The Lord's Prayer, Part 1Our Father
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Leslie Basham: Here's Nancy Leigh DeMoss.
Nancy: I think that Father is one of the most distinctive names that we Christians use for God.
I learned while I was doing this study that Muslims have ninety-nine names for God—names like The Powerful, The Irresistible, The All-Compelling Subduer, The Magnificent, The Majestic, The Sublimely Exalted, The Protector, The Benefactor . . . on and on—ninety-nine names that Muslims have for God.
But not one of those names is Father. Only Christians, in the truest sense of the word, can call God “Father.”
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, September 21.
In school you probably learned that every letter had to have a salutation, something like, “Dear Mr. So-and-so.” It’s tempting to think of the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father,” like a salutation.
But Nancy’s about to explain why it’s a lot more than that. She’s in a series called, The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1.
Nancy: In September of 2001 there was a lecturer from Cambridge University. He was thirty-three years old, and his name was Dr. Mark Ashton Smith.
He was kayaking in Southern England off the coast of the Isle of Wight, and his kayak capsized in some very treacherous waters. So he was holding onto his kayak, and he grabbed his cell phone, trying to think of who to call, how to get help . . . or he knew it was going to be the end.
The first thing that came to mind, the first thing he could figure out to do, was to call his father. It didn’t matter to him that his dad, at the moment, was 3,500 miles away. His dad answered the phone, and without delay, of course, his dad relayed this mayday message to the Coast Guard. He found the one that was closest to where his son was stranded.
Ironically, the Coast Guard location was less than a mile away from where his boat had capsized, and within twelve minutes, a helicopter was on the scene. It pulled Ashton Smith out of the water and rescued him.
Where did he think first to call? Dad! “I need help!” His dad was 3,500 miles away, but his dad knew what to do, knew how to get help that was close at hand, knew how to set into motion the events that resulted in the rescue of his son.
As I read that story, I thought about ourselves being so often like that kayaker, in peril, in danger—we’re going to go under—and realizing that our first impulse should be to call home, call our Father, the one who can help us, the one who wants to help us, the one that will help us when we call.
I wonder how many times we don’t get help because we don’t call. That man wisely thought, “I need to call my dad.”
Jesus said to His disciples, “When you pray, pray like this: ‘Our Father’” (see Matt. 6:9). Call home. “Dad, Father, I need You!”
We’re just starting into the Lord’s Prayer. We’ve been looking into the background, the context, and I want to encourage you again during these weeks of study to be reading the Lord’s Prayer, quoting it, meditating on it, phrase by phrase, word by word.
We’re going to take long enough in this study that you can do that along with us. You’ll notice today, as we finally get to the prayer, that the prayer begins with God.
All real prayer starts with God, not with us. The prayer is directed toward God. Our Father are the first two words. That puts God at the center of our prayer, not us.
You say, “Why do you need to keep saying that?” Because we keep forgetting it. We’re so self-centered, and we’re so naturally bent on “Me” from the time we’re infants. When we grow up, we find more sophisticated ways of being self-centered, but we’re still self-centered, nonetheless.
Jesus, in teaching us to pray, says, “Get your eyes off of yourself, and lift your heart and your eyes up to God, our Father.” Then He teaches us to pray, “Our Father.”
When Jesus says that we should pray, “Our Father,” it reminds us that prayer is something very personal. It’s the personal nature of prayer.
We’re not talking to the air. We’re not talking to ourselves. Prayer is talking to God, to a Person. You know He exists. There’s the assumption here that God exists, first, and secondly that He hears us, He’s listening to us, and He’s going to do something about our prayer.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God].” If you come to God, you “must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
So when we come to pray, it’s an expression of faith. It’s, “Lord, we can’t see You, but we believe that You’re there. We believe that You really do exist. We believe that we have a Father who wants us to pray, who is listening when we pray, who can hear us and who can do something about our needs.”
I think that Father is one of the most distinctive names that we Christians use for God. I learned while I was doing this study that Muslims have ninety-nine names for God—names like The Powerful, The Irresistible, The All-Compelling Subduer, The Magnificent, The Majestic, The Sublimely Exalted, The Protector, The Benefactor . . . on and on—ninety-nine names that Muslims have for God.
But not one of those names is Father. Only Christians, in the truest sense of the word, can call God “Father.”
Jesus is telling us to pray to our Father, and I want us to stop and realize: If we had been in the setting of those disciples in those days, coming out of the Old Testament era in this bridge to the New Testament era, I want us to get a picture of how astonishing it would have been to hear Jesus say that we should pray, “Our Father.”
We’re so used to this prayer; it doesn’t strike us as anything out of the ordinary. But to the ears of those Jews living in the time of Christ, this was an astonishing way to start a prayer.
The disciples would have never thought of starting their prayer, “Our Father.” Jesus said, “You should prayer to our Father.”
Now, to give us some background for why that was so amazing, there were two major philosophies of the pre-Christian pagan world. They had a very different view of God.
