2018 11 18 pm The Beginnig of Our Prayer Matthew 6:5-15

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

For many centuries, the prayer that the Lord Jesus taught His disciples was known as the Pater Noster.  This is Latin for “Our Father.”  In English, it is still referred to as the “Our Father” in the Catholic tradition but as the Lord’s Prayer in Protestant churches.

Someone has calculated that it is probably prayed by over 2 billion people every Easter Sunday.  In fact, there was a law passed in England in 1662 requiring the Lord’s Prayer to be prayed in every church every Sunday!


But it cannot have escaped your notice that we do not pray this prayer very often.  Why not?  If this is the prayer the Lord Jesus taught His disciples to pray, why do we not pray this exact prayer every time we pray?   Well, this is because the Lord Jesus gave this prayer as a pattern for our prayers.

  • Jesus said, “Pray then like this.” Another way to translate the Greek word translated ‘like’ is ‘in this manner.’  So our prayers should be in the manner of the Lord’s Prayer.
  • And the fact that many prayers in the NT are not the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer is further evidence of this.

So while we may pray this prayer, we are also free to pray prayers like this prayer.


Well, the official term for the first line of the Lord’s Prayer is the invocation.  To invoke is to call upon or appeal to.  When you boys and girls call out to your teacher at school, Mr Smith, or Miss James, that is an invocation.  So, “our Father in heaven” is the invocation in the prayer the Lord Jesus taught us to pray.

  • And again, the fact that the Lord Jesus instructs us to pray to our Father in heaven does not mean that prayer is only about the Father. The three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are equal in their majesty; they are each deserving of our worship.  They are also one in their essence, so when we address the Father, we are not excluding the Son or the Holy Spirit, and when we address the Son, we are not excluding the Father or the Spirit.  There are prayers in the NT that are specifically addressed to the Lord Jesus, so we may do the same.  But just as with most of the recorded prayers in the NT, prayer is typically addressed to the Father.  And so, this will be the case with our prayers also.


So let’s think some more about why Jesus taught us to begin our prayers with this invocation.  Why are we to pray “our Father in heaven”?  What does this teach us about God, about ourselves, and about prayer?  And we don’t have any cute points today; we simply consider the words of the invocation.


  1. And the first thing we see is that the God we are to pray to is Father.
    1. A couple of months ago, someone wrote a letter to an online forum explaining something that happened at their church recently and asking if this was OK. It was a Roman Catholic Church and a visiting priest had come to celebrate the Mass.  Right at the beginning of the service, the priest had made the sign of the cross and led it with, “In the name of the Mother, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  And in his sermon, the priest said that the church had masculinised God too much and that we should embrace that God might be female too.  And in those parts of the service where the term “God the Father” was to be used, the priest replaced it with “God our Parent.” And before joining together to pray the Lord’s Prayer, he invited those in the congregation who wished to to pray, “Our Mother in heaven.”  And the author of the letter wondered if this was OK?
      1. So, what do you think? Is God male?  Is He female?  Or is He both or neither?  Would it be OK for us to pray, “Our mother in heaven”?
        1. Well, the Bible tells us that God is a Spirit; He does not have a body; He does not have male or female features. Male and female are a part of the biology of the created world.
        2. It is also the case that God has chosen to reveal Himself in Scripture with language that is both masculine and feminine.
          • In fact, I found one study about these things that pointed to 26 places in the Bible where God’s character and actions are revealed by feminine imagery, such as the one who gave birth to creation, a mother hen, and lady wisdom in Proverbs 8, for example.
          • And yet, all these are figures of speech. As one commentator says, “There are no cases in which feminine terms are used as names, titles, or invocations of God, and thus there are no feminine pronouns for God. There are no instances where God is directly identified by a feminine term, even a metaphorical predicate noun.  In other words, God is never directly said to be a mother, mistress, [wife,] or female bird in the way he is said to be a father, [husband], king, judge, or shepherd.”  So even though there are times when God uses feminine imagery in reference to Himself, His revelation of Himself is male.
        3. And make no mistake, we might think that feminism is a new idea but in Bible times the pagan world was full of goddesses. God choosing to reveal Himself as male was not just Him catering to the culture of the day.  And Jesus was never shy of challenging sexist stereotypes by giving culturally unexpected prominence to women.  So the revelation of God as male and the command to address Him as Father are intentional.  Jesus related to God as His Father in heaven and He would have us know God and pray to Him in the same way.
        4. We are, therefore, not free to pray to Our Mother in heaven. To do so would be to reject how God has revealed Himself to us; He is our Father in heaven.


  1. Now, let’s consider two points of application in relation to God as Father:
    1. The first is to the women here today.
      • What we have just said about God as Father does not mean that women do not reflect the image of God or that they do so in a way that is less than how men do.
      • In Genesis 1:27 we read, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Males and females are created in the image of God.  Commenting on this, John Piper said this to women, “Everything created in woman that sets her off from man comes from God and reflects something of Him … When the Bible says she and he were created in the image of God, it means she is also made after the model of her Creator.  So, it is important to say that in His essential divine being … God is not male and God is not female.  Maleness and femaleness are God’s creation … both of which are rooted in God.”
      • So even though God has revealed Himself as male, this in now way lessens how you as females are created in the image of God.


  1. But the second point of application is to those here today who have had or who have a bad human father.
    • We had a visitor at church just a few weeks ago who said that God the Father was a big problem for him. And this was because when he was young, his father had left his mother for another woman and it turned out that his father was an abuser. So he found the idea of God as Father very hard to accept.  And there may well be some of us here today for whom the word father stirs up painful memories.  But my dear friend, although you have my and our greatest sympathy, sympathy must not trump Scripture.  Instead of running away from the idea of God as Father because your father was bad, let God define true fatherhood and grieve that your father fell so far from the divine example.  And may it be that learning to love your heavenly Father brings you healing and helps you forgive your earthly father.


