Lord Teach us to Pray: "Our Father"

Our Father Who Art in Heaven - LSESD

"Our Father."

This is the first thing Jesus teaches us about prayer: Call God "Our Father."  It might seem a minor point, but it certainly is not. In fact, it might be the most important thing you learn about prayer as we begin our Lenten journey of praying The Lord's Prayer three times daily.

The question is this: Do you approach God as if he is your Father and you are his child? Or do you approach God as if he is your Landlord and you are his tenant?

Think about the difference between these two. If you are a tenant, you have a business relationship with your landlord. Your responsibility is to pay the rent and respect the property. His responsibility is to maintain the house in good working order. If something breaks, you have a right to ask him to fix it. As long as both of you fulfill your duties, you get along just fine. In fact, you might even become friends of a sort. But the relationship is always one of a landlord and a tenant.

Many of us instinctively approach God in this way. He is our landlord; we are his tenant. He owns the property; we must pay the rent. As long as we do our part, we have a right to ask God to fix what is wrong in our lives. And so long as things go smoothly, everything is fine.

But what happens when things go wrong? When our heavenly Landlord does not return our calls? When requests are ignored? When nothing gets fixed, no matter how much we ask?

We usually do one of two things when this happens: either we get angry, or we get anxious. We're angry because while we're doing our part, God is not doing his. He is not fulfilling his end of the bargain. God is not looking out for us. Some of us get so angry that we give up on God or on Church.

Or we get anxious. Why? Well, of course unanswered prayer can't be God's fault. It must be ours. We're behind on our rent. We haven't prayed enough, given enough, served enough, studied enough, or sacrificed enough. We've got to work harder and sin less; if we do our part, then surely God will do his.

Sound familiar? Yes, me too. At times I've found myself both angry and anxious at unanswered prayer. When this happens, I realize that although I am a Christian, I am thinking/praying like a pagan. I am acting like God is my landlord, not my father.

But this is not how Jesus taught us to approach God. He did not say, "Our Landlord in heaven," or even, "Our heavenly Boss." He said, "Pray like this, 'Our Father in heaven.'" We are to approach God as a child approaches her father. 

This, of course, is the other way we live in a house which is not our own. We are not here as tenants in someone else's house. We live here as a children in our father's home. And this makes all the difference in the world.

As a landlord, our relationship with God is conditional; as a Father, it is unconditional. As his tenant, our relationship is transactional; as his child, it is familial. One has to do with what I do; the other has to do with who (or "Whose") I am.  

Think for a moment about what it is like to be a dearly loved child: She jumps confidently into her father's lap. She knows her father wants to be with her. She never doubts but that he wants what is best for her. She never worries about her next meal. She is not afraid to asks for what she wants, even though she knows she might not always get it. She never questions her father's love for her. She is completely at ease with her daddy. 

This is how Jesus wants us to begin our prayer. This is how Jesus wants us to think about God. He is "our Father in heaven."

But how do we know that God really is our Father? 

This is how we know: Scripture tells us that God has adopted us into his family. "You have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' ... We are children of God" (Romans 8:15f; cf. Gal. 4:4ff; Eph. 1:5).

The beauty and intimacy of Christian prayer is this: We can come to God as our Father because of what Jesus has done for us. As a result of his life and ministry, we have been adopted into God's family.

When Jesus began his ministry a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17). As Jesus concluded his ministry, Jesus prayed for his followers saying, "I in them and you in me, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (Jn 17:23).

Think of it: Jesus said that the Father loves us even as he loves Jesus! Do you believe it? Have you received it? If so, then you have every right -- indeed, it is your God-given right -- to begin your prayer with these blessed words: "Our Father...."

Our Father which art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
On earth, as it is in heaven

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil

For thine is the kingdom, and the power
and the glory forever and ever.