Summary: Our prayer life must begin with our relationship with our heavenly Father. God wants us to spend time in his presence even before anything else so we can know his heart. Only afterward should we pray for our needs and the needs of others.
Last week we looked at how prayer is one of the primary ways in which we stay connected to God, or the way Jesus said it, to abide in him, or to be in a relationship with God. All of these terms describe the same thing. Prayer was how Jesus stayed connected to God his Father when he walked the earth, and it is how we need to stay connected with God too.
If prayer is our tether to God, how is your prayer life? Is it enriching? Is it dull? Is it regular? Is it non-existent? Do your prayers get answered or do you feel like God is ignoring you? Wherever we are at, I think Jesus can teach us something about prayer.
One time after watching Jesus pray, one of his disciples realized he had a lot to learn about prayer and so he swallowed his pride and wisely asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” He admitted to his own need to grow in his understanding of prayer. In fact, it can be our first prayer, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus answered his disciple’s request, and he will answer ours. Jesus taught his disciples how to pray by teaching them the prayer which we call the Lord’s Prayer. Over the next six weeks (including today) we are asking Jesus to teach us to pray as we learn from his model for prayer. The Lord’s Prayer was Jesus’ primary teaching on prayer. In Matthew’s gospel account when Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer he said, “This is how you should pray.” more than just words we should repeat word for word. The Lord’s Prayer was also meant to be a model or pattern for our prayers, so we can pray like Jesus prayed.
I. Our Prayer is Based on our Relationship with our Heavenly Father
Today, we are going to look at the just first line of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” For Jesus to encourage us to start our prayers to our Father in heaven does not seem out of the ordinary for us, but in Jesus’ day it was not a very common way to start your prayers because Jews did not commonly refer to God as their Father. Father was too personal a term for God. Yet, Jesus frequently talked with his Father using the word "Abba", which translated into English would be equivalent to papa or daddy.
In seminary I was involved in a training for a care ministry called Stephen’s Ministry, and during our training time together our regular practice was to begin in prayer and so one of the seminary students prayed, and she began her prayer, “Papa, we love you…” I don’t remember anything she said after that because I never heard anyone start their prayer that way. I couldn’t get past the fact that she began her prayer to God as Papa. It seemed a little to personal, a little to chummy to say this to God. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was probably how the Jews in Jesus’ day felt when Jesus said to pray, “Abba Father.”
It is a term of endearment for a close personal relationship. This should not surprise us with Jesus because God really was and is his Father. The Bible tells us Jesus is God’s one and only Son. Yet, Jesus tells us that we should pray “our Father” too because our prayers first and foremost are about our relationship with our loving heavenly Father. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior we become one of God’s children, and he wants to spend time with us. God is our Father, and we are his adopted children.
Galatians 4:4-5 (NLT) tells us "But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. “And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father (Abba Father).”"
Through Jesus, God is our heavenly Father too, and our Father invites us to prayer first and foremost so we can spend time with Him. In the small study guide to our series, "Lord, Teach us to Pray," author Fred Hartley warns us:
“One of the great dangers to prayer is a purely utilitarian view of it; that is, thinking that the primary reason to pray is to get something from God. The primary reason to pray, rather, is to be with God.”
II. Prayer as Being With God Versus Getting Something from God
One of the problems we run into when talking about prayer is that we tend to see prayer as a time to bring our list of requests to God, such as prayers for healing or protection or providing for someone’s needs. God wants us to bring these to him. But prayer needs to be first focused on our relationship with God, being with God, before we bring our requests. Notice in the Lord’s Prayer that the first time a personal request is made of God isn’t until the middle of the prayer, “give us this day our daily bread.”