The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father In Heaven Matthew 6:5-13
2/21/2019 5:08:15 AM
February 17, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Matthew 6:5-13
What is your relationship with God like? Is it good? Is it difficult? Is it close? Do you look forward to spending time with God? We always say that relationships matter here at Priory. That includes our relationship with God! Prayer is a form of communication- and communication is vital to relationships!
One way to evaluate our relationship with God is to evaluate our prayer life. This can be scary because I don’t know many people who are thoroughly satisfied with their prayer lives! But think about the communication aspect of a relationship. One goal today is to encourage all of us in our prayer life and our relationship with God!
In Prayer, we submit our desires to God. There are a couple of traps we can easily fall into when doing this. First, we focus solely on our desires, our wants, and make prayer a shopping a list! Think of the Simpsons clip we just saw, “Can we have a pool dad? Can we have a pool dad?” Prayer becomes an attempt to beat God into submission to give us what we want.
Another is thinking God is like Homer, avoiding listening, distracted by the TV, and we have to a) get his attention and b) convince him to listen. But this idea of prayer is not a new problem! The ancient world viewed prayer as getting a god’s attention- think of 1 Ki 18 prophets of Baal vs Elijah on Mt Carmel. The prophets of Baal and Ashera danced around shouting, eventually cutting themselves until their blood flowed! Elijah makes fun of them, suggesting that perhaps their god was busy, or taking a nap, or indisposed in the loo!
Or, as we talked about when we studied 1 Cor 13:1, Paul used the images of a resounding gong and clanging cymbal. This was imagery from pagan temples getting the god’s attention!
Another trap in prayer is trying to get other people’s attention instead of focusing on God. Our prayers should be directed to God, not people who may be listening. When we pray in public, out loud or silently, we have to be deliberate to keep our thoughts on God and not who is around us. When praying, it must not be in order to gain a better reputation or to impress people with how “spiritual” we are!
This is one of the things Jesus addresses specifically in Matthew when Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer early in his ministry. So if these are some traps or mistakes in prayer, how do we pray well? What does it look like to pray well? Turn to Matthew 6. Remember last week we saw the Lord’s Prayer in Luke, used to teach the disciples who asked to learn how to pray. Here in Matthew it is early in Jesus’ ministry during the Sermon on the Mount and it is directed to all the people listening, not just the disciples.
What It Says
Our passage opens with Jesus giving some direction on how not to pray, specifically countering popular approaches to prayer in his day! Jesus says don’t pray like hypocrites. This is the Greek word used for “actors.” It refers to people putting on a performance; making the people “phonies.” [R T France, Matthew, p. 131; Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew Vol 1, p. 233] Their goal was to impress people and gain a better reputation. Some lead prayers in the synagogue. Others timed their day so that when the time for prayer came, they were on the street and could impress people with their piety by stopping and praying where they were. “Directing an activity that is supposed to be directed to God into an activity that can also make a good impression on others, Jesus calls phony.” [Bruner, p. 234]
Jesus is NOT saying we shouldn’t pray in public! That’s an important part of our life as a community. Rather, Jesus is saying that WHEN you pray in public, keep your motives pure- not trying to impress the people who see or hear you pray!
Next, Jesus addresses the pagan approach to prayer: trying to get the god’s attention and then impress him or her into answering you. Gentile prayers were like magical incantations. They were all about using the right
words, which were more important than the intent or attitude of the worshipper. So in pagan temples they babbled on and on, like the Simpson kids trying to convince Homer to give them what they wanted!
So what does Jesus teach his followers to do in prayer? Jesus begins his lesson on prayer with “Father of ours.” Jesus spoke Aramaic, which means me most likely used the word “Abba,” the word he used in the Garden of Gethsemane as Mark tells us in Mark 14. “Abba” is the Aramaic word for Daddy, a word of love and affection. Paul repeats this use of “Abba” in Romans 8. Today, this is still the first word parents teach their children in the Middle East in countries that once spoke Aramaic but now speak Arabic! [Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 97]
This is remarkable for several reasons! First, notice the simplicity of address. Jews would open prayers with titles of God, such as “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” or “Blessed One,” “Mighty One.” But Jesus opens with the simple, “Dad in Heaven.”
Second, Jesus invites all of his followers to enter into his special relationship with God as their Father. [Bruner, p. 239] Jews would say God was the God of their fathers, but would not call on God as their direct father! It’s even more remarkable that we Gentiles have been invited into this same relationship of love and affection with God as our Dad!
Third- so far Jesus’ instructions on prayer have been to individuals “when you pray…” (v6-8) singular. This, now, is plural. “OUR Father.” There is a family aspect to prayer, not just an individual concern. This prayer is a reminder that we are not Christians in isolation, but part of the greater body of Christ.
Having set the stage with intimacy in “Father,” “in Heaven” reminds us of God’s power, majesty and transcendence. Remember, in Jesus’ day people spent their whole lives living in one place. Fathers, mothers, siblings etc. usually all lived in the same village. That “our Father” is in Heaven is a reminder of his power. We have a king on our side! He may not be physically present, but his seat of power is unparalleled. And we get to bring our requests to him directly!
What It Means
So what does all this mean? How does this help us in our prayer life? How does it help us in our relationship with God?
I don’t know many people who are confident in their prayer life. Prayer can be intimidating and we can fall into a number of traps, as I mentioned before. “It is easy to assume that a long prayer equals a good prayer and a short prayer is an immature prayer. The Gospel accounts contradict this.” [Bailey, p. 92] God is far more concerned with our attitude of heart than the length of our prayers or the complexity of the words! Unlike Bart and Lisa, we don’t have to struggle to get the attention of our Father! And he is not trying to avoid us, but actually eager for us to approach him.
