When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 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 do not bring us to the time of trial but rescue us from the evil one.”
Thomas Carlyle, nineteenth century man of letters, tells of coming home from church and complaining to his mother about the worship service. She asked him what was wrong with the service and he told her how the minister preached a ghastly long sermon. When Mrs. Carlyle asked how he would have improved the sermon, Carlyle said: “I would tell the people that they already know what to do, now do it!” His mother objected: “But you didn’t tell them how to do it!”
As someone who has preached a lot of sermons, I have to agree with mother on this one. We ministers are often long on exhortation and short on execution. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus is telling us how! “Pray then in this way.”
Unlike a lot of sermons and prayers, the Lord’s Prayer is short!
It has only 56 words in the original Greek. We know that it is a prayer that first century Christians liked to pray three times a day (Didache, 8:2-3). And we are going to be exploring the prayer here over the coming weeks. We will look at it as both a pattern and a guide for prayer, which can be a springboard for further prayer and meditation.
Jesus introduces the prayer by instructing disciples not to heap up empty phrases as they pray because “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” I often need to be reminded of that when I pray. God already knows the problem I am facing, the feelings I am experiencing, or confusion I am in. The Father knows! I am never telling God anything He doesn’t already know. Prayer is not for information, but formation. As we pray the Lord’s Prayer day after day after day we are slowly formed, taking on Jesus’ agenda and way of life. As we petition the Father in the Lord’s Prayer, God is preparing our hearts to receive what He wants to give us.
Jesus begins the model prayer with adoration: “Our Father in heaven”. Adoration is always a good way to begin any prayer. This reminds me of the old anagram for prayer: A-C-T-S (Adoration – Confession-Thanksgiving-Supplication). It’s a way of beginning prayer you find again and again in the Psalms.
We begin our adoration of God with the understanding that we are addressing a Father, our Father, who is in heaven. As a boy I often lay in bed at night wondering if my little prayer could get through the ceiling of my room and be heard by God way up high in heaven! I think that is even some adults’ misconception of God as “in heaven.” But as we do a word study on heaven we discover that heaven is a biblical term for the spiritual world existing parallel to our physical world. God created a multi-dimensional universe in which “The cosmos is ‘heaven and earth’, with heaven as the controlling part. The integration of the two is God’s work. What is implied is not just divine transcendence but divine dominion. God rules from heaven and initiates his saving work from heaven.” (Theological Dictionary of New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich)
It is important for us as we begin to pray to remember that our Father is not “way up there” and far away from us and our needs and concerns. As Jesus instructed on prayer He would have had numerous Old Testament examples of “heaven” interacting with people’s lives (e. g. Genesis 21:15; 22:11, 15). Most notably, we remember Jacob awakening from sleep and saying: “Surely the LORD is in this place — and I did not know it!…This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17) Heaven, or, God’s divine dominion, is here and now!
Just days ago Christians celebrated our Lord’s ascension into heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-11). In His ascension Jesus was not leaving us “way down here” for “way up there”! Jesus was moving into the unseen dimension, the unseen reality parallel to our everyday physical world. We walk by faith and not by sight! (2 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus was seeking to prepare disciples for this in His post-resurrection appearances when he would appear physically to them and then disappear (Luke 24:31, 36; John 20:19, 26).
Philosopher and theologian, Dallas Willard, speaks to the problem of thinking of our Father in heaven as in some place far away: “The damage done to our practical faith in Christ and in his government-at-hand by confusing heaven with a place in distant or outer space, or even beyond space, is incalculable.” (Dallas Willard, The Conspiracy) Willard adds that it is little surprise that people so often feel alone.
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus invites us to look at the world the way He does, and to share in His life and His agenda. Why not take a few moments now to pray to our Father who is right there, with you!
Our Father, in heaven…
Grace and peace,