I used to play a game at home when my children were younger – much younger. In this game they might have asked for money for their allowance, or we may have been playing a board game, with dice – and I would have what they wanted in my hands –and I would pretend to suddenly fall asleep. They would start giggling and laughing and crawl all over me while attempting to pry what they wanted from my clinched fists. Those were some beautiful moments of giggles and joyful laughter and mutual longing – they were longing for the things I held in my hands; I was longing for our closeness, our innocence, and wanting those fleeting moments of sheer joy to last forever.
For me this is a picture of the activity of prayer – while we love God sometimes we are focused more on the gifts in God’s hands rather than hand of God Himself (someone described it as seeking the hand of God and not the face of God) – we pray fervently for the new job, or the return of health. When we gain the prizes we are delighted and, often, our focus turns to the prize — and away form the momentary closeness of the good Giver Himself.
We are in a series on prayer that we are calling “Soul Shift,” where, as individuals, as couples, as families, and as a church we are asking God to move us from ‘ordinary’ prayer to ‘extraordinary’ prayer. What does that mean?
It means that when we speak or teach about prayer in church it’s easy for all of us to instantly feel guilty. A sermon on prayer can amount to a drive-by guilt-ing.
Is there anyone among us who is satisfied with their prayer life?
So, today, let’s not talk about – or, even think too much about what WE SHOULD DO, but let’s take a few minutes to consider WHAT JESUS CHRIST HAS DONE.
If we can lift the eyes of our hearts to see WHAT JESUS CHRIST has accomplished FOR US it will lift the “eyes of our hearts” (Eph 1:17) in worship, in adoration, in joy, in expectancy, and in delight. It will draw prayer out of us…
Our goal, our objective is that we would leave here today more fully delighting in the Giver than in the gifts. (Some people’s prayers go something like this: “God, if You get me out of this mess, I won’t bother You until the next one!”)
In our study of prayer we are looking primarily at what has been called The Lord’s Prayer in Mat 6. (There is a more compact version of the same prayer in Luke 11.) This prayer is not meant to be prayed ritualistically, but to be viewed as a pattern for prayer.
Here’s the bottom line: **We don’t need to make bigger commitments about prayer, what we really need is to think and to believe truer thoughts about God — thoughts that are shaped by the gospel, by what Jesus Christ has already done on our behalf.
We are called to work, love, to worship, and to pray FROM His righteousness, not FOR His righteousness. That is the gospel in a nutshell – we work, serve, love, and worship FROM a growing understanding that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has won the heart and ear of God on our behalf.
Hebs 4:16: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
We come to God through Jesus Christ. We don’t have to earn the ear of God in prayer – Jesus has earned the ear of God for us, He has won God’s ear and God’s heart for us — so we come to God in prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer is best used as a model for prayer –or, we could think of it as template – to launch us out into a place or a perspective of reflection, adoration, and gratitude.
For the next few weeks we will be looking at the individual phrases of this model prayer… learning to delight in the Giver of all good gifts.
What we will learn is 1) the initial focus is upward, with its first three requests having to do with God’s glory and 2) the remaining three requests are for our well-being. God first, humanity second – that is the ideal order of prayer. His glory before our desires.
Today I would like us to look at the opening phrase of The Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven.” Simply stated:
- The word, “Our” — speaks of community.
- The word, “Father” speaks of family.
- The phrase, “in heaven” speaks of majesty, transcendence (time, space, understanding, etc.), and authority.
Let’s take some time and briefly consider each one…
1. What does the word “Our” tell us about community?
- We have left the land of “me” and entered the land of “we.” 
- The Lord’s Model Prayer begins with the acknowledgement that we have been invited out of isolation and into both the joy and the challenge of community.
- Here’s a simple way to say it: Pro 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one [person] sharpens another.”
- There are at least three primary and legitimate needs of every human being:
- The need to feel authentically human
- The need to belong
- The need to have a sense of destiny and purpose.
