I have always loved the way our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters refer to the Lord’s Prayer as “The Our Father.” That is really a better name for this prayer than calling it “The Lord’s Prayer.” Sure this is the prayer that our Lord Jesus taught us to pray. In Matthew Jesus suggest that this pray is a model for all Christian prayer. In Luke he seems to suggest that we should actually use the words he teaches. Down through history the church has done both. But either way, the prayer carries tremendous power for our relationship with God. It fully sets the stage for how we as Christians should approach God in prayer.
Jesus says, “Pray like this: “Our Father who art in Heaven.” If we think about this, we come to see the practical application of everything Jesus came to do. In John’s Gospel the role of God as Jesus’ father is a central part the message. Jesus makes this very plain in John 16:27 when he says, “…for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” Jesus makes it his central task to enable his disciples to become children of God, the heavenly father. It is the same God who is the father of our lord Jesus. There is no place that this nuance matters more that in the subject of prayer.
To better understand this, let’s compare the business of making a request to two very different people. The first case is making a request of a boss. The second case is making a request of a father. When one goes in to make a request of a boss, say for a raise, there is a great deal of real trepidation involve. Even when one is confident that the request is justified, if one says things wrongly, it could be disastrous. A boss had no reason to perpetuate a relationship that is not beneficial. A boss can simply terminate the relationship and leave us looking for a new job. If prayer to God is like a request to a boss then the relationship is tentative at best. There is little confidence that God is genuinely concerned about our well-being.
But when one makes a request of a father an entirely different dynamic is in place. The relationship between a child and a father is permanent. A father does not fire a child. The family relationship is established in eternity. Even if one is highly respectful of the father, as one should be, there is awareness that we have a claim on God. He has made himself our father through Jesus. We are invited to approach him like we would our earthly father. We may pray with confidence based on our relationship with him, not just the merit of our prayers. This is a game changer for prayer. It makes all the difference. So every prayer that starts with “Our Father” lays claim to this promise from Jesus. A promise that when God listens to our prayer, he listens as a father who loves us. And his answer will be a response of love to our prayers.
“Our Father, who art in heaven” – What does this mean? – Here God encourages us to believe that he is truly our Father, and that we are truly his children, so that we may boldly and confidently pray to him , just as beloved children speak to their dear father.” (Luther’s Small Catechism)