Our Father in the Heavens - Matthew 6:5-13
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
How we ask for something reveals much about the kind of relationship we have with someone.
Imagine for a moment three children walking past a fish and chip van at Hull Fair with their dad.
The first child turns to their dad and shouts in his face, “I want fish and chips and mushy peas and I want them now.” When her dad says not yet, she whines and moans and stamps her feet and gets very angry. What kind of relationship do you think they have?
The second child turns to her dad and says, “Please may I have fish and chips.” And she is very content to be told, “Yes, but not right now. We’ve got so much to see and do.” What kind of relationship do they have?
The third child doesn’t even turn to his father. His dad is distracted on his phone and their seems to be deep fear in the eyes of the boy. What kind of relationship do they have?
What we say to God and how we say it reveals much about our relationship with him.
I don’t know how you currently pray. Are you confident or are you nervous as you approach the Almighty Creator of the universe? Do you speak often or do you rarely utter a word? Well, regardless of how we do currently pray, our aim over the next few weeks as we look in detail at the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew chapter 6 is to discover how Christians should pray.
It’s vital to realise that only Christians can pray the Lord’s Prayer. I know many people up and down this country and around the world pray it without any serious commitment to following Jesus. However, we need to understand that Jesus didn’t offer this prayer to humanity in general.
No, at this point in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus was speaking to his disciples, to those who had already surrendered to his loving Lordship. The Lord’s Prayer is revealed as part of the Sermon on the Mount, which runs from Matthew chapter 5 to Matthew chapter 7. And at the start of Matthew chapter 5 this is what we are told, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”
There are certainly non-Christians listening to Jesus teaching at the edges but when Jesus says in Matthew 6:9, “This, then, is how you should pray” he is referring to those who have already started to follow him as their Rescuer and Ruler, as their Saviour and Sovereign.
If you are here tonight and you are not a Christian, then do listen attentively to what Jesus says to his followers about prayer. If you do, you will hear some of incredible privileges that Christians enjoy. Your first port of call is to surrender to Jesus not to repeat what he says.
What does Jesus teach Christians about how they should pray?
Many believers want to know what they should pray for or when they should pray or where they should pray. These questions are not unimportant but what I want you to notice from verse 9 is that the first line of the Lord’s Prayer contains no supplications. There is no asking. There are no petitions. No, the first thing that Jesus does is make a statement about who it is we should pray to.
This was no accident. With perfect wisdom, Jesus knows that if we get this wrong the whole of our prayer life will be misaligned from spiritual normality. He knows that what we say to God and how we say it is dependent on what kind of relationship we have with him.
Who should our prayers be addressed to? According to Jesus, Christians should be talking to God the Father together.
My aim for the rest of this sermon is to unpack this sentence in two parts.
First, Christians should be praying to God the Father
I have chosen my words carefully.
Jesus isn’t saying that one of the great privileges and pleasures of a being a Christian is that we get to call some general God, Father.
No, the revelation from the lips of Jesus and from the rest of the Bible is that the glorious God who made us and redeemed us is a divine Trinity. God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three distinct but co-eternal and co-equal persons who have eternally existed in perfect unity.
So when Jesus tells his disciples to say, “Our Father in heaven”, he is teaching us to focus our prayers to the first person of the Trinity, to God the Father.
Can a Christian pray to any member of the Trinity? Yes. Each member of the Trinity is distinct from the others and as equally divine as the others. And so it is possible to pray to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit.
Some would argue that it is not just possible to pray to each member of the Trinity, but it is also profitable to do so.
Thomas Goodwin was a theologian who lived between 1600 and 1680 and in one of his writings (The Object and Acts of Justifying Faith) he wrote this, “Sometimes a man’s communion and converse is with the one, sometimes with the other; sometimes with the Father, then with the Son, and then with the Holy Spirit; sometimes his heart is drawn out to consider the Father’s love in choosing, and the the love of Christ in redeeming, and so again the love of the Holy Spirit, that searcheth the deep things of God, and revealeth them to us…and so a man goes from one witness to another distinctly…We should never be satisfied till all three persons lie level in us, and all make their abode with us, and we sit as it were in the midst of them, while they all manifest their love unto us.”
I think it is helpful on occasions to pray to each member of the Trinity. It is certainly profitable to contemplate their distinct work in creation and salvation, but as Christians it is necessary for us to be constrained and shaped by the pattern we find in the New Testament.
The evidence from the Lord’s Prayer and from the rest of the New Testament is that we should normally direct our prayers to God the Father.
Here is how Paul summarises our situation in Ephesians 2:18, “For through him [Jesus] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
We don’t forget the other members of the Trinity as we do this. We can only approach God the Father through the access provided by God the Son and through the enabling work of the Spirit in our hearts.
So our normal practice should be to direct our prayers to God the Father.
One implication of this truth is in regard to children. There is a temptation to teach children to pray to Jesus when they are young and then as they get older, to encourage them to pray to the Father. This sometimes happens in Christian homes and Christian creches.
I don’t think this happens because parents and creche helpers and Sunday school teachers are keen followers of Thomas Goodwin and are really keen for the children to have distinct communion with each of the divine persons. I think it happens because praying to Jesus seems a bit easier for the little ones to understand.
Don’t do it! Teach them from a young age to direct their prayers to the Father. Talk about how Jesus has died to make this possible. And speak about the Holy Spirit who lives within our hearts to help us do this very thing.
Children pick up our words and start to mimic us. Use this to our advantage and model to them Trinitarian vocabulary from their earliest days.
