Part 5 / Matt. 6:9-13
One sign of a true, saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the desire to learn from him. A disciple is, at heart, a learner. Those who follow Jesus soon find that our Saviour is a wonderful teacher: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29). Through his words and example, Christ teaches his disciples what true godliness is. A true disciple applies those words and follows that example. It is no wonder then that the disciples asked Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
What did he teach them?
Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer. So far we have seen how a true disciple should address God (“Our Father in heaven”) and that true prayer puts our heavenly Father’s priorities before our own (“hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done”). Next, we will see how we should pray for our needs and it starts with a request for “our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).
More than bread
The first petition seems simple enough, “Give us this day our daily bread” (v. 11), but what does it mean? Am I only allowed to pray for bread? What kind of bread should I be praying for? What if I am allergic to bread? A bit of historical background should clear up any confusion.
In Scripture “bread” is often used as shorthand for all our nutritional needs because bread was a staple of the Israelites’ diet. For example, when Joseph settled his family in the land of Egypt we are told that “there was no food in all the land” (Gen. 47:13). The key word here is “food”, which could also be translated “bread” (in fact, it is translated that way in the KJV). The passage is not just telling us that there was no bread, but that there was no food because of the famine.
We find something similar in 2 Sam. 9:6-7 when David cared for Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan. David assured him: “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” This last phrase can also be translated: “you shall eat bread at my table always”. Again, the implication is not that Mephibosheth was only allowed to eat bread, but rather that David would take care of all his physical needs.
God is concerned about every aspect of our lives, both physical and spiritual. We were created as embodied beings. God not only formed Adam from the dust of the earth, giving him a physical body, but also planted the Garden of Eden, providing for his physical needs (see Gen. 1:29; 2:8-9). We can ask our heavenly Father to provide for our physical needs.
Isn’t this unspiritual? Some object by pointing out that Jesus called himself “the bread of life” (John 6:35). This request is then reinterpreted to mean that we should pray that God would enable us to “feed spiritually” on Jesus. While this is an admirable sentiment, there is nothing in the passage (or the rest of Scripture) that would indicate that we should read it like that. God is interested in every aspect of our lives, not just the spiritual. For example, when Jesus told his disciples that even the hairs on their heads were numbered (Matt. 10:30), he did so to assure them of God’s care for them (v. 31). No detail escapes their heavenly Father’s notice, no matter how trivial.
Isn’t this just lazy? Aren’t we commanded to work and so provide for ourselves? It is true that God has commanded us to work (2 Thess. 3:10), but prayer and work are not mutually exclusive. God does not intend for our prayers to replace our obedience, or for our obedience to replace our prayers. In Phil. 4:6 the apostle Paul writes: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The text says that we are to pray “in everything”, which certainly includes our work.
Why did Jesus teach his disciples to pray for their “daily” bread? There is some uncertainty about the term that Jesus used, because it is only used twice in the Bible (here, and in Luke’s version of the prayer in Luke 11). The term has been translated as “daily” or “necessary for each day”. Both ideas fit the context and our common experience. Job, for example, said that he treasured God’s words more than “my portion of food” (Job 23:12). The King James translated it as “necessary food” and the NIV as “daily bread”. In other words, praying for our daily bread means that we ask God to provide what we need for each day.
How much do we need? Instead of counting calories and referencing a BMI chart, let us turn to the wisdom of Scripture. Prov. 30:8-9 gives a wise perspective on this: “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?" or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” This is a prayer for “our daily bread”.
Praying for our daily bread does not mean that God won’t give you more than you need. We see this in the lives of Old Testament saints and even in the life of Jesus (see Matt. 11:19). Abundance is a blessing from the Lord, but such an abundance brings certain temptations. As we have seen from Proverbs, it might tempt some to deny the Lord. Paul also warned young Timothy that such abundance could also lead to pride and a misplaced trust in riches (1 Tim. 6:17).
Ultimately, the petition is directed to the God who knows what we need. Sometimes God disagrees with us on what we need, how much we need and when we need it. On such occasions we have to trust the goodness and wisdom of our heavenly Father. He always has a good reason for saying no. When the apostle Paul asked the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh, God denied his request. Paul later learned that it kept him humble and made him more useful in the kingdom (2 Cor. 12:7-8). God did not deny his request because he was unkind, but because he is wise.
Let us pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Part 4 / Matt. 6:9-13
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to pray for what God wants first, before turning to their own needs and wants. Their, and our, priority in prayer should be to “ask… according to his will” (1 John 5:14-15). This raises an important and perplexing question: what is God’s will?