- It is in the heart of God to fully meet these needs in every person.
- The first and most important step is through conversion and regeneration, which is the restoration of our individual relationship’s with the living God
- The next step is through significant relationships with each other.
- Some people find it helpful to think in terms of a cross (†), with our relationship with God signifying the vertical and our relationships with each other signifying the horizontal – the cross, and subsequently, Christianity is all about engaging and pursuing both the horizontal and vertical aspects of faith.
- Our culture, unfortunately, sidetracks us with counterfeit opportunities for community. The neighborhood bar is possibly the best facsimile there is for the fellowship Christ desires to give His church. The bar is an imitation — dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality — yet it is tolerant, it is accepting, it is inclusive, and it is virtually unshockable. You can tell people secrets in a bar and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. Bars flourish not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known (Cheers!), to love and be loved. There are scores of people who seek to medicate their shame and pain for the price of a few beers, drinking their courage instead of turning humbly to Christ.
- With the opening word of the model prayer Jesus is welcoming us into community.
2. What does the word “Father” tell us about family?
- With the words, “Our Father,” Jesus is welcoming us into the family of God and identifying Himself as our older brother.
- The Aramaic word for Father is ABBA.
- Last week we spoke about the “Abba” Cry/Longing
- Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
- Galatians 4:6: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’”
- According to Jewish rabbinical teachings, slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by the affectionate title, “Abba.”
- “Abba” approximates “papa” or “daddy” and implies unwavering trust.
- “Father” expresses intelligent comprehension of the relationship.
- Together the two reveal the trusting love and intelligent confidence of a secure son or daughter.
3. What do the words, “In heaven” tell us about authority?
- It may be helpful to view heaven as a perspective and not a physical place, like a zip code. God is omnipresent (always present everywhere).
- God’s omnipresence reminds us of His transcendent nature. Transcendence is a theological term referring to the relation of God to creation.
- And so “our Father Who is in heaven” is “other” or beyond His creation.
- God is independent and different from His creatures: Isa 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
- Being beyond His creation and not limited by it or to it. This simple understanding of transcendence makes our privilege of approaching Him intimately like a son or daughter would their earthly father, all the more humbling and praiseworthy.
- Our transcendent God is also the omnipresent God and is never farther than a prayer away!
- Pastor and theologian Arthur Pink, in his book The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, says, that in these four words: “Our Father in Heaven,”there is a “blessed balance.”
- The first two words: “Our Father” teach us about the nearness and dearness of God’s relationship to us through Jesus Christ – and they inspire us to confidence and love for God.
- The second two words: “in heaven,” Pink says, should fill us with humility and awe.
- He says the first two words (“Our Father”) without the second tends toward an “unholy familiarity.” And the second two words (“in heaven”) without the first two produces “coldness and dread.”
- **When we combine these two lofty concepts for the purpose of adoration and prayer we see a marriage of God’s unfathomable love with His immeasurable holiness.
- In the coming week will you consider giving the best five minutes of your day to God? Before moving to quickly to petitionary prayer, will you take 3-5 minutes of worship and adoration? Will you worship God and ask God to open your heart afresh to the wonder, to the reality of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf.
- Begin by thinking of it this way:
- No one has ever been so rich and became so poor as Jesus Christ. He left the richness, the perfect love, and perfect communion within the Trinity of heaven. He condescended to become a man and live a perfect, sinless life so that you and I could enjoy confidant access to a holy and righteous God.
- No one has ever been so poor and become so rich as those who’s hearts are awakened to the reality of what Jesus Christ has done – on our behalf. Has your heat been awakened to that gift?
- We said at the start that we want to focus more on what Jesus Christ HAS DONE than on what we SHOULD DO. I invite you to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation…you and I don’t have to work to earn God’s favor. The perfect, sinless life of Jesus has already accomplished that. We own our own sin, we repent (surrender), and we believe that we have been made righteous and perfectly acceptable in the presence of a holy God…