“Our Father who art in heaven.”
Jesus began His prayer with the invocation – Our Father who art in heaven – which announces the nature of our relationship with God. This invocation is pregnant with meaning and is a key for comprehending our relationship with God.
As we begin to apprehend all of what Jesus has compressed into this short invocation, we will better understand our relationship with God, which, in turn, will help us to pray.
An accurate portrayal of our relationship with God will not project onto God our subjective experiences with our human fathers or how we might imagine the ideal fatherly relationship. Instead, it is crucial that that we seek to understand our relationship with God as He has objectively revealed that relationship to us in the Scriptures.
In His invocation, Jesus linked together three aspects or angles by which to view and understand our relationship with God: (1) He is Father; (2) He is in Heaven; and (3) He is Ours. An objective, scripture-based portrayal of our relationship with God should incorporate all three of these aspects or angles.
In this Part 1, we will explore the name Father.
“But to all who did receive him who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
God reveals himself throughout the Scriptures by many descriptive names. The name Father is the most intimate of all God’s names and signifies a family relationship. Christians are not enemies, strangers or laborers in relation to God; we are adopted children born of God.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
God the Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into our broken world to lay down His life to save us. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote something similar: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) These passages show us objectively the nature of God’s love for humanity. When we pray Father, we should remember that Jesus, the only begotten Son, reconciled God to us by the blood of His cross.
Pastor Timothy Keller has been quoted as saying that “in the word Father — that you are my Father — is the gospel in miniature.” Keller’s statement echoes Early Church Father, John Chrysostom:
“See how He straightway stirred up the hearer, and reminded him of all God’s bounty in the beginning. For he who calls God Father, by him both remission of sins, and taking away of punishment, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, and adoption, and inheritance, and brotherhood with the Only-Begotten, and the supply of the Spirit, are acknowledged in this single title. For one cannot call God Father, without having attained to all those blessings. Doubly, therefore, doth He awaken their spirit, both by the dignity of Him who is called on, and by the greatness of the benefits which they have enjoyed.” (John Chrysostom, 349-407 A.D.)
The name Father encourages us as His children to pray to Him with trust and confidence, not based on who we are or what we have done or left undone, but because of what the Triune God has done for us: God the Father our Creator who sent the Son; God the Son our Redeemer who gave himself for us; and God the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier who dwells in each one of us and intercedes for us.
A Portrait of the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Perhaps the most vivid portrait of God as Father is found in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the 15th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel. In this parable, Jesus corrects two common misconceptions about our relationship with God.
Do you struggle with feelings of unworthiness? The younger prodigal son had sinned very badly against his father (consider it total rebellion). When he later met up with his father, the younger son could not even imagine being forgiven and restored as his father’s son. In his mind, he was not worthy: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:21) However, an astonishing action by his father shows us that the younger son was already forgiven even before he spoke a word: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20).
The lesson of the younger son is that the magnitude of our sin does not limit our Father’s compassion for us. God’s graciousness towards us is not dependent on our worthiness (of which we have none), but on the infinite worthiness of our Savior who gave himself for us. Forgiveness comes from outside us through the proclamation of the Gospel – “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3). Therefore, we must set aside any feelings of unworthiness and believe the Gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who clothes us with His infinite worthiness.
What about the older son? The older obedient son served his father dutifully all his life. When the younger son came home, the older son revealed his own misconception about his family relationship: “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:29-30)
The older son’s problem was not his obedience. His problem was that he thought his father owed him something for his obedience. The reality, however, is that the older son already had everything irrespective of his obedience: “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:31) The older son was blind to the blessings of sonship, because he was chasing a relationship based on working for his father’s favor.
The lesson of the older son is that being part of God’s family cannot be earned; it is a gift. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) Therefore, we must repent of any feelings of entitlement and rejoice in our Father’s grace received through faith in the Gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who clothes us with His perfect obedience. Amen.
Next week in Part 2, we will explore the words “who art in heaven.”
Copyright © 2016 Jean Dragon – All rights reserved.