Summary: Part 1 of Lord's Prayer Sermon Series
I love the internet! I now can access information that fifteen years ago would have been difficult to find or a long time in arriving. For example, I no longer have to wait for the Seminary library to snail-mail me books and papers on subjects I’m interested in. If I can’t simply download the resource to my computer, the library staff will scan the information I want and email it to me. Perhaps you like the internet because when you’re stuck for a meal idea, a few clicks will generate enough recipes to keep you fed for a month. Or if you want to know what the weather is like in Calgary, you don’t have to have family down there to tell you, you can just check the internet.
The internet though does have its limitations. You still can’t access it everywhere, and it can’t handle all of your requests. For example a medical website might tell you why your throat hurts but it can’t print out a prescription for you to get medicine that will make you feel better. You’ll still have to see a doctor for that. Is there anything better than the internet that allows us to freely access the help we need for life’s tasks? There is. Prayer.
Today we’re starting a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer and in this sermon we’re going to look at the opening words, “Our Father in heaven…” In so doing we’ll learn that through prayer we’re accessing the inaccessible. Let’s find out what that means for your life.
Perhaps we should begin by defining what prayer is. As my confirmation students know well, prayer is faith finding a voice. Prayer is not the recitation of a formula as if the Lord’s Prayer is a magical incantation that anyone can say to stave off evil. God listens only to the prayers of those who have put their trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and he only pays attention to the prayers of those Christians who are confident that he is listening to them. The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer teach us how to express such trust. Jesus said: “…when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven…’” (Matthew 6:7-9a).
What’s striking about the Lord’s Prayer is how simple it is. That simplicity begins with the opening address: “Our Father in heaven.” Luke records a version of the Lord’s Prayer that begins with one word: “Father.” Jesus taught a way to pray that the Jews weren’t used to. When King Hezekiah once prayed he addressed God this way: “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth…” (Isaiah 37:16) Hezekiah sounds a bit like a ring master announcing the next wrestling card. God certainly deserves any accolades and titles of respect we can think up but he’s not impressed just because we’ve said them. Anyway, “Our Father in heaven” says all we need to know and believe about God when we approach him in prayer. Let’s unpack those words.
We’ll start with the word “Father.” Tell me, if you bumped into Prime Minister Harper, would you ask him if you could borrow $10? You would think nothing of such a request if your name was Ben, Ben Harper. Ben’s father may be the leader of Canada but he’s also still his dad and therefore Ben should feel comfortable turning to Prime Minister Harper for anything he needs, morning, noon, or night. Likewise because God is our Father we should feel comfortable turning to him for all of our needs no matter what time of day. Although you wouldn’t think of going to your boss dressed in your PJs to ask for a raise you can approach the God of the universe like that when you say your prayers at night because he is your Father.
It’s great to know that God is approachable just like a good dad but there were often requests we made of our earthly father that he was unable to fulfill because he was only human. That time you broke your arm you wished Dad could take the pain away. Or the time that you were in the school play you wished Dad could be there but he was busy working. To remind us that God isn’t ever unavailable or lacking power like our human fathers are, Jesus invites us to address God as “our Father in heaven.”
Actually what Jesus said was “our Father in the heavens.” Why the plural? Is there more than one heaven? The word “heaven” refers to the blue sky where birds fly but it also includes the black outer space where planets race. Our Father inhabits both and more for not even the highest heavens can contain him (1 Kings 8:27). But by addressing our Father as the one who is in the heavens we’re not so much suggesting that this is where God is, as in he’s “up there” but not “down here.” No, God fills the heavens and the earth so that he’s “up there” and “down here” at the same time. We pray “Our Father in the heavens” to remind us how great God must be to fill such space. Psalm 115 explains clearly what it means to confess that our Father is in heaven. The psalmist writes: “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3).