When I was a child, we attended a small church in Bristol, England. Outside was a low wall forming a small courtyard where people would gather after church. Teenagers would laugh and chat while younger children would weave in and out, playing tag. It was a happy bubble of fellowship and laughter.
One Sunday, a group of local teenagers was on the other side of the street. One picked up a stone and threw it at the church, smashing a small window high above the door. As the glass shattered, that safe bubble burst. I immediately ran inside and went straight to my Dad. As far as I could tell, he was the tallest and one of the strongest men on earth. I felt fearful and threatened, so Dad was the one I wanted to be close to at that moment.
The idea of a loving and protective father is not just important for children. It is also important for all Christians. In one well-known Bible passage, Jesus uses four words that should influence our lives every day.
In Matthew 6, Jesus addresses the subjects of giving, praying, and fasting. In all three cases, he urges his followers not to make a show of their religious practice but to do them in secret. After all, God knows what happens in secret, and he is all that matters. So with the subject of prayer, Jesus warns against being showy visually or in our vocabulary. And then, he gives a model prayer in verses 9-13.
When you pray, say, “Our Father in heaven….”
Familiar words. You can probably quote the prayer. Maybe you have noticed how it starts with one address, asks two things regarding the Father, and then three things regarding the family. Let’s ponder the “address” some more. “Our Father in heaven.”
Many things should be true of a father. Let’s be simplistic. On the one hand, a good father is supposed to be an authority figure with power and strength. On the other hand, a good father is supposed to be loving, kind, and close. That immense strength has to be under control for the good of those under his care.
A. Our Father on Earth – Sadly, we live in a world where so many Dads have done a poor job of impersonating our heavenly Father. They have been missing, angry, drunk, and even abusive. Many Dads resemble the devil more than they do God. But even if we did have an honourable Dad or even a Christ-loving Dad, we probably all feel a lack in our hearts. Whether that is a slight lack or a gaping wound, it only underlines how we were created for closeness with a father. We long for a father who is powerful and strong so that we can feel safe and secure. We long for a father who is loving and close so that we can feel held and happy. Our father on earth may not have been what we needed, but what about our Father in heaven?
B. Our Father in Heaven – Jesus was on a mission. It was not just a mission to rescue us from sin and bring us into a relationship with God. It was also a mission to reveal God’s heart to us. What is our Father in heaven like?
i. Authority & Power – When the stone bursts the safety bubble of life, we need a Father who is big and strong. In Matthew 8:23-9:8, we read three stories that show us a glimpse of God’s authority and power. Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea during a great storm, and they obeyed him. Jesus commanded demons to leave the two demon-possessed men on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus forgave and healed the paralytic. Jesus demonstrated his divine authority over creation, the spiritual forces of evil, physical healing, and forgiveness. At the end of this trio of stories, we read, “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” (To one man in particular! – see Matthew 9:8)
ii. Love & Closeness – When the bubble bursts and the glass rains down, we need a Father whose heart is towards us. In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus encouraged his followers to pray and ask because of God’s good heart. Who gives a child a slice of slate to chew on when they ask for toast? Who thinks a poisonous snake is a suitable alternative to a healthy protein and omega-3-laden fish for a hungry child? We are fallen creatures in a fallen world, but we know how to give good gifts to our children. So “how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
iii. Who is in Heaven – There is one moment in Matthew’s Gospel where heaven bursts onto the scene. In Matthew 17:1-7, Jesus takes three disciples up on a mountain, and the curtains are pulled back. Suddenly they see Jesus in his heavenly impressiveness, conversing with Moses and Elijah. Peter panics and suggests a tent-building plan. Then there is a bright cloud and a booming voice from heaven. “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” Quite right. It was terrifying. But notice that Jesus was not on his face. Why not? Because he knew the voice and the heart of the one who spoke. On that mountain, they got to experience God’s terrifying power and authority, but take note of what they heard! “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (v. 5). Our Father in heaven is both terrifyingly powerful and wonderfully loving. Jesus has made him known to us! That is why it is crucial to be sure that he is not just The Father in Heaven, or even Jesus’ Father in Heaven, but Our Father in heaven.
C. And What About Us? – Whenever we think about prayer, we tend to start thinking in terms of a religious burden. “We are a month into a New Year, and I should do better at praying. I need to be more diligent, more purposeful, etc.” Maybe there is another way to look at this.
If God has all authority and power, then that means I can come to him as one who is frightened and weak. If God is loving and close, then I can approach him as one who is childlike and weary. I don’t need to impress him. I can just come as I am, start with “Our Father in heaven…” and then pour out everything on my heart. What a privilege!
Please see the new series of videos for 2023 – Enjoying the Word . . . all about enjoying Bible reading and Bible study.