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A Bible Study on Matthew 6:9
Prayer TO God.
People have prayed to God by many names. In the Hebrew Scriptures, he was called Yahweh. The Moslems pray to Allah. The Hindus pray to Brahman. The ancient Greeks prayed to Zeus and other gods. The ancient Romans prayed to Jupiter and other gods. Almost all of the early American Indian tribes recognized a vast spiritual power that shaped and directed life. The Iroquois called it Orenda, the Algonquians called it Manitou. The Sioux called it Wakan. So there are hundreds of names for God, but the name that touches our hearts and stirs up our prayers is the name Jesus taught us--Father.
The Lord's Prayer begins with two words, "Our Father," and our understanding of the whole prayer depends upon our understanding of these first two words. These first two words tell us that we are not to pray about the Father; We are not to explain to God that he is all-mighty. We do not need to tell him that he is all-knowing. He knows that. We are not to pray about God, but to God. Theologians spend much time talking about God, and theology has its place, but when we turn to prayer then we are on a different level with God. When we talk about God, we can be neutral. We can say, God is this and God is that, and nothing of ourselves is involved in what we are saying. We are doing all this God-talk, but it does not involve us. But when we talk to God, then we are in a relationship that does involve us, and thus what we have to say becomes much more important to us. That tells us then that what we have to say about God is not nearly as important as what we say to God. Our theology is not nearly as important as our prayers.
Father in All Cultures.
Jesus was not the first to speak of God as the father. Homer called Zeus "the father of men and gods." Plato in his dialogue Timaeus called the idea of the good the father of all things. God is called Father in many cultures. Black Elk Speaks is a book about the life of an Oglala Sioux holy man. In the book, Black Elk called upon God as both father and grandfather. The OT also spoke of God as father. IS64:8 "O Lord, Thou art our Father, we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand." Again, DT32:6-7 "Do you thus requite the Lord, o foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? Hath he not made thee and established thee?"
The Father to Jesus.
So the idea of the fatherhood of God was not new with Jesus, yet what was new with Jesus was the way he used the term "father," and the emphasis he put upon the fatherhood of God. For example Jesus said in MT7:11, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" He said any earthly father will give good things to his children. That being true then, if an earthly father will do that much, think how much more our heavenly father will give to us. In MR 14:36 when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, praying out of the despair of his heart, he addressed God as "abba, father." In LK23:34, when they nailed him to the cross, Jesus said "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Whatever the circumstances, Jesus always thought of God as the father, and he taught us to think of him that way.
What Does it Mean?
But that leads us to another question: What did Jesus mean by the term "father"? "Father" is one of those old words that comes down to us with a whole bundle of meanings. For example, mention "father" to some people, and they think of an authoritarian ruler. They picture God as a judge who sits in a high and holy place behind the harsh bar of the Law. Thus, we can only address God with fear and foreboding. This God-judge holds in his hands a giant set of scales. In it our bad deeds are weighed against our good deeds, and we are filled with dismay to see how our sins outweigh the good we have done.
That is not a very happy picture of God the father, but some people have an even worse picture. I remember a lady I knew many years ago. We were in church one Sunday and the next Sunday was Father's day. As we left church, the lady said to me, "I will see you in two weeks." I assumed that she was going on a trip and asked her about it. She replied, "I do not come to church on Father's day." I did not know what to say to that so I did not say much of anything right then, but later on, I asked her what she meant by that statement. She said, "My father was an unemployed alcoholic who beat up my mother and sexually abused me, so I do not have good feelings about fathers, and I do not like it much when people talk about God as a father. I do not need a God who is like my father." Her attitude was a surprise to me. She caused me to realize that Father is not a good word to everyone. Some fathers give fatherhood a bad name. But God is not that kind of father. Jesus never spoke of God that way.
Nor did Jesus speak of God in the way that the OT does. When the OT talks God as father, it emphasizes the obedience the child owes the father. JR3:4 "Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My Father, thou art the guide of my youth?" (also 19.) When Jesus talks of God as Father, his emphasis is to reassure us that God is our help and comfort.