First of all, there were the Stoics. Stoicism saw God as having no feelings and no emotions. He was passionless. He was indifferent.
Then there were the Epicureans. To the Epicureans, God was completely detached from the world and from everything that goes on in it. He was uninvolved in world affairs. He didn’t care.
In the Old Testament, the Jews knew better about God than that. God had revealed Himself to them in the Old Testament. The Old Testament pictures of God often left people feeling terrified, petrified, afraid of God.
“Don’t come near this mountain. Don’t touch it, or you’ll die, because God is so majestic and so holy,” as He truly is.
So the Old Testament Jews had developed this enormous reverence for the name of God. They wouldn’t even say the name out loud. God was too high, too holy, to be called by name.
It’s not so much that their view of God was wrong, but it was incomplete. You see, those Old Testament Jews did not know God in the way Jesus knew God—the only begotten Son, who had an intimate Father/Son relationship with God.
He came to earth to show us that we could have that kind of relationship with God that had been unheard of even by the Jews who knew God in the Old Testament. Throughout the entire Old Testament, God is referred to as Father only fourteen times, and whenever that happens, it’s always with regard to the nation of Israel.
So Jesus walks into this culture that has enormous respect and reverence for the name of God—so much so that you can’t even say His name out loud; you find indirect ways to refer to God.
This culture understood that, yes, God is the Father of our nation collectively, but they had never dared to call God “our Father” personally. Jesus steps into this milieu, and He says, “Abba, Father,” when He prays.
It was shocking. It was like this huge disconnect; amazing that He should talk that way, that anyone should have the audacity to have the liberty to talk to God that way, and then to act as if He had a relationship with God that was personal and intimate!
The thing was, Jesus wasn’t acting. He had that kind of relationship with God, and He came and revealed to those startled believers who had come out of the Old Testament era a relationship with God that they had never known was possible.
Jesus revealed God, and He revealed a radically different relationship with God. In fact, the thought that you could have a personal relationship at all with God was radical.
So Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father.” That word abba, the Aramaic word for father, is a tender word; it’s a familiar word, warm and intimate. It was just unthinkable that human beings could talk to God that way.
Then we get to the Gospels and find that more than sixty times (fourteen references to God as Father in the whole Old Testament) Jesus calls God Father. It’s a radically different way of looking at God. In Matthew 6, where we’ve been looking the last several sessions, in the first eighteen verses alone, there are ten references to God as Father.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5–7, there are seventeen references to “your Father” and “your heavenly Father.” Jesus is introducing a relationship with God that the Old Testament believers knew nothing about.
If you just look through the Sermon on the Mount (and I encourage you to do that sometime)—I’ve gone through my Bible and marked all the references to Father in Matthew 5–7, keeping in mind that for thousands of years prior to that point, Jews had never been able to call God “my Father.”
And here Jesus comes. Just circle them in Matthew 5–7:
- 5:16—)ur lives are to give glory to our Father, who is in heaven.
- 5:45—“You may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
- 5:48—Our heavenly Father is perfect.
- 6:4, 6, 18 (we’ve looked at these 3 references)—“Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
- 6:8—“For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
- 6:14–15—“Your heavenly Father will . . . forgive you” your trespasses; it’s always referring to God as “your Father.”
- 6:26—Your heavenly Father feeds the birds—apart from any effort on their own, I might add. So, Jesus says, don’t be anxious about how you’ll be fed, because your Father cares for sparrows, for birds.
- 6:32—“Your heavenly Father knows that you need” all these things. He’s introducing a whole concept of God that is caring and compassionate and tender and all-knowing and powerful.
- 7:11— “Your Father who is in heaven [will] give good things to those who ask Him!”
- 7:21—Those who do “the will of my Father who is in heaven” will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus comes introducing the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven (they’re the same thing), and He introduces the way to the Father, who is the King of that kingdom, and says, “You can know Him as Father. You can call Him Father. You can approach Him as Father. He’s a good Father.”
You can just imagine these early believers short-circuiting! “How can I possibly know God as Father?” By the way, I think that’s the message that is very needed in our generation, where there are so many broken, busted, dysfunctional, wrong relationships between fathers and children.
I think it’s so important that we bring into our culture the fact that there is a good and wise and loving and kind heavenly Father that you can trust.
Maybe to say “Our Father” today is almost as radical as it would have been for those disciples in Jesus’ day.
As we pray—as we teach others to pray, as you teach your children to pray—we need to be teaching them to say “Our Father” and to have a biblical sense of what kind of Father He is.
Now, the fact that we start this prayer by saying “Our Father” is a beautiful thing, but it’s also an exclusive concept. Not everyone can say, “Our Father.” There are some who cannot pray this prayer.
There are many—there are most—who cannot pray this prayer. Only those who are His children can pray, “Our Father.”
This goes contrary to what a lot of modern theology has taught about the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. “We are all God’s children, all God’s children,” and we sing about it and talk about it; hopefully not in the church you go to, but in many churches this is the concept.
