In many churches, the one I am a member of included, the congregation will pray together in unison at various times during the divine service. This means, of course, that the prayers must be either memorized or written out otherwise there would be chaos instead of order, individualism instead of unity. Christian churches that do not engage in such liturgical practices will often sight one primary reason why they refrain — they are concerned such prayers will become rote. While I firmly disagree that “form” prayers will inevitably become mechanical repetition, I have to admit it is a legitimate concern. More than that, I am obliged to confess that for many, myself among that number, a rebuke is in order along these lines. There is at least one portion of an oft-repeated congregational prayer that we mouth without truly considering what we are saying, or, maybe more accurately, what it is saying; It begins, “Our Father who art in heaven.”
If we ruminated but for a moment on these words and truly grasped the radical nature and glory of them, I believe we would have to muster all our strength to finish the Lord’s Prayer. Consider that the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, He who sustains all that exists, the Unchangeably Holy, the Eternal and Sovereign, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, says to us, “When you come before Me in prayer, come knowing that I am your Father, and you are My children.” Mechanical repetition? Guilty!
Reflect on how others have understood these words. In the Heidelberg Catechism (Q/A #120) we are asked:
Why hath Christ commanded us to address God thus: ‘Our Father?’
Like so much of this warm and intimate treasure from our forefathers, the answer is wonderful:
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.
Luther on the Lord’s Prayer
I think it likely that Ursinus and Olevianus were echoing the words of Luther in his Small Catechism:
With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask of Him as dear children ask their dear father.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). How does the Father who is perfectly righteous and just bestow such magnificent love on you and me, wretched sinners who have rebelled against Him? Through Christ Jesus the only-begotten Son of God who came to grant us the forgiveness of sins through His atoning sacrifice that we may be adopted as children of the Father. Paul explains that when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:5). One of the glorious results follows in verse six:
Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” While we are to have reverence for our Great God, we can come before Him with childlike confidence, boldness, and joy, saying, “Our Father!”
“No Fear” has made for a marketable if not theologically sound slogan. But if any Christian is to wear this merchandise they ought to do so applying the slogan to these words:
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:15-17a).
Praying to Our Father
These truths should come to our mind every time we begin the Lord’s Prayer or any other with the words, “Our Father.”
The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, as it is called by some of us, has truly become rote for too many. Which is why it might be beneficial to see these words as being a petition. That is, to understand that in saying, “Our Father,” we are asking our Father to teach us to see Him as our Father (repetition mine, and intentional). I believe two benefits would be immediately evident — in how we approach our Father in prayer and in what we ask of Him.
The Lord’s Prayer is Childlike
First, as our gracious God impresses upon our hearts and minds to see Him as our Father, our approach will be with childlike eagerness and pleasure. There are a number of ways we get this wrong. Some come to God as a stern judge waiting to slam the gavel in anger, others as an omnipotent Santa who is coming to town with a bag full of presents. Those of us blessed with godly fathers here on earth don’t appeal to them with either of these views, but as a child before daddy. May we do the same with our Father who art in heaven.
Second, our requests will be more in line with His glory and the good of His people, and less our personal peace and affluence. The six petitions that follow this preface/petition flow from and back to “Our Father.” What child who loves and respects his daddy does not want to see his earthly father’s name and family held in esteem, his good commands obeyed, and his dominion over a little slice of this earth increased? Name a son or daughter who knows that their father loves them and who love him in return who does not trust that he will provide, protect, and patiently correct and forgive sin. We must beseech the Lord to teach us the truth that He is our Father. To quote the words of a Son who has a perfect bond of love and fellowship with His Father:
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?
“Our Father.” Go ahead and make the petition. It is His delight to give what is good to those who ask Him.