We are going to start by looking today at the preface to the Lord’s prayer. This is our approach to God, how we address God, in the ESV four words, “Our Father in heaven.”  What do we learn of prayer through these four words? How are we to address and approach God?

First, we learn that prayer, at it’s heart, as Jesus defined it, is communal. Second, that prayer is relational. And third, that prayer is effectual. It is communal in respect to who prays. It is relational respect to whom we are praying. And it is effectual in respect to the exalted position of the One to whom we pray. 

The first thing we learn as we approach God in prayer, is that prayer is Communal. Maybe some of you had an experience like this when you tried to pray the Lord’s prayer. You go up early in the morning, got alone, went into your closet, locked yourself in the bathroom for a moment of solitude, shut out everyone, so that you could be alone with God. And you got alone with God, and you’re all by yourself, and you remember that Pastor Dan said you should try praying the Lord’s prayer, and so you prepare you heart, in the silence of that solitary room, and you say, “Our Father … our Father … our … our” and you open your eye and you’re like, there’s no one else here. 

Every pray book is focused on personal, solitary, prayer. Jesus himself said when you pray, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” yet then he is asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” he teaches us, pray in this way, “Our Father.” The Lord’s Prayer is not a private, personal prayer. It’s not to say that we never pray using the words “I” or “me” - Jesus himself prayed in the garden, “Father, take this cup from me” - yet one of the first secrets of prayer is that prayer is set in opposition to the independent “I” that our culture so exalts. The heart that seeks to centre on itself, is a heart that is far from prayer, and far from God. Prayer is self-reducing, but he who loses his life shall find it. And so the first thing we learn as we approach God is that prayer is not about me, it’s about God, and its about us. Pastor Ray Pritchard writes:

First of all, when you say, “Our Father in heaven,” you are admitting that you do not pray alone. The Lord’s Prayer is not a “private” prayer. The words “I” and “me” are nowhere to be found. You are admitting that you are not the only one in the world who has a concern to bring to God. To begin with the word “our” means that you are in a fellowship and a community of God’s children around the world. This is an important insight because it is very easy to become me-oriented when we pray. But when you pray “Our Father,” you are confessing that your problems are not the only problems in the world. You are admitting that there are millions of people around the world who have concerns just as great as yours. To pray like this imparts a bigness and expansiveness to your prayer because it includes all of God’s children everywhere. When we pray “Our Father” as a congregation, we cease to be individuals coming to church with our own particular burdens. Instead, we become part of a family with a common heritage and with shared values. And that family of brothers and sisters is even more decisive than a biological family. It is a family created by the new birth and made possible by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ for our redemption. (https://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/god-our-father/)

This is what I mean when I say that the Lord’s prayer teaches us that prayer is communal. Not that you always pray with people, but you never pray alone. You are praying as one with the community of believers throughout history and throughout the world that share your burdens.

One thing that may help you as you pray the Lord’s prayer then, is to identify your “our” as you come to God in prayer. Perhaps you’re praying as a member of your family, perhaps as a member of your church, as a Christian praying with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, praying on behalf of Christians in this country.

The second thing we learn as we approach God in prayer, is that prayer is Relational. Martin Luther’s catechism says of the words, “Our Father in heaven”: 

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 Him as dear children ask their dear father.

Tender invitation, of  dear Father toward his dear children. The foundation of the Lord’s prayer is that it is a relational way to pray. While petition comes, petition comes after relationship. Praise comes after relationship. Confession comes after relationship. 

Although the Gospel of Matthew is written in Greek and therefore the word used here is Pater, most scholar believe that Jesus routinely prayed in Aramaic and used the more familial and intimate word, Abba. As evidence for this, they note that in Mark 14:36, Jesus prays using the word Abba, and twice in Paul’s writings, which were written in Greek to Greeks, the Aramaic Abba appears in passages that stress the believers unimaginable intimacy with the Father. 