But God wants our undivided attention when we pray! Just as we don’t have to impress God with our words to be heard, he doesn’t want us trying to impress those who hear us!
“Do not babble” frees us from the time we think we have to spend in prayer. “Your Father knows” frees us from the information we think we have to get through. Prayer is not about convincing God we are serious or sincere. Prayer is not about informing God of anything. It’s about coming to him in relationship, submitting our concerns and desires to Him in the understanding that he can do something about it.
As you pray, do not focus on those around you, but the one to whom you pray. And how are we to pray? We are to pray with intimacy, love and affection like a child for his or her Dad! This simplicity is remarkable because we are praying to the King of Kings! There are protocols for addressing royalty!
There’s a very popular show on Netflix “The Crown” about the life of Queen Elizabeth. In one episode, President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie meet the queen! As they enter, the various aids to the queen are flabbergasted at all the mistakes the Kennedys make in protocol! First, the president should go first, but he directs his wife (ladies first?). Jackie Kennedy greets the queen, “Your Highness” instead of “Your Majesty” (which is higher- I looked it up!). Then she addresses Prince Phillip as “Your Grace” a title for a duke, instead of “Your Highness.” *Gasps* The President addresses the Queen as “Your Royal Highness” instead of “Your Royal Majesty” and also calls Philip “Your Grace.” Then Kennedy ushers his wife past the Queen, instead of allowing the Queen to go first. The aids are discussing, “Did you give them the memo?!” “Yes! Apparently they didn’t read it!” JFK says to Philip “I think that just went wrong ten thousand different ways!” “I’ve seen worse, although
I can’t think of when.” [The Crown, Season 2, Episode 8]
Contrast that with the simplicity of prayer Jesus teaches his followers: “Our Father in Heaven.” The King of Kings and Lord of Lords is our Dad! This would be remarkable for Jews to pray this way. It’s absolutely astounding for Gentiles to be invited to pray this way! And you and I are Gentiles!
How is it that we can call God Father? Through, and only through, the invitation of Jesus! Jesus welcomes his followers into his special relationship with God as Father. It is through Jesus that his followers can call God “Father.” – This is not something all people can do. God’s fatherhood is not based on his creative work. We can’t call God “Abba, Dad” because he created us! We can only call God “Dad” because Jesus has redeemed us! This means that calling God “Dad” or “Father” is only appropriate is you also call Jesus Lord- if you have asked Jesus to forgive your sins to reconcile you to God. You must be a Christian to call God Dad! Because it is only those who have committed their lives to Jesus who have been adopted into the family of God as sons and daughters who can come to God as reconciled and adopted children.
“Father in Heaven” reminds us God is both close and transcendent. In seminary, in my theology class, we spent a lot of time on the theme of imminence and transcendence of God. God is intimate and close, yet so powerful and holy as to be distant. The Incarnation is the most remarkable and tremendous example of God’s imminence/closeness! God came to us! [Note- in Islam, Allah is so holy and transcendent he would never dirty himself by coming to earth! The doctrine of the Incarnation is abhorrent to Islam!] But God is still Holy. There is this tension between God’s closeness and his surpassing greatness.
“Father in Heaven” doesn’t draw God down to us, but lifts us up to Him! This was something that I realized this week. Yes, the Incarnation brings God down to us. Yes, “in Heaven” reminds us of God’s distance from our sinful, broken world. But instead of the tension being in God, bringing him down and still being “up in heaven,” drawing God back and forth, up and down, the action in this prayer is with us! God is not brought down to us, we are elevated to the status of being God’s sons and daughters. We are given the transcendent status of being heirs along with Christ and able to address the King of Kings as Dad!
What are we to do with this? First, by removing traps such as babbling on and on, or praying to be impressive to those around us, Jesus brings prayer back to a relationship with God. In terms of evaluating our relationship with God based on our prayer life, let me ask, do you pray when you are alone? Or do you just pray when people are looking? That’s step one! Learn to pray when nobody is looking at your or expecting it! Learn to pray any time of the day, any place.
Second, how do you think of God? In general? When you pray? Do you think of God as a good Father? Are you excited to spend time with him?
What if my experience of “father” isn’t a good one? Many people have absentee fathers. Some people even have abusive fathers. All of us have sinful, broken fathers, regardless of how great they may be! Are you or were you excited to spend time with your earthly father? Maybe not. Maybe your dad was more like Homer in our video!
Let me tell you a secret, especially if your relationship with your father is a strained one, or if it’s hard to think well of God when you think of “father.” God is the Father you wish your father was. God sets the standard of fatherhood. God sets the bar for our earthly fathers, not the other way around! Remember, “Abba” is a term of love and affection! If you’re not excited to spend time with God, if you recoil or struggle with the idea of God as “father,” let me reassure you that the problem is not with God! But with your view of God and/or of the word “Father.”
Pray “Not to what I think You are but to what You know Yourself to be.” CS Lewis, in his book Screwtape Letters, a demonic character warns they will be in trouble when a Christian prays “Not to what I think Thou art but to what Thou knowest Thyself to be.” When it comes to praying to God as Father, in your prayers do not direct them to “Our Father” as you know your earthly father, or as you think God is as Father, but to what God knows Himself to be! Bring your struggles to God, especially if your struggles include your concept of Father/Dad. And let God clarify for you what it means to call him Dad.
The Father who is close is the Magnificent One in Heaven! “Father” doesn’t draw God down. It draws us up! If you’re not a Christian, this is yet another reason to accept Jesus into your life as your Lord and Saviour-
you get to become God’s adopted son or daughter! You get a new Dad in Heaven!
And if you are a Christian, understand this invitation from Jesus to enter into a relationship with God like Jesus has when you pray. Prayer is not about informing God of something. It’s about experiencing the love God has already showered upon you! Amen.
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