Jesus said…“This, then, is how you should pray.
Would you stand and join me in this prayer?:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
That is what is often called the “Lord’s prayer” or the “Model prayer”
It’s important, I think, to notice that Jesus didn’t say this is “what” you should pray.
He said this is “how” you should pray.
This is not a formula to merely be repeated by using these exact words.
Of course you can pray these exact words, I often have in private and public prayers.
But it is possible to pray this exact “content” and miss the Lord’s actually “intent”
Again…he said, “This is how” not “This is what” you should pray.
Look at that first line…”Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
His Intent: Is that we approach God in a way that is in line with who he actually is.
*It’s commonly believed that it doesn’t matter what image of God you hold in your head as you pray…he will be fine with any version of him that you choose to believe…he’s not picky that way.
The problem with that is we are all very interested in others knowing us as we actually are…not as they conceive or perceive us to be…especially if we desire relationship with them…we want them to know and relate the real us.
What if you decide that its okay for you to use your own feelings, imagination, and reason to determination the personality, desires, and demands of your boss?
How long will you be employed there? Not long.
I know a man who very until recently worked for a three star general…he lost his position because he just could not relate to the general as he actually is…he continually tried to relate to him in line with his own image of how that general should act and who should be.
The general didn’t like that…but who would?
It should be obvious, but it matters that we know people as they actually are.
On a personal level…I asked a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl who loves music and people to marry me 36 years ago…what if over all those years I tried to live with her and communicate with her and love her in line with a complete fabrication of a girl that exists only in my mind…not in the real world.
Would I still be married? Maybe, she’s pretty resilient.
Would we be happily, healthfully married? Certainly not.
These examples are no more ridiculous that the prevailing view that is doesn’t matter who God really is, who he has revealed himself to be…it only matters that I am sincere about who I think he is.
The entire OT narrative and laws are a direct confrontation with this approach to God…otherwise known as idolatry…creating false images of God rather than worshipping him as he has revealed himself to be.
God spoke very specifically to certain key people…like Abraham, Moses and others…to help them understand who he actually is…and how he is different from human fabrications.
He chose a larger group people (Israel) out of the nations of the earth to carry the truth and reality of who he is throughout the earth and the ages.
Then the NT counters all human attempts at idolatry…by the entrance of Jesus…God incarnate…into the world.
Jesus demonstrated and communicated who God actually is.
So does it matter that when we pray whether the image we hold in our heads aligns with who God has revealed himself to be?
Does he care whether we see him as a “throbbing life force without distinct personality” or a “judge who gives no grace and shows no mercy” or a grandfather figure who ultimately is “okay with everything”?
It matters in any relationship that as best we can and in better and better ways over time…we have in our heads a picture, a view…that corresponds with the real person we have relationship with.
It doesn’t matter that we cannot fully comprehend God, or hold all that he is in our minds…we can’t do this even with another human being.We know intuitively and experientially that in order to have an authentic, healthy and growing relationship, with other people or with God…all that is needed is accurate and adequate information
The closer that what we think/believe about a person (God) aligns with who they actually are…the better we are able to relate to, love, enjoy, and serve that person.
Jesus said we should pray like this…”Our Father in heaven.”
So the God who actually exists is “Our Father” and he is “In heaven.”
Two key concepts flow from this statement and help us understand who God actually is.
- GOD’s IMMANENCE AND TRANSCENDENCE
- Our Father
In Jesus’ time people did not often address God as Father, but Jesus did so frequently.
We are so familiar with this form of address that we can miss how profound it is.
The same God whose power and holiness would disintegrate us if we saw him in our current physical state of existence is our father…Dad.
Your biological father may not have modeled these traits…but here are some things the term…father…is meant to imply: relationship, love, care, protection, and closeness.
The technical term for God’s closeness to his children is his “immanence”
There is another word that is easily confused with this…”imminence” (about to happen)…”the flood is imminent.”
And another word “eminence” (fame or superiority)
This is not a grammar lecture, but this is an important concept to understand.
God’s “immanence” means that he is close by, involved, and personal.
This is in contrast to the view of God that he is far off, disengaged, impersonal, not involved.
So he is our father…he is close by, always at hand.
He is not too important, or busy, or distant…to care for the sparrows that fall or for the details of your life.
He is our Father, but he is our “Father in heaven.”
- IN HEAVEN
Heaven as a concept used in Scripture has often been mocked as a view that originated from “pre-scientific” minds who thought God lived up above the earth’s atmosphere in the “heavens” otherwise known as space.
Since we have been there and we didn’t find God there…well, the Biblical writers were sincere…but wrong.
The Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and first man in space was famously and wrongly quoted to have said, “I have been in space and I saw no God there.”
Gegarin was actually a member of the Orthodox Church and it was the president of Russia, Khrushchev, who said, “Gagarin went into space and he saw no God there.”
Khrushchev said this at a meeting promoting national atheism in the Soviet Union.