Mark 14:36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Rom. 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Gal. 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Paul Miller explains in his book, “The Praying Life”: 

Their logic goes like this: We know the word abba because it burned itself on the disciples’ minds. They were so stunned — no one had ever spoken to God so intimately before — that when they told the Greek Christians about Jesus, they carried over the Aramaic abba into the Greek translations of the Bible. This so shocked Paul that he used abba in both Romans and Galatians. Translators have continued the pattern set by the early disciples, and no matter what language Scripture is in, they still use abba . - “The Praying Life”, Page 

And so the word Father stresses our an intimate relationship with God. In the sermon on the mount alone, the sermon in which Jesus sets his teaching on prayer, we get a glimpse of the type of Father God is to us, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.

He’s a gracious Father: who is kind even to his enemies: Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 

He’s an attentive Father: who is sees and rewards what is done in secret: Matthew 6:3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

He’s a thoughtful Father: who knows what you need before you ask: Matt. 6:7   “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

He’s a providing Father: who knows our needs and provides accordingly: Matthew 6:31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 

He’s a generous Father: who delights in giving according to our requests:  Matt 7:9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 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!

He’s a near Father: We think that we are always coming to God when we pray. This frustrates us, because it makes it seem as if the intimacy in our relationship to God comes from our discipline in prayer and our drawing near to God. Some of us are frustrated by this. Why is it so hard to talk to a God who 1) is invisible and 2) doesn’t seem to actually show up until I make time for him. Now that I have teenagers I think i understand this aspect of prayer a little more. 

My teenage kids are teaching me that as a Father I need to just come near to them, but let them open up to me first. See, with teenagers, you as a parent still are the one who engages, but you engage quietly. This is what God does to us; He sits next to us until we open up to him. 

How do we stand in relationship to God as our Father?

God is our Father by right of Creation: There is a sense in which God is the Father of all humanity, as each one of us owes our very existence to Him. 

Eph. 3:14  For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,

Therefore it is appropriate to call on God as Father, and to pray for those who are not Christians appealing to God’s Fatherly mercy, for he is in some sense Father to everyone who lives.

God is our Father by right of Salvation: However, the scriptures teach that only those who receive God’s Son into their lives become adopted into God’s family and therefore only the Christian has the legal and familial right to call on God as Father. John opens his gospel by introducing this truth:

John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Finally, the final part of this preface to prayer teaches us that Prayer is Effectual: The line “in heaven” or “who art in heaven” is not just to remind us that we’re not talking to our earthly Father here, as if we would get confused, but it speaks to the reason as to why we pray to God. We pray to Him because He is above all. Prayer is effectual - meaning, it works, and there is a reason for it, not because of our position of decency, but because of God’s position of authority. The only power in prayer is the power of God. I’ll let Pastor Ray Pritchard explain again: 

The phrase “in heaven” refers to heaven as the center of the universe and the seat of all authority and power and dominion and greatness.  You are on earth and are therefore limited to this little ball of dirt floating around the sun in a little corner of a big galaxy called the Milky Way. And that galaxy is just one of millions of galaxies in a universe so huge that we cannot accurately measure it. To say that we are “on earth” means that we pray from a position of weakness and comparative insignificance. God is in the seat of all authority and all power.  Therefore, when you say, “Our father in heaven,” you are proclaiming that he has the authority and power to hear you and to help you when you pray.  It is precisely because God is in heaven that he has the power to help you. (https://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/god-our-father/)

So when we pray “our father in heaven” we are confessing that He is not just any Father, he is Father supreme, Lord of heaven and Earth. John Piper describes these two aspects of the phrase “Father in Heaven”

“His fatherhood corresponds to his readiness to meet our earthly needs. His heavenliness corresponds to his supreme right to be given worship and allegiance and obedience.” - John Piper

When we pray we are given access to the Lord of Heaven and earth. The preface set our approach for the petitions that we will be looking at in the coming weeks. 

Because you are Father in Heaven - Majestic, Supreme - hallowed by your name!
Because you are Father in Heaven - King over Creation - May your kingdom come!
Because you are Father in Heaven - Lord of History - My your will be done!
Because you are Father in Heaven - Loving provider - Give us this day our daily bread!
Because you are Father in Heaven - Gracious and Merciful - Forgive us our sins, as we forgive!
Because you are Father in Heaven - Mighty Protector - Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.