Thursday, March 09, 2006

Our Father in heaven.

When we pray we are to approach God as our Father in heaven. Almost every word here is significant.

The word 'our' reminds us that he is not just 'my' Father in heaven, but the heavenly Father of a host of people as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. As important as a personal relationship with God is, if we are Christian believers we are part of the church, the new Israel, the body of Christ. We need to be reminded of this in a society where individualism often reigns. As in the days of the biblical judges when there is no king in Israel everyone does as they see fit (Judges 21:25). People are not a law unto themselves. But this is not the way it should be. We have responsibilities to God and others. When we are saved we are not only joined to Christ but we are incorporated into his body; the church, where we have a job to do and others to serve. In the very act of prayer Jesus wants us to remember our family connections and the fact that we are not alone.

'Father' speaks volumes. It speaks of love and intimacy. It speaks of tender care and discipline. It tells us that God is personal and not some impersonal, distant force or thing with whom we can have no real communion. It reminds of our origins. He is the Creator God who made us from nothing for himself. This is true in a physical sense; God gives us life. But more important in this context is spiritual life. It is the experience of the new birth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes us the children of God. He is not the Father of everyone in this sense. While he created and sustains everyone, only those who have come to him by faith, through the very one who is teaching us to pray, are we truly the children of God.

'In heaven' balances our understanding of father. It's sad but true that the word 'father' does not always give rise to positive feelings. Some fathers are cruel and selfish. Some are too demanding and others don't seem to care at all for those who are their children. Some strut around like little dictators in their own homes, while others are absent more than they are present. But this is not how it is with God. The Father we are praying too is completely separate from sin. There is no evil in him. He is in heaven. And from that lofty vantage point he rules over the heavens and the earth with justice and equity. He is sovereign in all he does. He is in complete control but always in a way that is consistent with all of his other glorious attributes.

So when we pray it is to God the Father; our Father in heaven. The one who is in control of all things. We do not pray to Mary or dead saints, nor do we pray as an exercise in psychological relaxati0n or because we are trying to connect with what is thought to be mystical, nor do we pray to our mother in heaven. We pray to 'our Father who is in heaven,' the true and living God who hears and answers prayer. The transcendent and yet immanent God. The absolute and yet personal God for whom we were made. The combination of these realities ought to engender awe and love, joy and humility, reverence and peace. Before we speak it is good for us to remember who we are speaking to. So many of our struggles in prayer relate to our failure to properly consider the glory and majesty of his name. What a God he is... our Father in heaven!

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