We need to remember that Jesus spoke Aramaic. The term Jesus used for father was "Abba." This is the little child's way of talking about a father. It is probably best translated not as "father" but as "daddy." We can call upon God with the familiarity of a little child calling upon his/her daddy. In fact, Jesus said that this is the only way that we can call upon God. In MR10:15 we read, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." There is no other way to come to God except with the trust of a child.
We remember how as little children, we came to our parents with every confidence that they could fix or make right whatever was wrong. If we had a toy that was broken, or a finger that was wounded, all that we had to do was run to our father and say, "Daddy fix." We had absolute confidence that daddy could and would fix it. Now as we grew older, we found that our earthly fathers were very fallible people, and that our confidence in them was often not justified. But the good news of the NT is that we have a heavenly daddy who does justify the confidence of a little child for a father. We can come to God with the assurance that he loves us and that God will help us. Moreover, it is only when we come to God with that confidence and that kind of child-like assurance that God will help us.
Not long ago I remember seeing a little child with his father. The father was a very big man. The child was around three or four years old. The little child saw me, and I was a stranger, I was a monster, so he ran and hid behind his daddy. His daddy was obviously the biggest and strongest thing in his life, so he got behind his daddy, and peeked around his daddy's leg to see what this monster was going to do. Behind his daddy's leg, the child felt secure from his fear. Even so, we can take our fears to God the father. He is the strongest thing in our lives. We can hide behind his strength and laugh at fear.
The little child knows that his father is bound to him with the strong bonds of love and so he calls upon him with absolute trust as 'my daddy.' What Jesus says to us is that we can call upon God in this way. Jesus encourages us to address God in a way that is so familiar and intimate that it astounds us. Do we dare to begin our prayers with the words, "Our daddy, who art in heaven."? Jesus says, "You certainly can."
Father in Easter.
NT Christianity is resurrection religion. The central motif of Christianity is Easter. We see the kind of Father we have in God in that he gave his own son for us. The cross and the resurrection define for us what the fatherhood of God means. On the cross, God demonstrated that he is our father. The word "Immanuel" means "God with us." Jesus was Immanuel. His message is that God is with us, that God has identified himself with his sons and daughters in life and death and in all eternity.
It was God the father himself who paid the penalty for our sins. I know that sometimes we do not put it that way. Sometimes we say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and then ascended to the Father, and the impression we give is that Jesus was down here doing the work and God was off up there watching. But we cannot divide up the Trinity that way.
Where the father is, there the son and the Holy Spirit are,
Where the son is, there the father and Holy Spirit are.
God the father was in Jesus reconciling the world to himself. The cross then shows us that we can turn with confidence to God because he is a father who looks upon us with love and concern.
The Loving Parent.
God loves us so much that he is moved by the least inclination on our part to resist evil and do good. In this he is like any parent. Once a long time ago, when I was young and critical and before I had children of my own. This was about a hundred years ago. I remember visiting a young couple who had a little girl who was just beginning to walk. This young couple had to bring out the little girl and show her off to me. The child staggered a few steps to mommy and staggered a few steps back to daddy, I thought, Great, here is a kid that walks ten steps--big deal. But mommy and daddy thought that was the greatest thing in the world, because they were mommy and daddy. And the great thing is that God treats us like he is our mommy and daddy. He thinks that anything that we do in the way of right living and right thinking is wonderful. When that little child was trying to walk, mommy and daddy had their arms outstretched to catch and protect that child. It is the same with us. At every opportunity God extends his arms and hands to us by his gracious spirit. He is eager to lift us up and help us on.
Moreover, when we approach God the father, we are drawing close to one who completely understands us. I remember when I was a child sometimes I would want to do things that I knew my parents did not want me to do. So I would concoct some "cover story" to get what I wanted. A politician might say that I would put my spin on the truth. For good and valid reasons, I had to have those cookies right before supper, or I had to go see some friends of mine, even though mom and dad had told me I could not go right now. Now the thing that astonished me was how my parents always saw right through my "cover stories" and said, "No, you are not going," or "No, you can't have that because we already talked about that." It was a wonder to me how they seemed to know exactly what I was thinking. That is the way our relationship with God is. God sees right through all our "cover stories."
