The Lord's Prayer, Part 1Our Mother?
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Leslie Basham: When helping women who have been abused by their fathers, some ministries encourage praying to God as Mother. Nancy Leigh DeMoss wants us to think this through.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Are they right? Does it matter? Is it okay to pray to God our Father or our Mother or our Heavenly Parent?
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, September 25.
How is your prayer life? Most of us wish it could improve, and our current series called The Lord’s Prayer has been so helpful. Believe it or not, we haven’t gotten past the first two words! Let’s listen.
Nancy: Before we move on in the Lord’s Prayer, I want to spend one more session talking about one further implication of those first two precious words, “Our Father.” But before I do that, I want to stop and address an issue that this part of the text raises that has become a significant point of discussion and debate in Christendom today.
I want to address it because it may be something you come across at some point, and I want you to know how to think biblically about this issue.
The Lord’s Prayer begins, “Our Father.” I remember the first time I ever heard a minister pray in public, “Dear God, our Father or Mother, whichever You may be.”
I did what some of you did just now, sitting in your seats. Your eyes got big, and you kind of recoiled. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard someone pray that way, but this was in a big, well-known church setting.
I couldn’t believe my ears! I was probably a teenager at the time, and I’ve come to realize since that there are those who object to saying, “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” They would say that the Bible uses masculine language to refer to God because it was written in a patriarchal culture—that is, a male-centered, male-dominated culture.
They would say today, now that we’re no longer in that culture, instead we should pray, “Our Mother, who art in Heaven.”
There are others who would say God is neither male nor female, and thus should be viewed in an asexual way. So they would pray, “Our Parent, who art in Heaven.”
This way of thinking has become a pattern in many of our mainline Protestant denominations today. Let me give you some examples.
In 1999, the British Methodists included the first prayer to God the Mother in its updated worship book. It appears in a communion service that begins, “God, our Father and Mother, we give You thanks and praise for all that You have made.” That was in 1999.
There’s a mainline church in Chicago that has it in its liturgy. . . Its service for infant baptism begins this way: “We baptize you in the name of God, our Father and Mother, our Holy Parent.”
The Kentucky Council of Churches has on its website this introduction: “We are a household of faith, a family of God’s children. . . . God is our Father and our Mother, Christ is our Savior and our Brother. We are sisters and brothers to each other, made one in the Spirit. . . . God is our Father and our Mother.”
Now, some of this stuff sounds very, very strange or off-the-wall to you; but you read enough of it, you hear enough of it—and in some circles of the Protestant world today, you are hearing a lot of this—and it starts to sound like you’re the one who’s crazy.
“What is wrong with my thinking? Maybe this makes sense.” Let me give you another illustration.
Catherine Kroeger is the founder of an organization called Christians for Biblical Equality. Now, if you’re not familiar with that group, you should be. It sounds good enough. Christians for Biblical Equality.
This group of denominations and organizations teaches that biblically, men and women are created equally in the image of God. So far, so good.
But then they go on to say that, therefore, there should be no distinction of roles between men and women at home or in the church. This is where we have to part ways with that teaching.
The founder of that organization, Catherine Kroeger, has this to say: “There is good biblical reason . . . to speak of God as both Father and Mother, both ‘he’ and ‘she.’ This is particularly important for evangelicals to remember.”
And these people consider themselves evangelicals. They would not consider themselves liberal theologians in this case.
They say this is “important for evangelicals to remember when they seek to witness to people turning to goddess worship in their desire for a deity with feminine attributes.”
You hear a lot about goddess worship today—very New Age thinking. It has to do with the whole neo-paganism, recurrence of Gnosticism. It’s what comes out in the Da Vinci Code, the Sacred Feminine.
All these things get connected sooner or later. She says when you’re witnessing to people who are looking for a God with feminine attributes, there’s good biblical reason to speak of God as both “she” and “he.” “It is also essential to remember when ministering to those with bad father images, who may have positive feelings about their mothers.”
Now, you read that and you start to think about it, and you think, “Well, I hadn’t thought about it in that light before. I never thought of God as mother, but maybe they’re right.”
Are they right? Does it matter? Is it okay to pray to God our Father or our Mother or our Heavenly Parent?
Let me address that. Again, maybe you don’t think this matters, but in the current theological climate today, it’s something that’s surfacing more and more often.
First of all, we need to remember that we do not have the right to name God. We do not have the right to call God what we want to call Him, regardless of how painful our past experiences may be, regardless of what baggage we may have that causes us to have wrong views of God.
We do not have the right to name God. God has named Himself. We have to call God what He says He wants to be called, what He names Himself.
Second, we need to remember that writers of the Bible were not the ones who decided to use a masculine concept for God. People who have this view would say it was a patriarchal society, so that’s why they used masculine language for God.
It wasn’t the writers of the Bible who decided what to call God. It wasn’t the writers of the Bible in that patriarchal society who said, “Our Father in heaven.”
It was God who referred to Himself all through the Scripture in the masculine form. God is revealed throughout the Scripture in exclusively masculine language when it comes to names and titles.
