Our Father...

Reading: Matthew 6.24-34

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that prayer must not be an outward show - it is to be offered to God. And it should never be the mechanical repetition of a formula - we are praying to God our Father.

In fact, what we call the Lord's Prayer was given as a model to teach us how to pray. Some have suggested that it is really "the Disciples' Prayer", since Jesus himself never needed to pray for forgiveness. But above all, it is helpful to think about it as the prayer of God's family - the Family Prayer.

The Family Prayer

Perhaps there is a problem here for today's generation. For too many the family is no longer what it used to be. Fathers don't necessarily fulfil the roles God intended. Many families are under stress and breaking down.

It may be that you have faced some of that pain in your own life. Perhaps calling God "Father" brings a measure of painful memory. Whatever our experience, we need to think of God's ideal of family and fatherhood. Learning to relate to God in prayer can be a very important part in healing those painful memories.

When Jesus tells us that we should pray to "Our Father", he is teaching the attitude that needs to flow through all our praying. Notice how it pervades the model prayer.

We are to be concerned for the honour of the family name. We want to see the fulfilment of our Father's purposes, both in our own lives and in the world at large. Even though we do our measure of "bread-winning", we acknowledge that we depend on God our heavenly Father for our bread and all our needs. Our Father is wronged by every wrong we do, so we come to him for forgiveness. We seek his Fatherly help both in guiding us and saving us.

The Family Prayer sets the pattern for all our praying. Our praying will be enriched as we remember that we are praying to our loving heavenly Father.

Our Father...

There is a strong tendency in parts of our society to break down relationships. These days some children call their fathers "Bill", "Bob" or "Joe". Sometimes this has been consciously chosen by parents to liberate their children from undue harmful domination and "ownership" by parents and family. There may be good reason for this, but when it expresses an abrogation of relationship it is a serious mistake. The cure for bad parent-child relationships is to be found in building them with God's help, not in denying them.

When we pray to "our Father", we are not thinking of God simply as the Father of the whole human race. On the lips of Jesus, "Father" always speaks of the intimately personal relationship that was especially his. His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane was addressed to "Abba, Father" (Mark 14.36). The Aramaic word, Abba, is a personal, family word for father - similar to our word, "Daddy".

It is by faith in Christ that we are spiritually reborn and become members of God's family in a personal and vital way. So we find Paul writing, "Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father' " (Galatians 4.6; compare Romans 8.15).

Because we are now God's children, we are able to come to him in child-like trust and confidence. And we pray "in Jesus' name" (note John 15.16) because it is only in Jesus that we have this new relationship. It is only because Jesus has brought us into God's family that we can truly pray in this way.

Our Father's Caring Love

We have confidence in our heavenly Father's caring love. As we noted in our first study, we come "to the one who knows and understands our needs before we come in prayer, who knows and seeks our highest good more than we do ourselves... to our Father who loves us and delights for us to come."

It's not as if we have to convince God to come onto our side. He is on our side already. So often we ourselves are the ones who are not "on our side" in the truest sense! As the saying goes, we are our own worst enemies.

In today's reading, we hear Jesus urging us not to make the quest for material security the supreme goal of life. This only leads to anxiety. Instead we are to trust our heavenly Father who knows all your needs. It is in that confidence that we hear his words, "But seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (v.33). We have here a picture of the Father's caring love. It is safe to put the Father's Kingdom and his righteousness first because of his caring love for us.

Family Love

When we are address God as "our Father", we are also expressing our awareness that we are part of his family. We are individually "born again". However, we need to realise that this brings us into a relationship, not only with our heavenly Father, but with the other members of his family as well.

Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13.35). It is important that family-love be part of our praying. In Matthew 5.23-24 we hear Jesus saying, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." These words highlight the importance of family-love as we come to the Father in prayer.

Of course, we remember too that Jesus clearly taught that our family-love is to be open. Perhaps you have heard that prayer, "God bless me, my wife, my son, his wife, us four, no more, Amen." What a contrast to the heart of the Good Shepherd who says, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10.16). Sometimes we can pray and think like an exclusive club who monopolise the Father's love. But we are to pray to the Father who loves the world and who constantly wishes to bring others into his family.

So back to those opening words of the Family Prayer, "Our Father..." Spend time reflecting on the incredible love of the Father for us as individuals.

Then consider the other family members. Do they ever irritate us? Do we irritate them? We have one Father who loves us all and wants us to love one another. Is there some point of reconciliation we need to seek with someone else? Is there someone who needs us to reach out to them in friendship and love?

Now what about "that lot out there"? We are sometimes just content with superficial friendship with people who don't believe - after all, God loves them anyway. This becomes a substitute for the Father's love that earnestly desires to bring them into the family. Think about someone living outside God's family. Now pray "Our Father..." with a strong open love.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 29 July 2001
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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