Humbly Coming Before Our Father
The Privilege of Christian Prayer
Article by Burk Parsons, Pastor, Sanford, Florida
As a local church pastor, I spend a lot of time in the community of central Florida, a diverse community that is composed of people from numerous backgrounds, cultures, nations, and religions. As I engage with them, I find that no matter what religion they claim or whatever religions they oppose, they all agree on one thing, namely, that everyone is a child of God.
When I hear people claim the universal fatherhood of God, I immediately want to respond by saying, “Well, yes and no.” Everyone is indeed a child of God in the sense that we are all creatures made in the image of God — we are “God’s offspring,” as Paul declared on Mars Hill (Acts 17:29). However, not everyone is a child of God spiritually, being born again by the Holy Spirit and adopted by God as Father through the imputed righteousness of his Son.
Although most people, even many professing Christians, believe that everyone is a child of God in a spiritual way, the word of God is undeniably clear that only those who are united to the Son by faith are the adopted children of God. These, and these alone, are those with whom Paul includes himself when he says, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6; see John 1:12; Romans 8:14–21; 9:8; Galatians 3:26).
Adopted into a Family
When Jesus taught us to pray with the words “our Father” (Matthew 6:9), he was not employing universal language to be inclusive of all human beings. He was teaching us something profound about God and our relationship to him — namely, that God is not merely a Father or the Father; he is our Father. When God adopts, he adopts us into a family. When we pray “our Father,” we are reminded that we’re not alone and that we’re part of a family.
God created us as human beings for community, and by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, he created us anew for the community of his family. For that reason, God calls us as his people to gather together, face-to-face, to worship him. When we come together in gathered worship every Lord’s Day, we are reminded that we are not alone, that we are a vital part of a living body, a covenant community of believers and our children.
That the only begotten Son of God would tell us to call his Father “our Father” is humbling. But for many Jews in the first century, it seemed arrogant. For them, it was extraordinary that Jesus called God his Father, as it implied that he is the Son of the Father (John 1:14; 8:19; 14:7). Some scholars have argued that for Jesus to teach his followers to call God “our” Father would have been regarded by Jewish rabbis of the day as presumptuously conceited at best and blasphemous at worst.
Consequently, when Jesus rebuked certain Jews who rejected him, he made it abundantly clear not only that God was not their Father but that they were of their father the devil (John 8:39–47). They did not understand how God was not their Father because they did not believe that Jesus came from the Father. In their natural state before God, they could not believe because the Spirit had not given them ears to hear, eyes to see, or hearts to perceive that Jesus is the long-awaited seed of the woman, the long-expected Son of God (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 9:6). Moreover, in our natural state before God, we were enemies until God conquered us and made us his friends and adopted us as sons in Christ.
Welcomed and Blessed
God is our Father only by virtue of our being united to Jesus Christ, the Son, by faith. Through his resurrection, our brother Jesus demonstrated that he is the first fruits of our resurrection, that he is the firstborn among many brethren, and that, united to him, we are heirs with him. It is fitting, then, that our Father has given to us all things pertaining to life and godliness through Jesus Christ our Lord (2 Peter 1:3–4).
“God is not merely a Father or the Father; he is our Father.”
Our Father is a gracious and generous Father who cares for us in ways that our fathers on earth cannot, and who thus disciplines us in ways our earthly fathers cannot, because he loves us in a way they cannot (Hebrews 12:9–10; Romans 5:8). Knowing the innermost desires and sins of our hearts, he is able to conform us to the image of Christ in the precise ways that we uniquely need to be conformed.
Too often, we presume what our Father will not do for us or what our Father will not give us, and thus we never ask. We treat ourselves like orphans although God has made us sons. For when God adopts us into his family, he doesn’t merely call us “adopted”; he calls us sons. Mephibosheth was crippled and at enmity with his king; we were not only crippled but dead in sin and at enmity with our King and his kingdom. However, as David welcomed and blessed Mephibosheth, God has welcomed us and blessed us; he has brought us in and has made us able to recline and rest at his table to be washed by him, to dine with him, and to dwell with him forever (2 Samuel 9; John 13:1–20).
Hallowed in Heaven
Jesus also taught us that God is our Father who is in heaven, reminding us that our Father is perfect in his glory, that he is transcendent, and that because he is in the spiritual realm of heaven he is not far away but is near to us, ever present, and always ready to listen to us and commune with us (Psalm 145:18; Jeremiah 23:23; Acts 17:28; James 4:8). Therefore, we are not to regard him as some sort of distant authority figure who doesn’t listen to us, who is never around, who is too busy for us. Rather, we can always, at any time, day or night, cry out to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the sovereign, triune, and almighty God, humbly and confidently praying, “Our Father.”
When Jesus taught us to call on God as our Father, he also taught us to call on our Father whose name is hallowed. The self-disclosed covenantal name of God is Yahweh (Exodus 3:14). Recognizing that the name of God is hallowed, or praying to him as one whose name is hallowed, does not make his name hallowed. On the contrary, his name is, in itself, apart from us, by his own declaration, hallowed.
His name is set apart and sanctified by no greater authority or power than God himself (Hebrews 6:13). His name is holy because he is holy. His name is not like our names, his name is not simply what we call him, and his name doesn’t just describe him. His name is who he is: Yahweh. Thus, when we confess that his name is hallowed, we are not asking him to become something he isn’t; we are acknowledging who he is, we are affirming our reverence of his holy name, and we are praying that God would make his name known and revered as hallowed to others throughout the world.
So, whenever we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” we can rest assured that he is our Father and that once he has adopted us, he will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5).