An Outrageous Prayer
Posted by Ash Carter, 21 Mar 2018
Ash Carter looks at the opening line of the Lord's Prayer for our series of Lent blogposts: Believing, Living, Praying. The whole series of posts is here.
“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your Name.” (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2)
An outrageous prayer
Last year I had the privilege of reading through Mark’s gospel with some of the children from church. When we got to Mark 3:6, where we are told that “the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus,” there was uproar: “They can’t do that!” The beauty of seeing them encounter that text for the first time reminded me that sometimes familiarity makes us too comfortable with the more outrageous aspects of the Gospels.
The opening line of the Lord’s Prayer is just one such outrage.
Consider for a moment how Roman Catholics are encouraged to pray. They call on the saints and on Mary to be their intercessors with God. They know that they are unworthy to call on the great God who dwells in heaven, so they look for a more lowly mediator. But Jesus commands his people to speak directly to God.
Yet the real outrage of the prayer is how we are to address God. We are to approach him as Father. Indeed, the word has the sense of more intimacy than this. Not quite ‘Daddy,’ but not far off.
This is the relationship that Jesus has had with his Father from all eternity. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us how to live to “glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:20), and reminds us to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In fact, we are to orientate our lives so that our rewards come from our Father in heaven, and not from men (Matthew 6:1). Jesus characterises the whole Christian life as a relationship with our Father in heaven, and so it is no surprise that we should address him as our Father.
We should not rush past this without considering what it cost. It cost Jesus his perfect life, in the place of our wicked ones, as our substitute to bring us back into that relationship with the Father, by adoption.
Of course, it is helpful in our individualistic age to notice that Jesus taught each one to pray Our Father. As we saw yesterday, this is a prayer for your bedroom as much as for church, and yet it is still a corporate prayer. As the Father’s adoptive children, we share not only an intimacy with him, but also with each other. Now the burdens of one person become the burdens of all, and so we are to pray not only for ourselves but for God’s people everywhere. Whilst the Lord’s Prayer can often be mistaken for a very private affair, it has in its view the very grandest horizons.
A shocking privilege
Our Father is in heaven. This is a reminder of the greatness of our God; that he dwells in unapproachable light, and so it is a shocking privilege to be able to come to the throne of grace at will and be heard.
Heaven is the throne room of the Lord God Almighty (Isaiah 66:1). From there, the Lord of all is able to answer our prayers, no matter how impossible they may seem (Ephesians 3:20f). That our Father is in heaven is good news.
But heaven also functions in a second way in the Sermon. The kingdom of heaven is our inheritance, if we are persecuted for righteousness. Our reward is in heaven. And with superior righteousness, we can expect to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10-20). So it is throughout the Sermon. If it is about relating well to our heavenly Father whilst here on earth, it is also about keeping our eyes on our final destination.
We pray “our Father in heaven” both because that is where he is, and because it is where we are heading.
Our highest regard
The prayer then turns from addressing God to our first petition, or request. Here Jesus sets the agenda, the priorities, for all prayer. We are to pray “hallowed be your name”. In the Bible, the name stands in for the whole person, so that the way a name is honoured, to that extent the person is honoured.
Jesus teaches us that the highest priority of our prayers ought to be the honouring of God’s name. Of course, we don’t tend to use the word “hallowed” much these days. It is probably familiar to most of us only from this prayer, or from Harry Potter! But for all that, we are probably familiar with the idea. To hallow means to hold in the highest regard.
It should not surprise us that God’s honour is to be our first and highest regard. It is, after all, God’s highest regard. Ephesians 1 repeatedly tells us that God acts for the praise of his glory and his grace (v6, 12, 14). God tells Israel that he acts primarily for his name’s sake (Ezekiel 36:22). God is concerned that people see him for who he really is. That governs world history. It ought to govern our prayers.
Jesus does not limit the prayer in any way. We are to pray that God is honoured in our words and in our lives. But we more than that, he is to be honoured in the world. The triumph of God’s name throughout the world is to be our prayer.
He is our Father in heaven, and he cares for us. But he is our Father, and we must care for his honour too.
Questions for reflection
1. How does God being our Father in heaven challenge your prayers?
2. How does Jesus’ priority for the honour of God challenge your prayers?
Our Father in heaven, thank you that, through Jesus, you are are indeed our Father. Thank you for drawing me into your family. Please bring glory to yourself in me, in my family, in my church and in the world, through our thoughts, our words and deeds.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Ash Carter is the Assistant Minister at Christ Church, Earlsfield, and the Honorary Treasurer of Church Society.
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