1 O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. 5 You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
9 This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Today we begin a new sermon series on the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples. It is most popularly known as “The Lord’s Prayer.”
There are some who say that we should recite the Lord’s Prayer whenever we meet for worship, and some congregations do. Now there is nothing wrong in doing that. For two thousand years the Lord’s Prayer has been known as one of the three foundational documents of the Christian faith. The other two cornerstones are the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments. The Apostles’ Creed teaches us what we believe. The Ten Commandments tell us how we are to live, and the Lord’s Prayer helps us to pray. These three documents can be summarised as belief, action and prayer, and they are the backbones of the Christian faith, which is why it is a good thing to pray the Lord’s Prayer on a regular basis.
Others though, say we shouldn’t pray it unless we mean it. Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike tend to recite or repeat this prayer many times without thinking of the real meaning of it. Martin Luther said that the Lord’s Prayer was the greatest martyr because everyone tortures and abuses it. There is a very real danger of us allowing the words of the Lord’s Prayer to become little more than a meaningless habit. We can understand the second group’s response. Surely the Lord’s Prayer is not given to us to be just recited as a ritual.
And there are some who even object to calling this prayer the Lord's Prayer. They claim it should be called the Disciples’ Prayer, as the Lord’s Prayer is actually the prayer that Jesus prayed in John 17 just before His death. There is merit in this argument too, but I don’t really want to be too pedantic about it. Most of us know it as the Lord’s Prayer, so this is how we’ll refer to this prayer throughout this series. Also, as most of us are familiar and more comfortable with the traditional King James version of the prayer, we will stick to the older Thy’s and Thine’s too.
And calling it the Lord’s Prayer is appropriate because Jesus Christ is its author. In Matthew 6 and Luke 11, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how and what to pray. They could have asked Him about how to preach or how to perform miracles, but interestingly enough, prayer is the only thing they ever asked Jesus for guidance on. The main purpose of this prayer is to teach us the vital pattern of prayer which is acceptable to God.
So during the next couple of months we’ll be taking a detailed look at the Lord’s Prayer, and hopefully we will learn more about prayer and how to pray. Prayer is one of the greatest yet most misunderstood and under-utilised gifts that God has given to us.
It’s good to get into the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer and to study the theology found in it, as we have so much to learn but ultimately we need to examine our prayer life and pray more and deeper as Jesus did. My prayer for each of us is that we would grow as Christian disciples through this series.
Before we get into the details of the prayer, by way of introduction we’ll have a brief look at the structure of the prayer. It is divided into two sets of three elements each. In the first half we find three same phrases containing the word Thy: “Hallowed be Thy name,” “Thy kingdom come,” and “Thy will be done.” These three elements deal with the Triune God and His glory. One commentator explains it like this: “Thy name is the Father God who magnifies His name. Thy kingdom comes through the Son who establishes His kingdom. Thy will is done by the Holy Spirit who executes His will.” Prayer begins with the character and the nature of God. We focus firstly on Him. In the second part of the prayer we discover three elements of our needs such as daily bread, sins, and temptation. Forgive us our trespasses reminds us of our forgiveness for the past. Give us our daily bread is about God’s provision for us today, and lead us not into temptation speaks of our protection in the future. Everything we need and everything God gives us is in this prayer.
This prayer covers everything we need to pray. Every prayer request, which is according to God’s will, can be found in this simple, brief yet profound prayer.
So bearing all this in mind, let’s get into the opening statement of the Lord’s Prayer.
Six simple words: Our Father, who art in Heaven.
“Father” is probably the most common term we use in prayer because that is how Jesus started His prayers most of the time. When Jesus taught the disciples to call God, “Father,” it was a revolutionary teaching in those days. Until that time, no one would dare call God “Father.” The people of Israel knew God as Almighty God. They thought if they met the Holy God in their sinful state, they would die immediately. They had such an awesome respect for God. There is even a tradition that when the early scribes who copied the Old Testament Scriptures wrote the word for God, “Yahweh,” they would clean the brush and even throw away the pen afterwards. Yahweh, the Hebrew name for God was a sacred word, so for Jesus to call God “Father” was a shocking thing for Him to do. This did not go down well with the Pharisees at all. Most modern Christians are very familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, and the words “our Father” roll off the tongue very easily, but two thousand years ago it would’ve landed you in all sorts of trouble.
Jesus called God “Father” more than 60 times in the New Testament, and He encouraged His followers to do the same. I don’t think we fully realise just how radical this was. How can it be possible for us as sinners to call God “our Father”? We are descendants of Adam and Eve, and we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But God sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ and let Him suffer on the cross. He poured out His precious life to save us from our sins. John 1:12 says, “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” We are sinners, doomed to eternal damnation, but in His unending and eternal mercy, God not only forgives, but He gives us the right to call Him “Father.” Amazing.
So in the very first words of the Lord’s Prayer we proclaim and affirm that we have been saved by faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. The apostle Paul goes even further in Romans 8 when he says, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” If you’ve done the Alpha course you’ll remember that the closest English word for the Aramaic ‘Abba’ is ‘daddy’. A dad’s heart melts the first time he hears his children call him daddy, so we can only imagine how God must feel when we approach Him as His beloved children…
We are sons and daughters of God and we have access to Him as our Father anytime in prayer. There’s this mistaken idea out there at times that we shouldn’t be bothering God with our little issues when there are far more pressing needs in the world. How easily we forget that this God we call “Father” is the almighty, omnipotent God of the Universe. The imminent threat of a thermonuclear war and the discomfort you feel because you have a splinter in your finger is all the same to Him. Just talk to Him, because He has time for you. He is not restricted by time and space as we are, but He exists in a timeless eternity. He listens to us, cares for us and answers our prayers. What a great privilege we have to call Him “Our Father.”