This is of course foolish and childish…Gagarin, if he was a believer probably did see God there, even as he saw him here in earth’s atmosphere…because the heavens declare the glory of God.
But only those who hear their voice…see his glory there…his glory reveled like art reveals the glory of the artist.
The biblical writers spoke of heavens in three ways:
One is what we call atmosphere. (air or sky)
Another is what we call space.
And then the third heaven…is the dwelling place of God…what we might call another dimension of reality.
So Paul said…talking about himself.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know — God knows.
2 Cor. 12:2
This is the presence of God…It is the realm of his holy and transcendent existence.
Current science doesn’t always have room for God in their “faith system” but they do believe that there alternative realms of existence.
And here, the Bible predates current science…God doesn’t dwell in space; he lives in an existence outside of space/time.
He is transcendent…but not just in his “location” but also in his utter holiness, or “otherness” of his character and power.
We are like him in that we are made in his image, but he is so unlike us in many ways that we are closer to an earthworm than to him.
Now we see what we must understand God as he has revealed himself to be.
He is immanent and he is transcendent
He is our Father and we can have relationship with him…he desires for us to draw near to him so he can draw near to us.
But we must not take him for granted.
His relationship to us is “Father” his “rank” so to speak is “Heavenly Father.”
To call him Father is our great privilege, but we must not forget that his great right…is that he is God.
Moses was a unique man in human history.
Protected by God in miraculous ways as a baby.
Set up in the King of Egypt’s royal family…cast out of the family and sent to learn humility in the desert…then sent back to lead God’s people from their multi-century slavery.
He was the human recipient of the Ten Commandments and he often experienced God in ways that few people ever have.
He knew God in his immanence…his nearness…like probably few have.
Ex. 33:11 The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.
That is amazing…that is certainly an experience of nearness (or immanence) of God.
But…The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” often holds true in life.
Not that Moses had contempt for God…but he did overlook God’s transcendence(at least once) in the face of his experience of God’s closeness.
Here’s the backstory:
The people Moses is leading are complaining…again.
Moses is frustrated…again.
They have seen God answer so many prayers and prove faithful in so many ways…but the people are complaining “Yeah, but what has God done for me today?”
There is a whole lesson there for us…but we will stay on point.
Specifically they were without water at one point in their journey and they began to doubt God would provide.
After listening to the people complain Moses and his deputy-commander, Aaron…went to talk with God.
Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. The LORD said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
God told Moses to speak to the rock and it will pour out water.
What Moses did was add to what God had said…and he did it in a way that showed he was losing sight of God’s “transcendence”
“Must WE bring you water out of this rock?”
Really? “We?”…now God is your partner in this…not your master?
Then Moses smacked the rock with his staff…as if he had some power…this hitting the rock was, I guess, Moses’ add on for dramatic effect…it was not what God had instructed him to do.
God’s response to this was judgment…Moses was not going to make it into the Promised Land.
Does that seem harsh?
After all he did…this is what happens for a single mistake?
Think of it another way…after all Moses had seen of God, all he had experienced…how could he possibly make this kind of mistake at this point in his life?James warned…be careful to presume to speak for God…because if you call yourself a teacher, and you get it wrong, the judgment will be more harsh…this is as it should be.
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1
There is much at stake in getting it right concerning who God is.
So there is a lot packed into this “Our Father in heaven”
God is our close, personal Father…he is immanent.
He is holy, awesome God…he is transcendent.
In our thinking, praying and living…we need to get this balance right.
When you pray…it would help to consider ways to keep this balance.
Some become, perhaps, too formalized…They forget he is father.
Some become, a bit too informal…they forget he is God.
In the Screwtape letters the chief demon is instructing his young charge on how to get a believer off track.
He is talking to the young demon about prayer and how to keep the believer from “serious praying.”
The strategy the master demon uses is to encourage the believer to think that only spontaneous, unplanned, and informal prayers are “real prayers.”
Forget the formal, written, planned prayers.
But if that doesn’t work…at the very least, he said…persuade the Christian that his bodily position makes no difference in his prayers.
“For they constantly forget” the older demon told the younger demon “what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”
This speaks to what we have talked about a great deal this year…training our minds, our memory, our bodies, and our reflexes for godliness.
This doesn’t mean we cannot pray as we play a sport, or with our feet on a deck rail looking out at the woods or mountains…or driving in a car looking at waves of Kansas wheat.
It does mean that we must not become so familiar, so casual, that we forget who God actually is…and at times it helps to pay attention to both words and to our bodies.
Sometimes…I must get on my knees in order for me to have balance(to remember who I am talking to)…sometimes I must stand with my hands up…to remember his transcendence.
Other times…I walk on a dirt trail and enjoy his immanence…posture, I think, matters to him only because matters for us.
It has often been said that he “wants us to come to him as we are”…this is true.
And it is also true that “He wants us to come to him as he is.”
There are many ways to keep this balance in praying (other than paying attention to posture)…another is to consider the words you use.
