Father: The Lord's Prayer

FATHER We do not just join Jesus as he speaks to God.  We address God on the same terms as Jesus himself.  The issue of God and gender provokes a great deal of debate.  The church has banked on a great deal of unbiblical sexism and misogyny, much of it propped up by the Christian practice of speaking to and of God as father.  Here, we want to notice the direct teaching of Jesus.  Together, we address God on the same basis as Jesus does: a Son speaking to his Father.  This carries all the weight of a child speaking to a parent.  Good parents pay more attention to their own children that to other children.  Parents have a special obligation, duty and joy in attending to their own children.  So by the grace of Jesus, we speak to God as a child to a parent.  But that is not quite precise.  Jesus teaches us to speak to God as a Son does to a Father.  First, we should observe the way this teaching breaks down the ancient (and still modern) concepts of gender, privledge and power.  Jesus teaches men and women to address God as if they are the beloved Son.  The great American theologian, Johnny Cash, uses a similar verbal move in "The Man Comes around."  He describes the end of the age as "When the father hen calls his chickens home."

This peculiar collison of words helps us understand the relationship into which Jesus calls us.  Very early in Luke's Gospel we see the infant Jesus identified as the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32, 35).  As a twelve year old boy, Jesus clearly expresses an understanding of the LORD God as his Father (Luke 1:49).  In teaching us to pray, Jesus teaches us that we approach God on the same basis and standing as he does.  Here is how that matters as we pray: when we pray, we join Jesus in Speaking to God.  As he prays, "Father....," we pray, "Father..."  Our Father. We don't pray in a way that is similar to Jesus; we come to God in the same way Jesus comes to God.

Our: The Lord's Prayer

When Jesus teaches prayer, he begins by having us to assume the same relationship with God that he has.  He tells us to join him in praying to God, his Father.   He easily could have taken his start from the Psalms.  The Psalms often have us direct our words to God (Ps. 54,55)  or to the Lord (Ps. 18, 104, 105).  In fact, the disciples around Jesus probably knew many (all?) the Psalms by heart.  Jewish people of the first century had a pretty clear pattern of prayer ("They devoted themselves....to.. the prayers" Acts 2:42).  So when they asked Jesus how to pray, both he and they knew they were asking for something distinct.  Jesus teaches us to adress and call upon God's attention by saying "Our Father,..."

OUR It is easy and correct to see that Jesus is teaching us, his disciples, to pray together.  This is a wonderful encouragement--we are never praying by ourselves. Even when praying feels lonely or boring or futile, Jesus teaches a truth that is larger than the truth we feel at a particular moment.  We are not alone.  We do not pray alone.  Other people are praying as well, and with us.  But even more importantly we are praying with Jesus.  Jesus is praying with us.  We unite our voice with Jesus in address God.  When his disciples pray, we are joining Jesus in prayer.  

Jesus teaches prayer

It is common, in some circles, to hear that there are no particular requirements for the words of our prayers.  We can pray however we like.  This advice is meant as encouragement.  It is true as far as it goes.  It does not go very far.

When his followers asked him to teach them to pray, Jesus gave us a very clear answer:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever. Amen.

We give this prayer the name 'The Lord's Prayer.'  It is his prayer because Jesus gave it to us.  It is also the disciples  prayer because he gave it to us.  It is his gift to us.  Jesus was not giving us just a set of words to recite in prayer.  He gave us a pattern of prayer.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The beginning orients us to God: Our Father, who art in heaven.  We are praying to God the Father with Jesus, his Son.  The middle is a set of six requests.  The end is worship: For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.  The pattern is meant to shape our prayer.  By shaping our prayer, it shapes our heart. 

First, notice that Jesus honors the request of his disciples.  He is not simply teaching us a prayer, but how to pray. When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, it is while Jesus is praying.  He immediately gives them a clear answer: "When you pray, say...."  Jesus answers a lot of people with parables.  Parables are oblique answers to a question.  But when we simply and directly ask Jesus to teach us how to speak with his Father, he gives us a clear and profound answer.

You can find the Lord's Prayer in Luke 11 and Matthew 6. This is the first post on prayer and on the Lord's prayer.   There will be further opportunity to dive deeper and understand Jesus' prayer more fully.