He is very personal. He is my Father, and He is your Father, so when we say, “Our Father who art in heaven”, we are proclaiming that we are all the body of Jesus Christ and we serve Him to establish His Kingdom in different ways. When we pray “Our Father” in a public worship setting, we not only bring our own particular burdens and pray for them, but also reveal the concerns we as a congregation have and we as brothers and sisters have for one another as part of God’s family. Remember that Church is not somewhere we go. It is something we are, and we belong to each other, and ultimately our Father in Heaven. This mystery will really only be made clear to us when we finally see Him face to face in eternity, but the true Church of Jesus Christ gives us a glimpse into what family is really all about. Of course, like our flesh and blood families our spiritual family is not without its problems and challenges. That’s to be expected from a bunch of sinners like you and I, but the grace of God and His Spirit empowers us to rise above our own selfish desires, so this is why and how we can say together, “Our Father.”
As we work our way through this series, and more importantly as we grow in our personal prayer life, we must always keep in the forefront of our minds just who this is we are talking to – the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God of Creation. But we can just call Him “Father.”
“Our Father, who art in Heaven.”
This is not a geographical proclamation, but rather a theological one. What I mean is that whenever we say our Father who art in Heaven, we tend to think that we are on earth and He is in Heaven, as if there is some kind of distance between us, but that is a mistake. In the original Greek the word for “Heaven” here is used to describe “the sky” in that we can look at it from any place in the world. It is also used to describe the atmosphere, the air all around us that we breathe. Psalm 139 puts it this way. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Remember that God is not restricted by time and space as we are. He is omnipresent. He is everywhere, and He is everywhere simultaneously. His Spirit lives within you, so He is not in a geographical location called Heaven. So when we say “Our Father who art in Heaven”, what we really mean is “Our Father, the God of Heaven.”
It’s about acknowledging who He is, not where He is.
One commentator explained it like this: “Heaven is referred as the seat of all authority and power, so we who are on earth are limited and we pray from a position of weakness. So when we say that our Father is in Heaven we proclaim that the Father God has all of the power and authority to help us when we pray.” As Psalm 139 and countless other verses of the Bible remind us, our Father in Heaven is all around us. He is closer than the air we breathe. Our Heavenly Father is right here, right now. Just before He ascended to Heaven, Jesus told His disciples that He will never leave us or forsake us. That promise still stands.
One of the most comforting and reassuring promises we find in the entire Bible is found in the opening statement of the Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven.”
Have you ever felt distant from God? Of course you have. That’s what our sin does to us. In the Old Testament the separation from God was real. In the Tabernacle and later in the Temple that Solomon built there was a physical divide between God and man, represented by a thick curtain, but at the moment of Jesus’ death, that curtain was torn in two. There is no more separation between Him and His children because of what Jesus has done. So, and this is vital for us to understand - when we feel there is a separation between us and God, it is not because He has put the curtain back in place. It is because we have.
And during those times of separation, remember that He is a God of grace and mercy. He understands your weaknesses. He understands your struggles and the pain you feel. He is your Father – why would He not understand and why would He not care deeply for you? That just doesn’t make sense.
His grace is sufficient for you.
God the Father is always with you and His grace gives you the strength you need to overcome your hardships. He will always hold you, no matter how weak you may be. In our darkest moments and in our greatest despairs, God is with us. In our pain and our fears, God is with us. Whatever storms you may be going through right now, remember that you have a Father who is in Heaven, and because of Jesus you are His!
The opening line of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us of that wonderful truth.
Before we close, I want us to look at how Jesus introduced this prayer to His disciples. He didn’t say “If you pray.” Instead He said, “When you pray.” He clearly expects us as His followers to pray regularly. This series is not intended to just give us more information on prayer. Rather, my prayer for us is that we would find a new desire to spend more time in prayer, both corporately, and in our own private devotions.
Finally, when we pray “Our Father who art in Heaven,” this is not only a reminder to us of the character and nature of God, but it is also an opportunity for us who claim to be children of the Most High God to ask ourselves a couple of searching questions. As an unknown author once put it, “I cannot say ‘our’ if I’m living only for myself. I cannot say ‘Father’ if I don’t try to act like His child. I cannot say ‘Who art in Heaven’ if I am laying up no treasure there.”
I hope you’re excited about what God has in store for us in the next couple of months as we seek to deepen our relationship with our Father, who art in Heaven.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Matthew 6:9-15
What is prayer?
How would you honestly evaluate your prayer life at the moment?
Discuss the significance of Jesus saying “when you pray” (as opposed to if you pray.)
Read Matthew 6:5-8
What can we learn about prayer in these verses?
What does it mean to “pray like the hypocrites?”
Read Romans 8:15-17
Many people struggle with the idea of having such an intimate relationship with God.
How do you feel about being able to call God “My Father?”
What does the word “Father” mean for our relationship with Him and how we have access to Him?
Discuss what it means when we say that our Father “is in Heaven.”
There are some who say we should pray the Lord’s Prayer at every worship service, while others believe it should only be prayed occasionally.
Discuss in your group the merits of both points of view.
Close by prayer the Lord’s Prayer together!
Next week: “Hallowed be Thy Name.”