“And when you pray…”: the power of prayer and calling God Father

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think 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. (Matthew 6:6-8)

Notice that three times in these few verses, Jesus refers to “your Father”: twice in verse 6 and once in verse 8. Jesus’ approach to prayer is strongly rooted in His relationship with God as Father. The idea of approaching God as Father isn’t entirely new with Jesus. We encounter God referred to as Father numerous times in the Old Testament:

  • Father-Creator: “Is He not your Father, your Creator, who mad you and formed you” (Deuteronomy 32:6).
  • Father-Redeemer: “You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is Your name” (Isaiah 63:16).

Even in some Jewish literature between the times of the Old and New Testaments, God is called Father.

However, what is new with Jesus is that His primary way of relating with God is as His Father. We see that in various places in Scripture:

  • When Jesus began His public ministry being baptized by John, at His baptism, the voice of the Father spoke from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).
  • When Jesus was questioned about His authority, He answered His critics in this way: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19).
  • When Jesus was at the tomb of Lazarus, before raising His friend from death, He said: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42).
  • Even in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane—the night before His betrayal—Jesus spoke to God in this way: “‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will'” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus’ relationship with God is characterized as a unique Father-Son relationship. In one of the most important parts of Scripture on this theme, Jesus prays in Matthew 11 this way:

“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him'” (Matthew 11:25-27).

Notice three things here:

  1. Jesus refers to God as Father
  2. Jesus describes the unique Father-Son relationship that exists
  3. Jesus says that as the Son, only those who know Him can enter into that relationship

It is by the gift of Jesus Christ that we can not only know about God and receive salvation but actually enter into—that is, stand within—the intimate and powerful relationship of the Father and the Son. We come right into the middle of that unique relationship that exists between God the Father and God the Son, and we are now part of that community because of Jesus.

That is why Jesus begins the teaching on prayer that follows the passage we are looking at this way: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven…'” (Matthew 6:9).

Because of Jesus’ unique relationship to the Father—and because of salvation through Jesus—we are new invited to approach God as Father through Jesus Christ. He is now our Father. This is the theme of the Christian life with God. It is the central reality of the life of prayer. 542 times in the New Testament, God is referred to as Father.

The distinctively Christian approach to prayer is built on this major point: prayer has power because of our relationship with Father God.

Knowing We are Dearly Loved Children of God

If you did a web search for the phrase “a new you,” you would find all sorts of interesting results. You would find anti-aging treatments. You would find opportunities for cosmetic surgery, body slimming, or laser hair removal. You would find self-help gurus and inspirational speakers offering solutions to your problems. You would even find car dealers and clothing shops offering you a much-needed new look.

How many of us have not at some point wanted a new look, a new identity, or a new persona? Now, listen to these words of the Apostle John from 1 John 3:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

Who are we, according to John, here? We are children of God.

That new identity begins with the outpouring of God’s love upon us through Jesus Christ.

What is God’s love like? John tells us, first of all, that God’s love is “great,” a Greek word which conveys astonishment and wonder. God’s love is shocking—amazing—it has a greatness that surpasses our understanding.

Second, John tells us God’s love is “lavished on us.” We may not use the word “lavish” very often, but it conveys an extravagant generosity. It’s the word we use to describe an over-the-top gift someone gives us. God’s love is a great, gift-love. That shocking gift-love is at the very center of our lives through Jesus Christ. It establishes who we are. It determines our identity.

So much of our lives is spent trying to feel significant; to feel like we’re “someone.” We seek that through the love or attention of others, through our accomplishments, through standing out from the crowd in some way. But here, we are told that the limitless love of God is generously and shockingly poured into our lives. It’s not something we have to search for all our lives, it’s something that is readily available and given to us through Jesus Christ.

Settle into that for a moment. The God of the universe, who created us, loves us lavishly, shockingly, and personally.

How powerful it is to know that we are God’s children. I can’t help but think of the way Paul describes this reality in Romans 8:

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)

Today, take some time to rest in the truth that through faith in Jesus Christ we are God’s children, dearly loved and held in the divine embrace by our Abba Father no matter what comes.

Say “Our Father” [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven.’” (Matthew 6:9)

Jesus’ approach to prayer is strongly rooted in his relationship with God as Father. Three times in Matthew 6:6-8, Jesus refers to “your Father”; twice in verse 6 and once in verse 8.  The idea of approaching God as Father isn’t entirely new with Jesus. We encounter God referred to as Father numerous times in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16). Even in some Jewish literature written between the times of the Old and New Testaments, God is called Father.

However, what is new with Jesus is that He says the primary way of relating with God is as our Father.  When questioned about His authority, Jesus responds to His critics in this way: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). When at the tomb of His good friend, Lazarus, Jesus calls out in prayer: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42). Even in the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane before the Cross, Jesus speaks to God with this intimate address: “‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus’ relationship with God is characterized as a unique Father-Son relationship.

In one of the most important parts of Scripture on this theme, Jesus prays in Matthew 11 this way: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11: 27). Jesus says that as the Son, only those who know Him can enter into that same relationship with God as Father.  By the gift of Jesus Christ we can not only know about God and receive salvation but actually enter into that same intimate and powerful relationship of the Father and the Son. We come right into the middle of that unique relationship that exists between God the Father and Jesus the Son, and we are now part of that community because of Jesus.

That is why Jesus begins the teaching on prayer that we know as the Lord’s Prayer in this way: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9). When we pray we must know to whom we are praying.  Because of Jesus’ unique relationship to the Father – and because of salvation for us through Jesus – God is now our Father as well. This is the central theme of the Christian life with God. It is the central reality of the life of prayer.

Our Father,
  what a wonderful gift
that through the Only Son, Jesus Messiah,
  we too can address You so personally.
Thank You that You know
  what we need before we pray.
Thank You that, as a good Father,
  You give us better gifts
than any earthly father
  could every give to us.
Thank You that though our earthly parents
  are imperfect and sometimes fail,
You are a good, good Father
  who is perfect and never fails.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]