Lord’s Prayer 1: Our Father who art in Heaven

Lord’s Prayer 1: Our Father who art in Heaven


People across the USA are losing interest in prayer.  Pew Research conducted a survey last year from May 29 to Aug 25 among a nationally representative group of respondents and found that 45% of U.S. adults say they pray daily compared to 58% who reported doing so in 2007 and 55% who said they prayed daily in 2014. 32% of the respondents said they seldom or never pray, which is close to the 29% of U.S. adults who identify as non-religious.

An estimated 2 billion people pray or sing The Lord’s Prayer on Easter Sunday every year – almost a third of the world’s population! It would be very interesting to know how many times you have prayed the Lord’s Prayer. We pray the Lord’s Prayer at funerals, weddings, at the end of committee meetings, at our own private prayer time, and in every worship service. Yet, despite our familiarity with this prayer, and the frequency with which we may pray it, we often fail to grasp its meaning. If prayer lost its meaning and it became mere words, it’s understandable that people would lose interest in prayer.

Most books and sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer start with a discussion on the words “Our Father”.  But if we start there, we could miss some of the core teachings of Jesus about prayer. When Jesus reflects on healthy devotion from 6 verses 1 to 8, he starts by discerning the INTENTION of our prayers! Some believers used their spiritual practice of almsgiving or praying “to be seen by others”.  Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message uses the metaphor of a theatrical performance.  It’s just a show. It’s about the right words, an abundance of words, perfect formulas, and special techniques to get what you want.  It is just role-playing…

Jesus invites us to become aware of the heart of our spiritual practice!   Our INTENTION should be to connect deeply on all levels of our being to the Divine Loving Parent. In this divine space, we discover who we really are and how deeply we are connected to GOD, others, and the earth.  Prayer is ABOUT an INTIMATE CONNECTION!  As we will discover throughout the Lord’s Prayer, we are invited to truly connect with GOD, honestly connect with our own lives, compassionately connect with others, and connect to the earth!

The Heidelberg Catechism also draws our attention to our intention before we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Question 116 Why is prayer necessary for Christians? Answer: Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us…

And Question 117 What belongs to a prayer that pleases God and is heard by him? Answer:       

First, we must from the heart call upon the one true God only, who has revealed himself in his Word, for all that he has commanded us to pray.

Second, we must thoroughly know our need and misery,so that we may humble ourselves

before God.

Third, we must rest on this firm foundation that, although we do not deserve it, God will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord, as he has promised us in his Word.

Let’s consider our intentions and the true motivations of our prayers before we pray!

Some years ago, a friend took us to a fancy restaurant with an 8-course meal. I’ve eaten in many restaurants but felt utterly confused by the words on the menu and the multiple courses of small dishes that were so elegantly served. The saving grace was the chef who accompanied the waiter at the presentation of each course. She passionately described each dish, how it was prepared, and what to note as we ate. As a result of her explanation, we savored every bite. But without the explanation and attentiveness, we would have missed out on so much.

We can learn to pray the Lord’s Prayer, like learning how to appreciate a meal at a fine restaurant. The Lord’s Prayer begs to be explored, understood, engaged, savored and internalized. There is so much more here than we might at first grasp.

The Prayer starts with “Our Father,” which reveals the identity of who God is, who we are and the intimacy of the relationship with our Loving Divine Parent.

There are many names or titles used to address God in Scripture. You’ve likely heard of a few of these names, names like El (God), or El El-yon (God Most High), or El Shaddai (God Almighty), or Adonai (Lord), or Ya-hwey (I Am that I Am or I Am the Source and Sustainer of Life, but most often displayed in English translations as LORD in all caps).  Yahweh appears over six thousand times in one form or another in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Our Jewish friends often address their prayers to “Lord our God, Ruler [or King] of the Universe.” Yet when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to address God in a way that appears only rarely in the Hebrew Bible. He taught them to address God as “Our Father.” Like the fine dining meal, there’s more here than meets the eye.