Their first word may not be Trinity but let’s be speaking in such a way that they start speaking to the Father, because of the work of the Son and in the power of the Spirit.
As we speak to the first person of the Trinity, Jesus says we should call him, “Father.”
This is truly staggering. We are to address the architect of creation, the author of salvation, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise and perfectly holy first member of the Trinity - well Jesus says to his followers, call him, “Dad.”
Most people in the world address President Obama using two words, “Mr President.” A few close friends might call him Barak. But only Malia and Sasha, how two daughters, get to call him, “Daddy.” They have intimate and immediate access to one of the most powerful people on the planet - and they have this privilege and pleasure because they are his children.
Do you see the wonderful implications of addressing the first member of the Trinity as Father? It declares that the followers of Jesus should now consider themselves as his children.
When anyone become’s a Christian they instantly become a citizen in the Son’s kingdom. We also will be changed by the Spirit’s power. But, according to the Bible, we are also adopted in the Father’s family.
Listen to this promise from John’s Gospel, 1:12: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
We are born as creatures, we are born again as children.
Human adoption works in different ways. Some have a desire only for a certain type of child. Others want to help the most troubled.
How does divine adoption work? It happens through our union with Christ. We are united to the eternal Son of God and so through him we are treated as sons and daughters of his Father.
Because it’s based on who Christ is and what he has done, we are secure. It’s not based on our performance. In fact, it means that the love the Father has for his Son is now the same love he has for us.
What has been your experience of your human father? Some have had good experiences. Some bad. None of us have had perfect experiences. We can’t have because all our fathers are human and sinful.
- Some of our dads were cruel.
- Some of our dads were caring but had no power.
- Some of our dads were caring but didn’t have the emotional reserves to help us.
- Some of our dads were caring and powerful but clueless about the best way to help.
All of our fathers have or had limitations.
And so as we contemplate praying to God the Father, it’s important to notice precisely how Jesus describes him in the first line of the Lord’s Prayer. Not simply “Our Father” but “Our Father in heaven.”
These two extra words make it crystal clear that God the Father is not like our human fathers. He is much better. In fact, he is perfect.
- He is infinitely powerful
- He is infinitely caring
- He is infinitely wise
- He is infinitely resourced
And this dear friends is who we have the privilege of directing our prayers towards.
Let me spell out two implications of what I’ve just said.
- First, these truths give us confidence that we will always be listened to.
You may be a bad child or an obedient child but by faith in Christ you are a child. You are loved as much as Jesus.
As we confess and ask, we will be heard eagerly by a Father who loves us passionately.
- Second, these truths give us confidence that our prayers will be answered perfectly.
God the Father has never answered your prayers in a way that was not for your good and his glory.
Good parents don’t give into the demands of their children. They always answer but their loving answer can be yes, no or not yet.
God has a perfect perspective.
Do we see ourselves as a little child in relation to him.?
How should we pray? Christians should pray to God the Father.
But, secondly, we should pray to God the Father together.
The first sentence of the Lord’s Prayer is not “Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” or “My Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
No Jesus says, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
This corporate or community reference is not a one off in the Lord’s Prayer
- Give us today our daily bread
- Forgive us our debts
- Let us not into temptation
Jesus’ vision is not for individual Christians to remain in their secret inner room praying to their Father in heaven but of brothers and sisters together praying to their perfect Father.
Or in other words, Jesus expects his followers not simply to pray or even to pray for each other but to pray with each other.
Which raises the question, how can we do it? How can we pray together? A wide range of possibilities emerges when we realise that praying together simply means praying with one or more other Christians.
This understanding opens up many possibilities. For example,
- It could be with another Christian friend
- At a house
- Or walking along the road
- After church
- On the phone
- With a Christian husband or wife
- At the end of the day or the beginning of the day or middle of the day or instead of a TV programme
- With children
What can we do in those occasions? Often it will be appropriate to say, “I’ll pray for you.” But more and more I’d like us to create a culture where we say instantly, “Can I pray for you now?”
Pray with people there and then.
For many of us this will feel like an alien thing to do. Let us embrace awkwardness until it becomes the instinctive response. Let’s get started this week!
These are just some of the possibilities.
- Home Group
- Central Meeting
- Intercessions during our services
The expectation from Jesus is that his disciples will pray together.
Why is praying together so important?
It is for our good and God’s glory.
First, praying together is for our good
Rightly understood, praying together is about the family spending quality time together. It is about brothers and sisters speaking to their Heavenly Father.
And our Heavenly Father will use these times to both increase our joy.
So when we are tempted not to pray together with other Christians then remember this is a choice about joy.
Let me be more specific, in these autumn months when the time is ticking closer to 8pm and you are tired. And you have to choose what to do with your Wednesday evening. The choice is no longer the Bake Off or Central Meeting. It will now be The Apprentice or Central Meeting. Remember it’s a choice about joy.
Let me ask you with all my heart to gather with the family as we pray to God the Father together.
It’s for our good.
Second, praying together is for God’s glory
Praying on our own is a great way to give glory to God. But praying together gives even more glory to God.
Why? Let me give you two reasons.
First, when we pray together there are more petitions and there is more praise.
Second, praying together is a visual demonstration of the wisdom of God’s salvation. Think about what it looks like for different people to not just be in the same building learning together - that’s a great example of the manifest wisdom of God. But two people praying for the same thing - wow!
So if we have a concern for the glory of God - let’s make every effort not just to pray but to pray together to God the Father.
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