“All children of God . . . different roads, different faiths, different ways of viewing God, but we’re all God’s children.” Not so, according to God’s Word.
Jesus said to the religious Jews of His day something that also had to be exceedingly shocking for them. He said, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44).
Whew! I mean, these were the Jews that had so much respect for God they couldn’t say His name out loud; and Jesus said, “You may have the right language; you may have the right behavior; you might have the right actions, but God is not your Father. You are of your father the devil.”
You say, “That’s because they were hypocrites.” You know what? Every one of us is born into this world a child of the devil. Every human being that has ever been born—apart from the Lord Jesus Himself—we are born, God says, “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10), children of this world and the kingdom of this world.
In order to become children of God, we have to be taken out of the realm that we’re born into and transferred to another realm, to another kingdom, to another family—reborn to become children of God.
John 1:11–13 tells us that Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
You see, when you were born physically, you were not born a child of God. We have to become children of God. We have to be given the right to become children of God, and that happens through faith in Jesus Christ.
So those who don’t have that relationship with Him cannot truly pray. They can’t say “Our Father” because our communication with God is that of a family. The entire basis for our approaching God and making these requests is our relationship with Him as His children.
Those who don’t know God as Father have no basis on which to make these requests. If your kids want a raise in their allowance, or they want a special certain something for their birthday, who do they ask? They don’t go ask the neighbor’s dad. They ask their own parents.
Jesus is saying, “You want to have these requests answered? You’ve got to have a Father/child relationship with God.”
Now, that’s a huge comfort to those of us who are His children. So as you go to prayer, do you stop and think about that? If not, you may be guilty of vain repetitions. Do you think about the fact that our ability to address God as Father is only possible through His Son, Jesus Christ?
Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), through Christ. Through Christ and His death on the cross, He has opened up the way for us to have a relationship with God as our Father. It’s an adoptive relationship.
In Romans 8:14–16 we read about that adoptive relationship:
All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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 [that is, the Holy Spirit] we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Jesus prayed “Abba, Father.” We can pray “Abba, Father,” that tender, intimate, familiar term, because “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
The Spirit adopts us into the family of God as we place our faith in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross; and then it’s the Spirit who assures us of that relationship, because sometimes even as children of God we get out of fellowship with God, and we start to doubt: “Am I really God’s child?”
There have been times in my own life when I would think, “I cannot believe the way I’ve been acting! How can I be a Christian and act that way?”
Do you ever have those thoughts? It’s the Spirit who brings conviction. It’s the Spirit who gives us the gift of repentance, restores us to fellowship, and reassures our hearts that we do belong to God.
He goes on to say in Romans 8:17, “If [we are] children, then [we are] heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Do you know what that means?
As children, as heirs of God, we have full family rights and privileges. Fellow heirs with Christ—all that is His is ours through our adoption into the family in God. That means we have freedom and boldness to approach Him with our requests, because of that Father/child relationship.
So let me ask you a few questions as we make this all personal:
Is God your Father? I’m not asking, “Do you pray, ‘Our Father who is in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name’?” I’m asking, is He really your Father?
- Have you been adopted into His family? Have you been given the right to be called a child of God because of placing your faith in Christ and Christ alone?
- Are you led by the Spirit of God?
- Does the Spirit bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?
- When you pray “Our Father, who art in Heaven,” are you conscious of Who you’re praying to? Do you approach Him as your Abba, Father, or do you approach Him, as I find I so often do in prayer, as someone who is distant, someone who is far off?
- Are you conscious who you’re talking to when you come and say, “Our Father”? Thinking back to that kayaker off the coast of England, when you have a need and you’re capsizing, who do you call?
- Who do you call first? Is it your first instinct to call your Father? Or do you call Him as a last resort, when everything else has failed and the line is busy everywhere else?
You know what? Your boat may have capsized by then. Do you call Him first, or do you look to some other person or some other source to meet your needs? Jesus said, “When you pray, pray like this: ‘Our Father’” (see Matt. 6:9).
Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back to pray to our Father. She’s in a series called, The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1. Can you believe there’s so much meaning in the opening two words?
Thousands of women have gathered this weekend to seek their Father in fresh ways. The True Woman '12 conference is in full swing. You can join them online by watching the live stream today and tomorrow. You’ll worship with the Gettys, hear from emcee Bob Lepine, and study God’s Word with Joni Eareckson Tada, Mary Kassian, and all the speakers.
To join women from around the world watching the live stream from True Woman '12, just visit ReviveOurHearts.com.
You probably couldn’t gain access to the President of the United States today. But you can talk directly with someone far more powerful. Nancy will tell you about it Monday. Now she’s back to pray.
Nancy: Our Father, how we do thank You that we can approach You with confidence, with boldness, with assurance. Thank You for that radically different relationship that Jesus Christ revealed to us and has made possible for us.
Father, we love You. Thank You that we can say that. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.
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