Whether you are a frustrated student struggling to decide what to study, a young adult wondering who you should marry, or a businessman weighing different investments, we have all wondered about God’s will for our lives. We search the Scriptures for answers and find that a list of university courses or the name of my future spouse just isn’t there. In these situations, believers often turn to impressions, hope for visions, or take verses out of context. That is not what Jesus had in mind when he taught his disciples to pray: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10)
Aspects of God’s will
To understand God’s will, we must differentiate between God’s sovereign will and his revealed will. God’s sovereign will, also called God’s decretive will, is that which always comes to pass. This is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Everything that happens is according to God’s sovereign will, or it would not come to pass.
Our plans are subject to God’s sovereign will. Proverbs 19:21 reminds us: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” And again in Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” James warned his readers that they should plan with humility, because ultimately we are not in control – God is. We have to acknowledge that our plans will only work out “if the Lord wills” (Jam. 4:15).
How do we know God’s sovereign will? As we’ve mentioned before, God has not revealed everything to his children. Deut. 29:29 says: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God”. We only know God’s sovereign will because God has chosen to reveal it to us (through biblical promise of prophesy) or because it has already taken place.
What about God’s revealed will? God’s revealed will is also called his moral will. This is what the rest of Deut. 29:29 is all about: “but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” God’s will is revealed in the commands, promises, and prayers of God’s Word. When we search the Scriptures we find that God’s revealed will includes our “sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3), being thankful (1 Thess. 5:18), and sometimes even going through trials (Phil. 1:29).
God’s revealed will calls for submission, trust, and obedience. It is this aspect of God’s will that Jesus had in mind when he said: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21). To do God’s will believers have to understand it: “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:17). This is only possible if we prayerfully search the Scriptures.
Praying for God’s sovereign will to be done
Both God’s sovereign and revealed will come into play when we pray for God’s will to be done. In praying for God’s sovereign will to be done, we are saying that we acknowledge God’s sovereignty and that we submit ourselves to it. David expresses this kind of confidence in the Lord in Psalm 37:7-8: “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” Submitting to God’s sovereignty means that we give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).
Praying for God’s sovereign will to be done does not mean that we can’t pray for a change in circumstances. The apostle Paul, for example, asked the Lord three times to remove the thorn in his flesh (2 Cor. 12:8). We can pray for healing or deliverance for trials. However, we should be willing to accept God’s answer without grumbling or complaining.
Also, God’s sovereign will does not absolve us from responsibility. Prayer and obedience are not opposites, but two sides of the same coin. Which brings us to praying for God’s revealed will.
Praying for God’s revealed will to be done
Praying for God’s revealed will to be done means that we are asking God to enable us to do what he has commanded. Knowledge is an important element in this. The apostle Paul often prayed for the churches to be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Col. 1:9-10). Elsewhere he prays that believers may have “discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-10). Praying for God’s will, therefore, includes praying for knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and discernment.
When we pray for God’s revealed will to be done, we are also asking God to give us a sincere desire to do his will. Knowing God’s will and having the desire to do his will are two different things. In Matthew 21:28-32 Jesus told a parable of a father telling his two sons to work in his vineyard. The first son said yes, but never went. The second son said no, but regretted his decision later and did what his father had asked. Both sons knew their father’s will, but only one had the desire to do it. As servants of Christ, we should do the will of God “from the heart” (Eph. 6:6). Praying for God’s will also means praying for a heart that delights in doing God’s will.
Finally, praying for God’s revealed will to be done means that we are asking for God’s supernatural enabling to do his will. Augustine famously prayed: “Give what you command, and command what you will.” It is this divine enabling that lies at the heart of true obedience. In the words of Philippians 2:12-13: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” When we pray should echo the benediction at the end of Hebrews: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” (Heb. 13:20-21).
Praying for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) is not limited to the individual believer. We should pray that God’s will would be done all over the world. Psalm 67:2-4 captures this picture beautifully: “that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” This is what it means for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Let us pray: “Your will be done”.
Part 3 / Matt. 6:9-13
Why do we do what we do? Why do we pray what we pray? Paul Tripp writes that everything we do in life is “done in allegiance to, or pursuit of, either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of self.” At any given moment we are tempted to usurp the throne and seek first our own kingdom. Even our outward acts of service “for God” could inwardly be motivated by personal gain. How do we fight this tendency to prioritize self over our Saviour? One good place to start, is prayer.