Jesus didn’t ask them to pray to “My Father” but “Our Father”. This is significant. We might pray this prayer mostly alone(95% Barna). Even praying alone, the Lord’s Prayer still prays to our Father, asking him to give us this day our daily, to forgive us as we forgive, to lead usnot into temptation, but to deliver us from evil. (Plural) This prayer stands in stark contrast to our natural tendency to look out and to care primarily about the self. We live in a world that is focused on me, myself, and I, but Jesus teaches us to pray our, us, and we.

Jesus often spoke of God simply as Father, or as my Father. We may of course pray this way as well. But when Jesus gave this particular prayer, he was inviting his disciples to pray not only for ourselves but also for the world around us. Praying alone, but in community. The prayer reminds us that our faith is intended to be lived out with others, and that our prayers are prayed with others and far others.

He is the God and Father of us all. Whether others acknowledge him or not, he is still the Creator of all things, the Giver and Sustainer of all life. He is the Father of all humans. This seems particularly important in a world prone to polarization and divisions. God is not simply the God of Protestants but also of Catholics and Orthodox believers. God is not simply the God of conservatives, but also of liberals,  Republicans and the Democrats. God is not the Father of any one nation, or ethnic group, but the Father of all nations and peoples. He is not merely the Father of Christians, but the Father of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists and agnostics who don’t believe in him!

To pray “our Father” is also to recognize that we share the same Father, you are family with these others. To acknowledge God as our common Father is to recognize our obligation to our neighbors, all of whom are made in the likeness and image of God.

Let’s consider that Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father.  The challenge is that members of the congregation have such different experiences with their fathers. Some had dads who were amazing—present, protective, loving, and involved in their children’s lives. Others had dads who were just average. And some had fathers who were absent, emotionally distant, or worse, emotionally or physically abusive.

I have met many people whose experience of their earthly father was painful. They had fathers who were physically or emotionally absent or abusive, or who otherwise made it hard for them to use the imagery of father to represent God, and when they do use this language, they find it hard to believe that God is loving, kind, and can be trusted.

Roberta Bondi, who taught at Emory’s Candler School of Theology, wrote, that she grew up in the forties and fifties with a loving but authoritarian, perfectionistic father who left the family when she was eleven. Like many other people, she transferred to God the Father all the pain she felt around her human father, she simply couldn’t get past the father language of the prayer to reach God…. I was hurting so much and so mistrustful of God.’Ultimately, at that time in her life, Roberta substituted the word Parent for Father.

Knowing this, it could also be that Jesus intentionally chose this image of Father, not because God is like our earthly fathers, but because so many long for the love of a father they never had. Your earthly father is not the pattern for God’s fatherhood, but God is the pattern and example of what a father is meant to be; that is, one who is steadfast, faithful, loving, kind, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, and present. This is Who God the Father is!

Pope Francis wrote in his book on the Lord’s Prayer that when we address God as “Our Father,” we are invited to remember that, regardless of whether our human fathers loved us deeply or abandoned us entirely, or whether our fathers died or were simply absentee, we are not orphans. In fact, there are no orphans, for we all have a Father who loves us.

Roberta Bondi is right to recognize that God transcends both male and female, and that both fathering and mothering are a part of God’s nature and character. Remember Genesis 1:27 God’s the creation of humanity: “In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27b NIV). If both male and female were created in the image of God, then God must possess both masculine and feminine dimensions.

A few months ago, we focused on the Mother heart of God as theme of the sermon with examples of the feminine imagery applied to God. In Isaiah 66:13 we read, “As a mother comforts her child, / so I will comfort you.” In multiple passages the metaphor of giving birth is applied to God and God’s work, as in Deuteronomy 32:18b, “You forgot the God who gave birth to you.” We see this in the New Testament’s imagery of being “born of God” or “born again.” Childbirth is clearly a feminine metaphor applied to God. Jesus draws upon the idea of a hen caring for her chicks when speaking of his concern for Jerusalem and her people. The Bible clearly recognizes both masculine and feminine dimensions of God.

Ultimately, all of our language about God is limited making use of human metaphors so that we can comprehend the God who is beyond our comprehension. God transcends all of our metaphors, yet they are helpful in allowing us to know God and to relate to God. But there was clearly something important to Jesus about the metaphor of Father when it came to his relationship with God. It is used more often by him than any other form of address.

