Right at the beginning of the prayer, we need to know who it is that we’re praying to. When we come to the God of the universe in prayer, Jesus tells us, we can call him Father. There’s a complete summary of the Christian faith wrapped up in that single word, Father. When we bow before God, and call him Father, we acknowledge that at the heart of the universe there is not only ultimate power, but ultimate love too.
It’s a wonderful privilege, to be able to call God, Father. The people of God in the Old Testament didn’t address him individually as Father. In fact, the word Father for God was rarely used, and on those occasions it was used, it always referred to the relationship of God to the nation of Israel. As far as we are aware, people such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, or Daniel — those great saints from the Old Testament — never addressed God as their Father when they prayed to him in the solitude of their tents. Yet in the New Testament, that is how we’re told to speak to God — at least 275 times! When we come to the sovereign majesty of the universe, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and his subsequent resurrection, the word that should fall readily from our lips is Father. Awesome!
When we address God as “Our Father in heaven”, as in the Lord’s Prayer, we recognize the intimacy that we have with God as our Father, and also the awe we should have as we come to him in prayer. By teaching us to pray in this way, Jesus is saying that this One to whom we come to as Father is the sovereign God of heaven, the God of all power, the God of all authority.
The early Jewish Christians probably understood having a proper awe of God easier than intimacy with him. We seem to have swung to the other extreme nowadays, and God is often referred to in anything but awe-inspiring terms. I can’t quite imagine the men and women of the Bible speaking of “the big man upstairs”, or other similar phrases. To say that God is our Father doesn’t imply that he is a great, big, huggable teddy bear.
The Bible manages to keep the tension between intimacy and awe. In the letter to the Hebrews we read, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The fact that we come to a throne should fill us with awe. But it’s approachable because it’s a throne of grace. Thanks to Jesus Christ, the sovereign, almighty God of the universe has allowed us to approach him in prayer, and address him as Father!
This is the second post in a series offering a reflection based on each of the clauses of the Lord’s Prayer