God is never called Mother in the Scripture. God is never referred to as She. The metaphors for God that are used in the Bible are masculine—words like king, father, judge, husband, master, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—that’s a very important one.
He is not the mother of Jesus Christ. He is the Father of Jesus Christ, and that is one of the reasons why it’s important that we view Him as Father.
Now, the Bible does occasionally speak of God as having some feminine qualities. For example, four times in the book of Isaiah, God is spoken of as being like a woman, like a mother.
It never says He is a mother or He is a woman, but He is compared occasionally to a mother. Never is He called Mother.
The Bible’s masculine imagery regarding God has to do with the distinction between God and His creation. There are many who argue for using feminine or neutral language for God as a reaction to their understanding of God’s sovereignty.
They believe that if you call God Father, if you use masculine language for God, then this will lead to abuses. This will lead to freedom for men to dominate over women and abuse them.
But I want to tell you, seeing God in the right ways, as He is pictured in Scripture, will never lead to men abusing women. Men may abuse women, and they do, but it’s not because they have a right, biblical view of God that they would do that.
When we speak of God as Father vs. Mother, we’re recognizing God’s sovereignty over creation and God being “other” than His creation.
You think of a mother. The child comes out of the mother, and that’s what pagan religions believe about the world and about human beings, that we were birthed out of Mother Nature.
Scripture does not view God in that way. He spoke this world into existence out of nothing, so when we pray to Him as our Father, we honor Him. We honor Him as the God of the Scripture.
To pray to Him as our Father is an act of submission to His lordship and to His sovereignty. I hope I don’t sound harsh in saying this and in naming some of the organizations and people who take a different view on this.
Some of them take their views to different extremes. Some people I’ve quoted would not be into the goddess worship and neo-pagan things I’m talking about. There are differing degrees of this, but I believe you can connect the dots and see that when you move to calling God “Mother” or “Parent,” you end up with some very dangerous, unbiblical views of God.
Some of these people mean well. Some of them would claim to be committed to the authority of Scripture, but I think you need to challenge it. Again, if you want to know more about that, go to our website and look at the link we have available there, “Seven Reasons Why We Cannot Call God Mother.”
That was just a little parenthesis, and I hesitated to bring it up, but as I was studying this and talking to some of my friends, I said, “You know, you can’t avoid it. It’s in our culture. It’s important to address it and for us as Bible-believing Christians to understand what the Scripture teaches about this.” When we pray “Our Father,” those words are very important.
Let me point out one other implication about this phrase “Our Father” that has been something of an eye-opening understanding for me as I’ve been studying the Lord’s Prayer. I can't say I had never thought about it before, but it’s really struck me in a whole new way.
We pray, “Our Father.” We’ve been focusing on the word Father in the last few sessions, but I want to close this session by focusing on the word our.
You’ll notice as you study the Lord’s Prayer that there is not one singular pronoun in the Lord’s Prayer. You’ll never see the words “me” or “my” or “I”—not once in the Lord’s Prayer.
You will see the words “our,” “us,” and “we” nine times in the Lord’s Prayer. This is not a self-centered prayer. This is a prayer that we pray, and Jesus is teaching us not only how to pray but how to live.
He is teaching us that we pray and we live always in relationships with others, not just with God vertically. It’s clear when we pray, we’re praying vertically to God; but when we pray, we’re praying in communion and relationship with all other believers in Christ.
Our Father. He’s not only my Father. He is that, and I can say, “My Father,” and you can say, “My Father,” but when we pray, there needs to be recognition that He is our Father.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we affirm our relationship with other believers. They are our brothers and our sisters. He is our Father. So we don’t approach God alone.
We may pray alone. We may pray with other people. And hopefully you do pray both publicly and privately. But whether we’re alone or with others, we’re never approaching God alone. Rather, we’re approaching Him as part of the family unit. So it’s not just my concerns.
Some of you have a teenager who will come and ask for something, and their request might be fine and appropriate, but you know you’ve got four other kids, and you have to think about how it affects the whole family.
So as we come to God, we want to be asking and making our requests not just about how this affects us, but mindful of the fact that there are other children in this family; we want to be approaching Him as part of that family unit.
We’re coming together when we pray, as a family. This is a family talk, a family prayer. We’re coming together to consider the concerns and interests of the entire family.
The concerns of the Father and our shared concerns with others in His family are to dominate our prayers. We cannot express our own concerns, our own needs, our own wants, our own desires to God apart from consideration of our brothers and sisters and their needs.
So when we pray for provision, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re not just praying for our own needs to be met. We’re praying for our needs and the needs of all the family of God. We’re expressing a concern for the needs of the family.
I can’t pray about my needs without being concerned about the needs of those children in the Sudan. Our Father. Those who know the Lord are included in this prayer.
As we pray for pardon and forgiveness, yes, I’m confessing my own personal sins, but we’re also confessing our corporate sins—the sins of our family, the sins of our churches, the sins of the people of God. “Lord, we have sinned against You. Please, forgive us our debts.”
