer. As with our children, there ought to be a delicate balance between intimacy and respect, so that our closeness and familiarity with our Father does not produce a casualness in our worship and prayer. A respectable earthly father is a man who is attentive and loving to his children, but also a firm and resolved leader who does not indulge every wish of his children. Children will respect such a father- figure because they know that in him there is safety and love, as well as protection and consistency. We need to remember, that our Father is “in heaven,” that is, He is the exalted One who inhabits eternity, who is the Ruler over all, the God of heavenly majesty, the God of almighty power.
Implications for prayer
You know the joyful sound of children when, at the end of his work-day, dad comes home. We come before God not as fearful servants but as beloved children with love and delight. He receives us. He seeks such to worship Him (John 4:23). He draws near to those who come in repentance (James 4:8). We can be intimate with God, rejoicing in His love.
But always with reverence. “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29). God is worthy of all honor, and what a wonder that we can approach Him.
And also with boldness and confidence. Boldness because we know He will not only receive us, our persons, but also that He will hear our prayers, our words. Confidence, not only that He will answer our prayers, but also that He will give us always what is best for our situation.
Always, and only, as we are accepted in Christ, the beloved (Eph. 1:6). “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Eph. 3:12).
Questions for discussion