The following is the first in a series of weekly posts to be published on the Lord’s Prayer. Somewhat ironically, because of the prayer’s importance in Christian worship there is always the temptation or danger that, though we prayed and we “spoke the words but never gave a thought to what they could mean” (Brand New). Stretching a total of seven weeks (an opening address and 6 petitions), the hope is to try and illuminate what can be for many a rote and vapid prayer.
The opening of the Lord’s Prayer, in its address to God as “Father” answers one of the most basic questions of theology and human existence – Who is God? This is the starting point of the prayer because, as with any form of speech, the character of the God to whom you pray inevitably frames and influences how you pray. If you believe that God is demanding, like your boss at work, you will inevitably fail to speak honestly to this God (or for that matter – to yourself). The same is true if you believe God to be powerless, distant, uncaring, or even controlling. The list goes on… So Jesus’ instruction on how to pray begins with the person of God and his relation to us.
Jesus does not instruct his disciples to pray to a nameless God, but to their Father. We do not address God as one who exist as an abstract deity, far removed from the human situation. God does not exist, nor can He be known, in abstraction. We do not pray to an unmoved mover, some mythological entity of human self-projection, or a dead-beat dad (“a name without a face”). God is not an un-definable, mysterious “spirit in the sky” staring at us from high above in heaven (with sincerest apologies to Norman Greenbaum!).
Instead, Jesus speaks of God precisely in his good actions toward his children, naming God as “our father”. Prayer is not spoken to an unknown god, but a God who has made himself known to his people. In prayer we address our loving Father, the creator of the world who cares and provides for us. God is not a father who is miserly with his gifts – just the opposite! As Jesus rhetorically asks,
Which one of you, if his son asks him for (bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 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?
God as our Father is the giver of good gifts to his children. This should give us a boldness that when we pray to God, our Father, that he will give to us what we desperately need.
What Luther wrote in the Smaller Catechism holds true: God wants to “encourage us to believe that he is truly our Father and we are his children. We therefore are to pray to him with complete confidence, just as children speak to their loving father”.