  1. So, God is father and not mother. But He is father not just because He has revealed Himself as male, but because to be a follower of Jesus Christ is to be an adopted child of God.
    1. Ephesians 1:4-5 talks about the time before the creation of the world when God chose to save some out of the mass of sinful humanity. We read, “He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ.”  With human adoption, a child who was born to one set of parents is fully and legally included in a new family.  And as we have seen in our John 8:44 studies recently, every human being begins life with the devil as his or her father.  But God, by His Holy Spirit, adopts His chosen ones into His salvation family.  1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.”
    2. And this truth has a least two significant implications:
      1. First of all, it is only through Jesus that we become children of God.
        • Many people, including those who are not religious, and those from different religions, and even some professing Christians, believe that we are all God’s children. Have you heard that idea before? They think that regardless of what name we give God, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, and even unbelievers are all God’s children.  But this is not what the Bible teaches.  The verse in Ephesians we referred to a moment ago says, “He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ.”  And Jesus said in John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  The children of God are those who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.
        • And this is why, for example, we may not participate in multi-faith services. The Lord’s Prayer is not some generic prayer for everyone; it is for followers of Jesus Christ.
      2. But the other implication has to do with our prayers as His adopted children.
        • Our Catechism answer explains that we are commanded to call God “our Father” because “at the very beginning of our prayer Christ wants to kindle in us what is basic to our prayer – the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father.”
          • When Jesus taught it was in the common language of the people, which was Aramaic. And the Aramaic word translated as Father here is Abba, which really is the equivalent of today’s ‘Daddy.’
            • When children are young, they usually think that their dad is the strongest man in the world. They look up to their father.  They know he will always catch them when they jump.  They believe that their dad knows everything.  They fully expect Dad to put food on the table and it never crosses their mind that it might be laced with poison.  And when they are scared, they hold Dad’s hand or jump in his arms or hide behind him.
            • And this is should be our attitude in prayer – we look up to our Father in heaven, we know He will watch over us, we know that He knows everything, and we know that He will give us all that we need. Is that the God you pray to? Is that your attitude in prayer?
          • In Matthew 7:9-11 we read, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
            • You know, as a parent who has never had to care for children with complex allergies, I take my hat off to parents with children with complex allergies. When you invite a family like this around, you start worrying about the food in your pantry and reading the labels three times just to check if there are nuts or wheat or dairy, etc. Right?  But the mothers of these children have it all under control – that’s fine, that’s no good.
            • Well believer, you are a mix of physical and spiritual complexities. And in the verse before the Lord’s Prayer, v8, we are told, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” And He invites and commands you to ask Him for good things and promises to give you what you need!


  1. And this is an implication also of the last part of the invocation, which is “our Father in heaven.”


  1. Because God is our Father in heaven, He has the power and the knowledge and the authority and the right to command us to pray, to hear our prayers, and to answer our prayers!
    1. One of the proof texts for Catechism answer 121 is Romans 8:31-32. We read, “What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”  Because He is in heaven, our Father has the power to give us all
    2. And after giving us this pattern for prayer, the Lord Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”  Because He is in heaven, our Father knows what we need and He will give it to us.


  1. But you know what congregation? Praying to our Father in heaven is not just about knowing that God can and does answer our prayers, it is also about the very act of praying.  And I have deliberately made this our last point because I believe it is extremely important that we understand this.  When you pray, you are entering into the very throne room of heaven.  Hebrews 4:16 spells this out: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  What this means then is that we are only truly praying when we are conscious of having come into the presence of God and are actually praying to Him.
    1. The Bible teacher and evangelist, A. Torrey stated that that it was that thought that utterly changed his prayer life. He explains that he was raised in a Christian home and taught to pray from a young age.  But prayer, for him, was largely a matter of form; of saying the right things.  He says, “There was little real thought of God, and no real approach to God.  And even after I was converted, yes, even after I had entered the ministry, prayer was largely a matter of form.  But the day came,” he wrote, “when I realized what real prayer meant, realized that prayer was having an audience with God, actually coming into the presence of God and asking and getting things from Him.  And the realization of that fact changed my prayer life.  Before that prayer was a mere duty, and sometimes a very irksome duty, but from that time on prayer has not been merely a duty but a privilege, one of the most highly esteemed privileges of life.”
    2. Now, there isn’t really a way to illustrate this perfectly, but boys and girls, imagine writing a letter to the Queen as a school project. So you learn about all the rules for how to address Her Majesty and you write your letter and it is sent away with all the other letters from your classmates.  But imagine that some time later you receive a letter, hand-written by Her Majesty, which includes her personal phone number, and an invitation to call her whenever you like, and it will be just you and her talking together.  Do you think there will be a difference between your letter to her and your private conversations with her?  Of course there would!
    3. And this is the thing that the Lord Jesus wanted to impress on His disciples. You see, they had heard prayer their whole lives!  The Pharisees prayed the same 18 prayers many times day.  They competed with one another for the most impressive sounding prayers and the longest prayers.  But there was something very different about the prayers of the Lord Jesus; He talked to His Father in heaven.  And this is why we read in the parallel passage in Luke that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.  They wanted to talk to God like Jesus did.
      1. So Jesus said to them, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven.’”
      2. Are you consciously talking to God when you pray? Do you tell yourself as you fold your hands and close your eyes that you are about to have a personal audience with your Father in heaven?  Nothing will more dramatically affect your prayers than understanding this truth.
      3. And then, as we have seen, understand that as you talk to Him, He is eagerly leaning forward, as it were, listening to your prayers and ready to answer them and give you all that you need.


And congregation, all this just from the invocation of the Lord’s Prayer!  Let us pray…


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