Now you might say, "It is not very good that God knows us so well--because we can never get away with anything when we deal with God." That is true, but it is not a bad thing. God knows every thought and emotion of our hearts, and that is a matter of comfort and consolation to us
The great majority of human difficulties arise because we do not understand each other. We interpret the actions and words of others, and we think that we know what is going on in their minds, but we really do not. We never know what another person is thinking. At best, we know some approximation of what they are thinking. No wonder then that we have so much conflict and chaos in dealing with people.
Besides our inability to understand others, no woman or man fully understands even herself or himself. We do not fully understand why we do the things we do, or why we are the way we are. But God does. God understands us. God in his all-embracing tenderness appreciates our problems, and, because he knows our problems, he has a much more charitable attitude toward us than most of us have toward ourselves or toward each other.
Thus, we come to God because we are assured that we will be given an understanding hearing. When we bring our problems to human beings, they do not understand, or they are all tied up in their problems so they are not listening. They treat our problems with indifference or even contempt. But God does not--because God is our loving, understanding father.
Knowing that truth, knowing that God is our father, makes a vast difference in our prayers. Because we know that we can bring our needs to God and be met with kindness and understanding and love, our hearts are reassuered, our minds are set at ease, our souls are freed , and we can pray. We can pray to God because we find in God one who really understands. And we find in God one who knows all about us, who knows the worst about us, and still loves us.
God is Unchangeable.
And God is always this way. One of the difficulties in dealing with people is that people are always changing. Our personalties change, our attitudes change. We are inconsistent. One day we are feeling good and we are in a cheerful frame of mind, and we are willing to treat everyone with forbearance and leniency. Another day, we get up on the wrong side of the bed, so to speak, and the whole world looks black to us, and we are harsh and hard to everyone.
This sort of reminds me of an old story that I heard about a chameleon. A chameleon as you probably know is a lizard that assumes the color of its background. Some young folks were playing with a chameleon one day. They put it on some red flannel and it turned red. They put it on green grass and it turned green. Then they put it on a patchwork quilt, a quilt that had all the colors of the rainbow in a crazy, mixed up way, and the poor old chameleon, faced with the task of constantly changing colors, had a nervous breakdown and died. I do not know if that is a true story or not, but I know that plenty of people today are driven to nervous breakdowns because they are always changing and everyone around them is always changing.
But God is not like that. God is not changeable. God is not subject to unpredictable fluctuations of temperament. God is always the same. Because of this, our relationship with God can be a beautiful thing. Because God is consistent, we can have a relationship with God that can never be compared with any human relationship. We can have a relationship that is as close as our soul and as long as eternity.
The Prodigal's Father.
We see this same truth in the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal took his inheritance and went to a foreign land. The father was no fool, he knew what the son was doing. He knew he was wasting his life. Yet despite all that the prodigal son did to dismay his father, the father's attitude toward him never changed. In spite of all the shame, suffering, sandal, and loss, the father's love never diminished. And when the day came that the broken, battered boy stumbled up the road toward home, the father met him with open arms and open heart. When the prodigal returned, the father did not count up the prodigal's sins. He did not say, "Oh, you did this this and this. We must talk about how you are going to get your life straightened out." Not at all. The father ran to meet him. That was an astonishing thing for a father to do in first century patriarchal society. Fathers were dignified people who did not run to meet anyone. Jesus' point is that our loving father does not care about his dignity where his children are concerned. When we come back to him, he only cares to meet us with an unconditional forgiveness and an unconditional love.
Let us conclude then. An old proverb says, "He whose father is judge goes safe to trial." It means that no father is going to judge his child guilty and send his chold off to prison or to the executioner's chamber. This has an application to the gospel. When we are hauled into that heavenly court to be judged for our sins, our judge is not some remote being who is content to see justice done and to punish us accordingly. Our judge is our father, our daddy. Thus we go "save to our heavenly trial," because it is our loving father who is going to try us. Amen.