The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven
When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come” (v. 10), what did Jesus have in mind? The kingdom features very prominently in Jesus’ teaching. It is first mentioned in Matt. 3:2 when John the Baptist called Israel to repent, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus preached the same message when he started his public ministry (Matt. 4:17). In fact, in Matt. 4:23 we are told that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom”. The gospel, or good news, that Jesus proclaimed had the kingdom as a central theme. We may not make much of the kingdom in our modern gospel preaching, but Jesus clearly did.
We also see this in his Sermon on the Mount, of which the Lord’s prayer forms a part. For example, when Jesus describes the blessedness of the “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3) or those who are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (v. 10), he says: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. A few verses later Jesus explains that our reputation in the kingdom of heaven depends on our obedience to his commands (Matt. 5:19: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”). And entrance into the kingdom of heaven requires a righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt. 5:20). Finally, Jesus reminds his disciples that they should not be anxious about what they will eat, drink, or wear. Our heavenly Father (same phrased used in the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer) will take care of us (Matt. 6:31-32). Instead, we should be focussing on God’s kingdom: “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).
A careful reader would have picked up that these passages sometimes referred to the “kingdom of heaven” or the “kingdom of God”. Is there a difference? There are some who have suggested that there is, but taken in context it is clear that they refer to the same reality. The phrase “kingdom of God” is used throughout the New Testament (68 times, in fact). The phrase “kingdom of heaven” occurs only 32 times and only in the Gospel of Matthew.
Some take this to mean that Matthew refers to Christ’s millennial kingdom, while the other New Testament writers refer to God’s universal kingdom. Within Matthew’s gospel, however, the two terms are used interchangeably. In Matthew 19:23 Jesus says: “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” He then elaborates in the next verse: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (v. 24). These two verses refer to the same reality.
The present and future kingdom
The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, therefore, are synonyms for what FF Bruce called “a spiritual sovereignty”. The rule of God is, in one sense, absolute. God is the Sovereign over the entire universe and there are no powers who can rival him. The apostle Paul explains that the power of God, working in the believer, is the same power “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:20-22). This has been called God’s providential kingdom or God’s kingdom of power.
There is also a sense in which God’s rule is made manifest or visible in the world through the believer. Again, FF Bruce says: “those who believed in Christ there and then entered His Kingdom. The divine rule knew no national bounds; it was received wherever Christ was accepted as Lord and Saviour.” The church and the kingdom are not synonymous, but they are related. The church is the people of the kingdom; as believers we are kingdom citizens. In the words of Col. 1:13: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son”. This is a present reality for every true believer.
It is also true that the current manifestation of the kingdom is not its final one. The kingdom will be fully revealed in the “age to come”. Much of Christ’s teaching focussed on this future realization of the kingdom. For example, in Matt. 25:31 Jesus speaks of the Son of Man coming in his glory to sit upon his glorious throne. Our current citizenship is a foretaste of what will be revealed when Christ establishes his kingdom in glory.
Praying for the kingdom
When we are instructed to pray, “Your kingdom come,” we aren’t told to pray for a political or earthly kingdom. Jesus made it clear that his kingdom was not of this world. Before Pilate he said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36).
We are also not instructed to pray for God’s absolute and sovereign rule. His providential rule cannot be thwarted and is already a present reality. In the words of Thomas Watson: “The kingdom of God’s providence rules over all. Kings do nothing, but what His providence permits and orders. The kingdom of God’s providence we do not pray should come for it is already come.”
So, what do we pray for? We pray that God’s kingdom of grace, his spiritual sovereignty over the believer, would be set up in individual lives and increase. This is a prayer for personal piety and a deepening appreciation for the grace that is ours in Christ. It is the recognition that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb. 11:13) and that our primary concern in this life is to live as citizens of the next.
Speaking of which, we also pray that God’s kingdom of glory would hasten in its coming. We long for the future fulfilment of God’s kingdom and say with the apostle John: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
Thomas Watson summarizes this petition of the Lord’s Prayer as follows: “When we pray, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ we are praying that God would help us to know Him better and to love Him more. We are praying that God would give us more strength to resist temptation, to forgive our enemies, and to suffer affliction… We are praying that God would make us different in our callings, that He would establish us in the believe of His truth and in the love of his truth, and that God would grant that our labours would be instrumental in setting up the kingdom in others.”
Let us pray, “Your kingdom come.”
Part 2 / Matt. 6:9-13
What do you want most? What do you desire above all else? When we are asked those questions, we almost instinctively know that there are right and wrong answers. We know that there are things that we are supposed to want, but if we are honest, we would rather have something else. Like a beauty pageant princess, we say that we want world peace, but we would rather have the crown.
