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:
- Jesus refers to God as Father
- Jesus describes the unique Father-Son relationship that exists
- 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.