Originally published Wednesday, 17 February 2016.
For many believers, The Lord's Prayer is something you can recite in your sleep. Perhaps you learned it as a child in Sunday School. You may say it in church every Sunday. It may even be a prayer that has formed and shaped your personal prayers.
But have you ever considered the significance of its words? Especially that first line?
"Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.a
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil." (Matthew 6:9-13)
When Jesus referred to God as Father in this prayer, it is translated as Abba. It was the name Jewish children used to refer to their fathers. Some compare it to our own children referring to their father as "Daddy."
To pray, Our Father references our adoption as children of God, reminding us of his great love for us. "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God" (1 John 3:1). To pray Our Father means that we have a familial relationship with the God of the universe. The One who flung the stars across the sky, who holds the earth in the palm of his hand, who controls the wind and mighty oceans, is our Abba. Just as our children can run to their own Daddy when they are hurt, curl in his lap and find rest and comfort, praying Our Father means the same for us. It is an intimate, familiar, and familial reference. It denotes trust, security, and love. It was this name, Abba, that Jesus cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36).
J.I. Packer asserts that adoption "is the highest privilege that the gospel offers." He wrote in Knowing God, "Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship--he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship" (p. 232-233).
John Calvin wrote this about praying Our Father:
For with what confidence could any man call God his Father? Who would have the presumption to arrogate to himself the honour of a son of God were we not gratuitously adopted as his sons in Christ? He being the true Son, has been given to us as a brother, so that that which he possesses as his own by nature becomes ours by adoption, if we embrace this great mercy with firm faith...Hence he both calls himself our Father, and is pleased to be so called by us, by this delightful name relieving us of all distrust, since no where can a stronger affection be found than in a father. Hence, too, he could not have given us a stronger testimony of his boundless love than in calling us his sons. But his love towards us is so much the greater and more excellent than that of earthly parents, the farther he surpasses all men in goodness and mercy"(Source: ccel.org).
Jesus didn't simply pray, Our Father, he qualified it with, "in heaven." This phrase tells us that our Father is in heaven. It reminds us that God isn't just any father, he is also the Sovereign God who rules and reigns from his throne above. He is far above and beyond any earthly father. He is a father who is holy, perfect, right, and true.
For those who can't help but think of their fallen relationships with their earthly father, this prayer reminds us that our Father is in heaven. He is nothing like our human fathers. He will never forsake us. He will never leave us, fail us, or reject us. So as we pray to our Heavenly Father, we can trust that he hears us, he loves us, and he is for us.
The Lord's Prayer is a prayer that most of us can pray without even thinking. May it's few words take on deeper meaning and significance in our hearts, causing us to rejoice that as beloved adopted children, we get to pray, "Our Father in heaven."