Our prayers reveal a lot about our priorities. Jesus said: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34). Our hearts are idol factories, the chief idol being “self”. Our prayers often reflect a concern for our own interests more than it does a reverence for God. We ask God to serve our idols and then we are surprised when God says, “No!” No, when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he showed them where every true prayer starts.
Where true prayer starts
After addressing his heavenly Father, assuming the proper posture of respect and trust, Jesus prays: “hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9-10). This is not how we usually start our shopping list of prayer requests!
What do these requests have in common? Their primary concern is God’s glory, kingdom, and purposes. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples first focusses on what God wants, before it turns to our needs and wants. This is foreign to our modern minds. We live in a world that constantly tells us that we deserve to have our every need met and our every desire fulfilled. We approach our spiritual lives in much the same way. We look for churches where our felt needs are met. We volunteer only the surplus of our time, talent, or resources. Our prayers sound more like a reading from our Christmas Wishlist than fellowship with our heavenly Father.
Something has to change. We need to reprioritize. The apostle John helpfully points out what our priority should be: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15). One of the reasons why our prayers seem so powerless, is because we do not “ask according to his will”. Maybe we need an armband that says “WWJP”: What Would Jesus Pray.
Praying according to the will of God
What is God’s will? I have often heard believers say that it is impossible to know the will of God without a voice from heaven or a vision. It is true that God has not revealed everything to his children. Deut. 29:29 does say: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God”). But he has revealed enough; the rest of Deut. 29:29 reads: “but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” If this were not true, then Paul’s admonition would make no sense: “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:17).
God’s will is revealed in the commands, promises, and prayers of God’s Word. For example, 1 Thess. 4:3 tells us “this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality”. That is pretty clear. How often do we pray for our sanctification and purity? Our problem is not that God has hidden his will, but rather that we have not paid attention to what he has revealed. So let me ask again: What Would Jesus Pray?
Hallowed be your name
The first request or petition is found in Matt. 6:9: “hallowed be your name”. We do not put much stock in names nowadays. We rarely think about what they mean or represent. Maybe you’ve read about actors naming their children strange things like “Pilot Inspector” or “Moon Unit”. I shudder to think of the playground insults that their kids will have to endure.
Biblical names meant something. This does not mean that some of them weren’t strange. Isaiah called one of his sons Maher-shalal-hash-baz after all, but even this strange name meant something: “hasting to the spoil, hurrying to the prey” (Isa. 8:3). This name was chosen to symbolize Assyria’s mad lust for conquest. Even here the name had meaning.
Think of how many times the Lord changed someone’s name to signal a significant change in their lives: Abram became Abraham; Sarai became Sarah; Jacob became Israel; Simon was called Cephas or Peter. These new names came to represent a new identity, or if you want to use gospel language, a new person: “he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Similarly, God’s name is significant. For example, in Acts 4:12 we are told that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Later we are told that the disciples rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name (Acts 5:41). God’s name represents God as he has made himself known. Herman Bavink wrote: “There is an intimate link between God and his name... We do not name God; he names himself… The name is God himself as he reveals himself”.
This means that when Jesus instructs his disciples to pray, “hallowed be your name,” he has God’s person, being, character, and work in mind. God’s name, as a revelation of God, is great (Ezek. 36:23), holy (Ezek. 36:20), and awesome (Ps. 111:9). That is why it must be “hallowed”.
But what does “hallowed” mean? The word means to regard as holy or set apart. In asking for God’s name to be hallowed, we are asking that God’s name would be set apart from every other name. Wayne Mack explains: “we pray for God to be regarded in a different way from everyone else”. When Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them. Moses then said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” (Lev. 10:1-3).
God should not be approached or regarded like pagan idols, nor should he be treated as though he were just one of us. That is why God’s name should be hallowed – it is to give God as he has revealed himself respect, honour, and glory. Praying for his name to be hallowed means that we implore God to help us honour him and that other’s would do the same.
Commenting on the Lord’s prayer, Martin Llyoyd-Jones wrote: “The word hallowed means to sanctify or revere, to make and keep holy. Why does He say, ‘Hallowed be Thy name’? What does this term ‘Thy name’ stand for?... ‘Thy name’, in other words, means all that is true of God, all that has been revealed concerning God. That means that God in all his attributes, God in all that He is, in and of Himself, and God in all that He has done and all that He is doing.”
What would Jesus pray? He would pray that his Father would receive the glory that is his due. It is this desire that moved Jesus to pray: “not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39), in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is this same desire for God’s glory that moved the disciples to pray for boldness even under threat of persecution (Acts 4:29). That is the first thing that Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “hallowed be your name”.
