Jesus revolutionized our understanding of God: that he is our Father and we are his children. While no Bible scholar myself, I do not remember the OT explicitly teaching the early Jews that God is their Father. They had many names for God, ones we evangelicals often quote or invoke, such as Yahweh Yireh (God Our Provider) or the like, but God our Father? Not until it abruptly appears in the Biblical narrative in the Lord’s Prayer.
This teaching of Jesus’ is so subtle I believe it’s power is often overlooked; it ought to form the bedrock of our Christian identity and inform our social relations. More to the point of this series, it has everything to do with how we ought to pray.
Why should prayer work? I have seen God heal, change lives, reorient hearts, and heard his powerful voice, so I experientially have no doubt prayer works. But let’s consider it theoretically as well. We pray sometimes because we don’t know what else to do, you’re at the end of your rope, so you pray in a last ditch, Hail Mary attempt (no pun intended).
On what basis does one have the right to request anything of God? Why should God listen and grant any of our requests?
In one word, ‘Father’, Jesus answers us: he’s our dad. That’s why he should and does listen to us. Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18 that should help us understand.
Luke, ever helpful, tells us exactly what we ought to get out of this parable: that we should always pray and not give up (v. 1). In the story a widow begs for justice from an atheist, immoral, misanthropic judge. She’s so persistent that he finally relents and grants her justice against her enemy. Jesus drives the point home:
And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? — Luke 18:7
Jesus continually contrasts earthly people with the heavenly Father. Let’s stay with Luke and look at chapter 11, verses 11-13:
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
If we can look at what an earthly father, judge, what have you, would do and say ‘That’s right.’, Jesus exhorts us, “Wait a minute! If an imperfect, sinful person could do the right thing, then consider for a moment your perfect, heavenly Father and how much more he will do, how much better he will be towards you, how much more quickly he will act for his own child!”
Prayer should work because you have a heavenly Father who loves you deeply, powerfully, fiercely….your heavenly dad is far greater than any earthly dad could ever hope to be. If I could expect to ask my earthly dad for help buying a car, surely I can ask my heavenly Father for… well what does my heart desire?
Far too often, I meet people who don’t understand they are God’s child. We often forget, or don’t believe, that we are loved to that extent. I tragically, frequently, forget the familial relation I have with God and the great extent of his love. One of my favorite Scriptures, John 1:11-13, has to keep reminding me:
He [Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
If you have received Jesus and believed in his name, you have been given the right to become a child of God. In the Greek, that word for ‘right’ also means power or authority. Power to be a child of God — nothing can stop us. Authority — no one can stand in our way.
We have free access to approach our dad.
He’s eager to hear what we have to say. Deeply desiring to see a smile and joy break out on his child’s face.
Volumes more insightful than my own have been written on the Lord’s Prayer, by vaunted academics to ancient saints. I do not attempt to add to the discussion, merely to share what’s on my heart. This will be a series of blog posts, likely punctuated with others in there somewhere. Dive into the discussion — what does the Lord’s Prayer say to you?