Maybe part of your praying needs to be more formal…pray scripture, pray Psalms, write out prayers.
Sometimes we write out important things we want to say to our loved ones, or boss…why not with God?
Sometimes we need to “prime the pump” of our minds and hearts.
Maybe instead of jumping right into “asking prayers” we begin with “acknowledging prayers”
We speak to him of his greatness in character and in actions…the Psalmist often did this.
They were doing it for them, not so much for him…he knows who is…we often forget.
He is immanent and he is transcendent…and then he is “our” Father.
- “OUR” NOT “MY” FATHER
It is no small thing that Jesus said we are to pray “our” father rather than “my” father.
And “give us” our daily bread.
“Lead us” not into temptation.
I don’t believe it is merely semantics.
Of course we are to pray in private but this “model” prayer…is given to us a public rather than a private one.
Prayers with friends, with family…in public need not be long…in fact its probably better when they are not.
It has been said, “pray long in private, short in public”
But it would be good if we prayed together, more often, more quickly…not tied to meals or special occasions.
When you are with a friend or a family member enjoying a good time or enduring a difficult time, pray together.
When you are having trouble connecting with a friend or family member, or having trouble working through a difficult problem, pray together.
Peace with God through the gospel brings peace with others in relationships.
Our salvation is personal and our relationship with God is personal, but our salvation and relationship with God is revealed interpersonally.
Surely, he is “my Father” and “your Father,” but the Lord Jesus said to pray like this, “Our Father.”
He didn’t use very many words to tell us how to pray.
Therefore, we should pay careful attention to those words he did use.
Private prayer is assumed…most do it.
Praying regularly with others is not as frequent for most people.
It is very likely that as we pray “Our Father” with others we will grow in our depth of understanding and appreciation for the fact that he is “My Father.”
And that he is our Holy Father.
III. HOLY BE YOUR NAME
“Hallowed” be your name, means “holy be your name.”
Jesus is not, of course, praying that God would become holy, but rather that he would be treated with the respect and reverence that is due him.
This is more than not using God’s name as profanity; it is to live in such a way that demonstrates a belief in his utter holiness.
His “name” is who and what he is.
It is God as he has revealed himself to men and women.
Holiness is not merely a sort of “add-on” attribute of God it is a description of him.
It means “separateness.”
He is set apart from all other beings in a way that is utterly unique.
Christians have been declared to be holy by God, but this is a description of how God relates to us in light of the gospel.
Then Christians can also choose to act in ways that are holy…and become more like God in holiness.
But only God IS holy; he is utterly set apart from all of created reality.
To “hallow his name” means that we approach him as he truly is.
He is the uncreated creator.
We are not to approach him casually or flippantly, but with reverence and awe.
Yet, it is “our Father” whose name is to be hallowed.
How do we deal with this seeming contradiction?
Can we approach him confidently, joyfully, and even playfully? Of course, we can.
After all, what do fathers enjoy more than the knowledge that their children enjoy them?
But what about his holiness, how do we deal with this fact as well?
There are many answers to that question, but one answer is that we rejoice in the fact that our Father is the holy God.
For the child who has a heart to obey, having a “Holy Father” is a source of supreme comfort.
Our holy Father is not a derelict dad…he is not absent…uncaring…he is super engaged.
Having a Father who is better than us, fully engaged with us, stronger, someone to trust and to admire and to worship…is a good thing for the child who loves his or her father.
But for the child whose heart has turned away from father…having a “Holy Father” is a source of supreme discomfort…it is this holiness that brings distress…this kind of father cares about character, and relationship, and obedience.
So there is no conflict between “Holy” and “Father” when our hearts are set in his direction.
It is the fact that he is holy that makes him such a good Father.
Solomon wrote that “God has set eternity in our hearts” (Eccl. 3:11).
Interestingly and statistically…people think more often about God than any other thing.
But as I said when we began, there are many other perceptions of God that people hold in their minds and some of them are just wrong.
If they are wrong…this is a terrible thing.
This leads to many devastating consequences:
- Lack of spiritual resiliency: When we believe that God is other than he is and is going to act other than he has promised…we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and disillusionment.
- Foolish approaches to life and others: When we believe it doesn’t matter who God has revealed himself to be and that we can come up with ideas on our own about him…then we are directly impacted by those ideas.
Because people become like the god’s they worship.
We want to have a conversational relationship with the God who actually exists…not some figment of human imagination.
APPLICATION: Think about this this week…its important.
How might holding the balance of God’s immanence and transcendence in your mind impact your praying?
What are some things you can do, practically, to gain and maintain this balance?
*This summer I am talking more prayer walks than normal…I am trying to keep a balance of his nearness and as well as his holiness.
I’m also trying to remember to pray, short prayer, more often with people I spend time with.
How might you include others in your life in growing in a balanced, conversational relationship with God?…how can you more consistently practice “Our Father”?
Pray…often…to the God who actually exists…he is Our Holy Father in Heaven…immanent, transcendent, perfect.