“Our Father, who art in heaven…” We pray these words together every week. Many of us pray them every day. But we also know that to simply repeat words for the sake of repeating them has a certain sort of emptiness. And prayer is not about empty repetition. It’s about encountering God. We use the same words for a few reasons.
When Jesus’ disciples did not know what to say in prayer (how many of us have been there?), Jesus gave them the words of the Lord’s Prayer. So if you had a chance to say to Jesus, “Excuse me, Lord. How should I pray? I need some advice.”–this is what he would say: “When you pray, say ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…” It is rare that we have strict direction about the nitty gritty details of the Christian life from its source and origin. But about prayer, we do have this template that serves as jumping-off point for all prayer. I want to write several thoughts about the Lord’s Prayer over the next several months. I hope they will be helpful to you in your prayer life. We’ll talk today about just those first two words, “Our Father.”
It is natural for us to pray in the first person singular–I, me, my. But Jesus’ prayer does not begin there. It begins with “Our.” Even when we are alone, we pray this prayer with the language of we, us, our. The Christian life cannot be done alone. We may believe in Jesus and put our faith and trust him, but in order to love Jesus, we must follow Jesus and his commands (John 14:15) and that is something that simply cannot be done alone. So even if we are praying this prayer by ourselves, we still do it with the whole Christian community in mind. We do it knowing that although we may be praying privately right now, sometime today, we will be brought into relationship with others. And those relationships are the places where we are challenged to grow our love, to have trust in God and hope in Christ to solve the problems that vex us, to work out the concrete details of our faith. We need the community and that community is present in first word of the prayer.
Father–God, who is the source and origin of all things, is often called Father in Scripture. Here is one of the many scandals of the Christian faith: God is not the abstract Source Of All Things like some “spiritual but not religious” folks might claim. He is the Father. Of you and me. Of the rocks and stars and lizards and clouds, too, but those inanimate things are not very good children. They do not know that they belong to God. But we do. We are children who can and must return to our Father in prayer every day. If we really want to know the loving relationship that God desires, we must learn how to be good children. Trusting that he will care for us, leaning on him for our life and future, putting down the other things in our lives that claim to be a source of life and hope.
And this is where we begin our prayer–with the Father who gives us everything (Thank you, Father!) and with the community of believers that God puts us in to challenge and grow us into Christlikeness. Let’s see if we can’t pay a little more attention to the words of our prayer this month and become more like the one who gives us a reason to pray and the words to do it with.
Thanks be to God!