As we pray for spiritual protection, deliverance from the evil one, “Keep us from temptation,” it’s us, it’s we, it’s our. We’re praying for this for ourselves, of course, but we’re also including the need for the entire body of Christ and family of God to experience God’s protection.
So as we pray “Our Father,” this includes all believers in Christ throughout the entire world. As I pray, I may be alone in my study, I may be alone in my bed, I may be praying with two or three in my church or in my immediate family; but as we pray, we are linking arms with other family members in Iran, in Iraq, in Sudan, in China, millions of them, in Cuba—we’re sharing in their needs, their burdens, their concerns, and we’re interceding for them as the Spirit directs our prayers.
I think that gives a whole new scope and magnitude to prayer. It is something private. It is something personal, but there’s an expansiveness about praying “Our Father” and realizing that right now, today as I pray, I’m praying with some believer in China who maybe is in prison for his faith, facing trial.
We’re praying together, “Our Father,” and I’m lifting up not only my needs to the Lord but the needs of believers that I don’t even know. I don’t know who they are or what they’re going through, but God knows. Our Father knows, and we’re coming together.
They’re praying for us. Those believers in China are including us in their prayers as they pray, as we pray together, “Our Father.”
So we talked about the exclusive aspect of the Lord’s Prayer—those who don’t know God as Father, those who are not His children, cannot pray this prayer—but there’s an inclusive aspect of this prayer that is so important.
We pray in union with all who are born of the same Father. We can’t include in our prayers only the people that we know or only the people toward whom we feel some sort of affinity. We can’t exclude from our prayers those who are different from us or those who even believe differently in some secondary matters. If they are in Christ, they’re included in our prayers.
That requires that if we have any prejudice, if we have any animosity toward other believers, we’d better get that right before we pray “Our Father.” We can’t exclude those people.
Some of you have family members who know the Lord—I mean, physical family members, earthly family members—they also have a relationship with Christ, but you’re not on speaking terms with them.
Now, go figure whose fault it was. That’s not the point. The point is, where there are breaches in our relationships, where there is hatred in our hearts . . . if there is bitterness in my heart toward another believer, I’m a hypocrite when I go to pray “Our Father.”
I’m being selfish. I’m being exclusive when I should be inclusive. I can’t exclude those people when I pray “Our Father” and hope that God will answer my requests for forgiveness—a request that is conditioned on our forgiving others.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). We have to be right with God in order to pray “Our Father,” but we also have to be right with one another in order to pray “Our Father.”
This is a prayer we can’t pray while we’re holding anger in our hearts. Well, we can pray it, but we’ll be hypocrites—putting up a mask, not being real.
That recognition of praying to our Father should not only affect our prayers, but as we’ve said, the Lord’s Prayer is not just a way to pray; it’s the way we’re supposed to live in the kingdom of God.
Our Father—that concept should affect our attitudes, our speech, our actions toward other believers. Let me give you an example that took place while I was studying for this series.
This took place a few weeks ago. Somebody sent me an email in the course of some business dialogue, and it included some negative, unflattering information about another believer.
Now, the other person was someone I don’t know, I’ve never met; but I was interested in what was said, and I was tempted—you know, email is so easy to forward things, and I was tempted to pass it along to someone else that I knew would be interested in learning this about this person.
But before I pushed send on my email, God convicted me. If God is our Father, that means that this man is my brother—this man I don’t know but that I just learned something negative about—and that it would not be right for me to put him in a negative light to someone else.
It would have been someone else I was going to send it to who had no need to know. The person I was going to send it to was not a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. There was no way I could justify passing on that negative piece of information about another brother.
Boy, that will set a watch over our tongues, our attitudes, when we realize that He is our Father! I’ve been catching myself just in conversation; you know, gossip is something that is so deadly, but I’m realizing now more why it’s deadly, more why it’s wrong.
It’s a sin not only against that believer, but it’s a sin against God to speak negatively and critically and in a way that is not redemptive or constructive or biblical about another believer. How can I do that and then pray “Our Father”?
So, the Lord’s Prayer is a family prayer. There’s a vertical dimension—we pray to our Father. And there’s that horizontal dimension—our Father.
It’s a relational prayer. You pray with and for one another, realizing when we pray that we are never, ever really praying alone because we’re part of a family that is saying together—say it with me—“Our Father.”
Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss explaining why the first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer is so important. It not only correctly orients you to God the Father, but it puts your earthly relationships into perspective as well.
We’re in a series called The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1, and today’s teaching provided a lot of clarity in a confused world. Maybe you know someone who would get a lot out of today’s teaching. Maybe they need to understand why referring to God as Mother causes a lot of problems.
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God is in heaven. That’s a pretty basic concept, right? Well, wait until tomorrow’s program. Understanding heaven as God’s throne will alter the way you pray and listen to God. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture has been taken from the English Standard Version.
1Randy Stinson and Christopher Cowan, “Seven Reasons Why We Cannot Call God ‘Mother,’” (Louisville, Kentucky: The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 2005).Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.
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