Part 1 / Matt. 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-13
Few biblical prayers have attracted as much attention as the prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples. “The Lord’s prayer” (as it has become known) has also been called the “Pater Noster” (which is Latin for Our Father). The prayer is recorded in Matthew 6 and in Luke 11. There are slight differences between the two and the setting seems to be different as well. This would suggest that Jesus taught this prayer (or a variation of it) to his disciples on several occasions.
The setting recorded in Luke 11 is particularly interesting. Luke 11:1 tells us that “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."” The Incarnate Christ prayed… a lot. This was not particularly unique. The Pharisees prayed a lot as well, and they did so in public. Jesus warns against turning prayer into a public spectacle right before he teaches his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:5. So what was it about Jesus’ prayers that prompted the disciples to ask: “Lord, teach us to pray”?
Jesus’ prayers were private moments of intimate communion with his Father. Jesus did pray out loud and in public on the odd occasion (for example, at the tomb of Lazarus in John 11:41-42). Most of his prayers, however, were private. Mark describes Jesus’ normal pattern like this: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35). The disciples, who were close to Jesus, were aware of this. They saw something in Christ’s prayer-life that they did not see with the Pharisees. They heard something in the prayers of Jesus that they had not heard before. And they wanted in… they wanted to pray like that. They wanted fellowship with the Father like Jesus.
What did Jesus teach them? Jesus taught them a pattern for prayer. The differences between Matthew and Luke’s versions remind us that this is not some magic spell. There is nothing particularly powerful about reciting it word for word. Crocheting it on a pillow does not make you spiritual. You can pray the Lord’s prayer verbatim, but if you don’t pray with a sincere faith the words are meaningless. If you do not have a relationship with the Father, you have no right to address him as such.
Which brings us to the first part of the prayer: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). That is where we will be spending the rest of our time today.
Addressing our Father
Quick question: was Jesus the first Person to call God Father? Jesus’s assertion that God was his Father first occurred in a debate about the Sabbath. Jesus claimed that it was proper for him to perform healings on the Sabbath because, in his words: “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). In other words, although God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation, his work of preservation and ultimately of redemption was still ongoing. Moreover, Jesus associated his own ministry with that continuing work of the Father, raising the question of their relationship in a way that antagonized his fellow Jews. As the Gospel records: “That was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
Was their reaction justified? The Old Testament seldom uses the word Father as a description of God, but there are a few occasions where it does so. For example, Isa. 63:16-17 reads: “You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from old is your name”. And in the next chapter of Isaiah we read: “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever” (Isa. 64:8–9).
At first it appears that Isaiah was calling God Father because he was Israel’s Creator, but it is not that simple. God is the Creator of every human being, not just of Israel, but he had not established a covenant relationship with everyone. Israel’s connection to God was something special, and different from what could be said about the entire human race. For Isaiah to call God Father was to acknowledge a particular relationship with him. In these verses, God is addressed as Father, not because he is Israel’s Creator, but because he is its Redeemer.
You find something similar in Deut. 14:1-2: “You are the sons of the Lord your God … For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” And again in Psalm 103:13: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him”. God was their Father through redemption. They were brought into this unique relationship with God because of God’s saving work.
Israel, as a nation, did call God “Father” on occasion because of his covenant relationship with his OT people, but this was not something that the individual claimed, nor was it the way common Jews addressed God. So, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he was instructing them to relate to God in an intimate and personal way. This was new!
Relating to God as Father
Christians know God as Father. In the words of JI Packer: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all… “Father” is the Christian name for God.”
We are encouraged to pray to the Father and enabled to do so because, through faith, the Son has united us to him in his death and resurrection (Gal. 2:20). This union with Christ means that God has made us Christ’s “brothers” (Rom. 8:29). Of course, we are not like Jesus in every respect. He is the divine and sinless Son of the Father by nature, whereas we are sinners who have been adopted by grace through faith in him.
After his resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”” (John 20:17). We are not children of God by nature, but we are by grace. To help us understand, experience, and live out this new relationship which is ours in the gospel, God has given his children the Holy Spirit. Paul describes it like this: “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” (Gal. 4:6–7).
The opening line of the Lord’s prayer sets the stage for what follows. It frames the whole prayer. For the believer, prayer means approaching your heavenly Father. Jesus explained it like this: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). Even fallible human fathers want to do good to their children; how much more our perfectly good heavenly Father!
Question 120 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: “Why did Christ command us to call God ‘our Father’?” The answer? “To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence for and trust in God, which are to be the ground of our prayer, namely, that God has become our Father through Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in faith than our parents refuse us earthly things.”
This is where true prayer starts: “Our Father in heaven”