Recently a grandfather told me about their granddaughter asking him as she went to bed, “Grandpa, can you just stay here with me and hold me as I go to sleep?” He put his arm around her and choked back the tears.  For that moment, he savored holding her until she went to sleep. A picture of “Our Father …”

The words “Our Father” implies that we are God’s children. That is our true identity.  This is who we are on the deepest level.

Yes, we will as for forgiveness later in the prayer, but we start with the acknowledgment that we are God’s Children. We are created in the image of God. The same divine DNA as God. This is who we are! That is why we van approach our loving Parent! 

If you forget this identity, you won’t have the courage and openness to come in the Lord’s presence. In line with Hebr 4:16, we can as Children of God, approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace.

Romans 8 invites us to call God “Abba”, father, an intimate Arabic word. Rom 8:26 says: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Paul underlines Jesus’s teaching that is not about the words, the performance of formulations of our prayers, but the loving relationship wherein the Spirit knows what our needs are and intercedes for us!

God is Father to you in a way your earthly father may never have been. At the same time, as a nurturing and tender Mother. Or, Deeply connected to God as our Divine Loving Parent.

In this prayer Jesus addresses God as Our Father, who art in heaven. The ancient Hebrews imagined many layers of “heavens” with the earth as the center of the universe. Land masses were surrounded by water. Below the earth was the underworld where the dead resided and far below that were more waters—”the deep”—upon which the land rested. A dome encapsulated our atmosphere, and near the top of that dome, the sun, moon, and stars traveled across the sky. Above this was more water held back by some kind of solid layer whose gates could be opened, allowing the rains to fall to the earth, Finally, above that, were the “highest heavens.”

In the Greek the word for heaven is ouranos.  At that time, the word ouranos—heaven—was used to describe everything between the ground and the dome above: the unseen atmosphere, the air we breathe, the place where the birds of the air take their flight. But it is distinct from the earth, which refers to both the physical, visible world and the realm in which humans have dominion and often live lives of alienation from God.

When heaven and Father are combined in Matthew, as in the opening of our prayer, Matthew uses the plural ouronois, heavens(PLURAL!). Heaven, or heavens, in this sense, is distinct from earth, the material world, and yet it envelops both. Like the air or atmosphere or even wind, we cannot see it, but we breathe it and at times feel it. We are therefore surrounded by heaven. The point I want you to note is that heaven isn’t always “up there” or “out there” in Scripture; it is also all that is around us even though we can’t see it. In this sense, God is as near as the air that we breathe.  In Matthew 6 Jesus refers to the Father as one is in secret in the room where you are praying. God who is unseen sees in the secrets of your heart!

But ouranos also meant specifically that region where the sun, moon, and stars “trace their courses above.” So, Psalm 19 begins, “Heaven is declaring God’s glory; / the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.” In this sense, Jesus invites us also to understand that God’s glory and presence permeate all that exists beyond the earth’s atmosphere. God’s presence permeates and extends beyond the vastness of space so that we might say not merely that he has “the whole world in his hands,” but the entire universe in his hands! In this sense we pray, “Our Father, whose glory fills the universe and beyond!”

For Jesus, “heaven” is most often used to represent God’s reign, the world as it was meant to be, hence the frequent use of the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew’s Gospel. While it might include all that is below, it most often seems to indicate the realm where God’s will is done, where injustice, poverty, cruelty, inhumanity, violence, corruption, and pain have been banished.

Finally, heaven is used in Scripture to describe the future state and place where the righteous dead dwell with God (Matthew 8:10-11). Jesus promises he will go and prepare a place for us there, and that in his Father’s house there is “room to spare” (John 14:1-3). First-century Jewish and Christian understandings came to encompass the place where the saints dwelt with God, where death had been vanquished, and which one day would come on earth.

THUS, in this case, it is usually the plural form of the word ouranos, so “heavens” might be a better translation.

When we as Children of God pray “Our Father,” OUR Divine Loving Parent is as near as the air that all of us breathe. God’s loving presence permeates the cosmos and the realm of the afterlife. Yes, “Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created” (Romans 8:38-39).

Sermon Based on a Book by Adam Hamilton: https://www.amazon.com/Lords-Prayer-Meaning-Power-Taught/dp/1791021255