Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:9c “. . .Father which art in heaven,. . .”
What a privilege it is to serve a God who lets us call Him “Father,” a title which bespeaks nearness and dearness. We pray not to a cosmic force or a world-spirit, but to a real, living, personal God who wants to enjoy intimacy with us.
We know God cares for us. Our forebears taught us to speak of His actions among us as providence, provide-ence, a word bespeaking His kind, giving nature.
In prayer, all hinges on thinking of God as Father. Our conception of Him determines the character of our prayers. To err in our opinion of God is to err everywhere. To help us better know the kind of “Father” our God is, Jesus affixed “which art in heaven” to the title. The phrase tells us five things about our Father.
First, having a Father “in heaven” helps us retain a good dose of respect for Him. Our word “heaven” derives from the old Anglo-Saxon “heave-on,” meaning to lift up. Bespeaking a realm above our ordinary existence on earth, this thought of lifting up makes us think of God as One higher than we are. We look up as it were to One who, above us in status, must be high and lifted up in our thoughts.
We love our Father, but must not sentimentalize Him. He is not an over-indulgent Santa Claus, nor a celestial sugar daddy tolerant of evil, nor an easy going good old boy who shuts His eyes to our sins. The same Bible which says God is love also says God is consuming fire. Both equally apply. It was said of Augustus Caesar, all who dared to speak rashly to him failed to appreciate his greatness, all who out of fear dared not speak to him at all knew not how good he was. So it is with God. We do not need a terror of Him, but do need to be in awe of Him.
Second, having a Father “in heaven” aids our worship. “God is spirit; and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (JN 4:24 NAS). Knowing He is in heaven “delivers us from worship of the visible and from worship by means of the visible” (Maclaren). We must not let visible rituals and ceremonies detract from our worship of the invisible. Forms meant to point to God can easily replace God in our worship. This helps explain why many of our young people quit church as they become adults. As teens they develop an affection for the people, the building, or a particular worship format, but somehow, in all their church-going, they do not develop an intimate walk with God. Thus, when they leave home, they often drop out of church, having had a love for their familiar things of God, but not for God Himself. Our music techniques, preaching styles, worship liturgies, and belonging groups must enhance, not replace, our worship of God.
It is appropriate the Lord’s Prayer deals with worship, for worship is the essence of prayer. “Absorbed contemplation is the necessary preliminary of all real prayer” (Maclaren). Before taking care of business in prayer, dwell a while on Him with whom we have to do business. True prayer entails bonding, focusing our mind on God and fixing it there till it is properly impressed. As we focus and fix on God, we become sure we shall be heard, for we better see Him as “Father.”
Third, having a Father “in heaven” boosts our confidence. Heaven is the realm of victory. Our Father not only loves us; He also has the power to get things done for us. Jesus was urging us, when we pray, to lift up our thoughts into an emancipated region, into a dimension set free from limitations of earth. Our confidence in prayer will soar as we realize Heaven’s resources are available to us.
Fourth, having a Father “in heaven” heightens our anticipation. It gives us a home to look forward to. God is present everywhere, but has one remarkable abode where there is the supreme ongoing uninterrupted manifestation of His magnificent presence, where He rules from His throne without Satanic opposition, where He indwells a palace fit for One whose name is Wonderful, where He has a home He wants to share with us. By having us pray to our Father “which art in heaven,” Jesus teaches us to turn our minds in the direction of this special place.
For a lifetime our hearts focus on that realm, our hopes concentrate on the Father’s home. As time passes we begin to look upon that place with increasing favor, yea with longing. It is said Cicero, banished from Italy, and Demosthenes, banished from Athens, so yearned for home that they wept every time they looked toward their own country. We, too, should have a longing for the Fatherland, an anticipation which grows over the years. Having endeared heaven to ourselves by a lifetime of praying toward it, it will be easier for us to leave here someday.
Fifth, having a Father “in heaven” distinguishes Him from our fathers on earth. In our culture, the term father can carry much bad baggage. Absent fathers, abusive fathers, unaffectionate fathers, and indulgent fathers have tainted the title.
Do not let a bad earthly father ruin your enjoyment of our perfect heavenly father. Define and interpret the earthly title by the heavenly original, not vice versa. Many never feel loved or accepted by an earthly father, and in subconsciously trying to win their father’s affection, unwittingly transfer that to trying to win the heavenly father’s love. May we cease trying to earn what is already ours to enjoy.
Phillip Keller masterfully shows how the prodigal son’s older brother was miserable due to failing to rightly understand his father. The sinful son in a pig sty knew his father loved him, and came home to revel in that love. The father also loved his older son and was tender to him, but the latter somehow refused to see it. The prodigal deemed his dad kind and gracious; the elder son counted him hard and demanding. The younger son felt his father’s embrace; the firstborn kept his father at arm’s length. The sinful son let his father run to him; the other son built a wall the father could not break through. The oldest son never felt wanted or accepted. He missed joy and happiness despite the fact he had everything, all the father’s wealth, all the father’s love, all the father’s appreciation, all the father’s tenderness. Somehow unable to see this, he eventually developed a self-righteous self-pity, seeking to win what he already had. The most tragic and saddest fact is he never really got to know his father, a man he lived with every day, a man who remains one of the most beautiful pictures of what our heavenly Father is like.
Our heavenly Father loves us, forgives us as we repent, accepts us, is tender toward us. Someday in Heaven we shall relate to God perfectly as Father. The key to joyful living on earth is to embrace this eventual realization here and now.