Our Father in Heaven – Matthew 6:9

The pattern Jesus offers is traditionally called The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus does not commanded his disciples to repeat these words; rather he gives this as a pattern for prayer. The words are your own, but typically these are the sorts of things part of regular prayer. It cannot be emphasized enough: this is a pattern for prayer, not a list to be memorized and repeated. Nor is the Lord’s Prayer a complete “theology of prayer.” This pattern differs somewhat from the Psalms and it differs from other prayers of Jesus in the Gospels. Paul’s letters almost always begin with prayers which do not follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus is simply offering his disciples direction to avoid the babbling of the hypocrites (whether Pharisees or pagans).

The first line of the prayer focuses the prayer on God and God alone. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To address God as father is both consistent with Jewish prayers of the first century and radical at the same time. There are many of examples of Jewish prayers which address God as father, although for the most part they are prayers which describe God as father of Israel, or the creator, “Father of All,” not a personal, yet divine “father” figure.

The basis for this in the prayer of Jesus is that Jesus creates a new family consisting of his disciples, a family which persists into the present age as well. Paul uses family language to describe our new relationship in faith, we are brothers and sisters to each other, we are co-heirs with Christ, sharing the same father who is in heaven (Romans 8).

For Paul, this means that regardless of our real family (or lack thereof), we have a new family which has bonds running deeper than a physical family. This is the radical element in Jesus’ prayer – the sovereign God of heaven can be addressed as father, we are within our rights to call him father, and it is something which we are expected to do.

This prayer is God-centered, beginning with worshiping God for who he is. Hallowed means “holy, revered” or perhaps even “blessed.” This is quite consistent with the Psalms which often “bless the name of God” and the Jewish expression after referring to God, “may his name be blessed.” This is a brief adoration of God and a statement that we revere his name – this can and ought to be expanded! A prayer intentionally focused on God will begin by worshiping God for who he is.

This is where good theology enhances prayer and worship. The more one studies the attributes of God, for example, the more one can worship God in prayer because of his holiness, his justice, or his mercy. What we learn in a class room or Bible study ought to inform our prayer life and our worship. I have occasionally joked about this, but I am quite serious about it here. It may not be the case that after lecturing on the arguments for God’s existence, I lead the class in worship, perhaps raising our hands in worship and reciting the ontological argument for God’s existence. But the more we come to know God, the more we are able to focus out prayer on who is actually is (as opposed to our immature mental image of who he is).

Unlike this clear focus on God in prayer, popular Christian prayers tend to pray focus on the needs of the person praying. Anyone who has gone to an evangelical “prayer meeting” can attest to the self-centeredness of the “prayer request time.” This is not wrong; Paul tells his readers to bring their requests to God (Phil 4:6-7).

The opening to the Lord’s Prayer focuses prayer on God’s will to be done in this world. For many Christians tagging “if it be your will” on to a prayer allows some wiggle room in case their prayer goes unanswered. But that is not Jesus’s point here. Since the prayer calls for God’s kingdom to come,

Does Jesus say we are to pray for God’s will as if it is the complete opposite of “our will”? It is possible to think that God’s will is for us to all be missionaries in Africa, and that to not be a missionary is somehow out of God’s will. This is absolutely not the case.

God’s will is for us to respond properly as his dearly loved children, with obedience and respect, to love him and to live out our lives as a dearly loved child of God. Jesus is the ultimate model of submission to the Father’s will. Even at the time of the crucifixion, he prayed “not my will but thine” (Matt 26:39). This prayer does not imply that Jesus will was to not die on the cross, and that he was grudgingly submitting to the will of the Father. The will of Jesus and the will of the Father are the exact same thing in this case.

If we are praying for the will of God to be done, then we will want to know what God’s will is and we commit ourselves to doing that will. Knowing and committing are really two different things, since knowing God’s will is fairly easy; doing God’s will is much more difficult. Beginning our prayer with a clear focus on who God is and what God’s will is a daily commitment (or re-commitment) to being what we are, children of God.

For some Christians, there is a serious problem using father terminology. It may appear patriarchal, implying Gods is a “big man in heaven” everyone must obey. Not everyone particularly likes their human father and in far too many cases the metaphor of “God as Father” evokes horrible images for people who have been hurt by their earthly father. How do we make this work in the modern world?

16 thoughts on “Our Father in Heaven – Matthew 6:9

  1. Through the Lord’s Prayer, it applies God as father. Which many individuals view God as, their Heavenly Father. He is the father figure that leads us to a path that shows us light and direction. Jesus created us as a family and we all have roles in this relationship. We have multiple brothers and sisters in Christ because of our Father in heaven. Through Christ, we all have a new relationship with one another and we are connected on more of a personal level. When we use the Lord’s Prayer, we worship God for who he truly is! The more we know who God is the, the more we are able to control our prayers and have more meaning behind the concepts that we are bring to God. It is always important to know that God’s will will be done during his timing and not our own and we have to keep that in mind when we bring our requests to Him. We are to respond to him with love and respect! No matter what God’s will is for us, we will be obedient and fulfill his will because his will is greater than ours.

    • Hello Miranda,everything you said was well written. God is our heavenly father and we can go to him to make a better connection with him and to learn more about him. We are all a family and with God as our father we are all connected in an amazing way. I like what you said about how if we know more about God the more we know how to control our prayers. Our prayers need to be focused on God and by knowing him more, we can accomplish that. I agree with you also that we need to let the will of God take over. It can be hard at times to be patient and wait for God to respond, but it is his will and that is for a reason.

  2. I’m not sure I agree entirely with your assertion Jesus intends this as a pattern rather than a form of words. First, there is sufficient variation between Matthew and Luke to suggest either that it is a very loose pattern, or that we can’t be quite that certain about what Jesus himself said. Second, Luke’s introduction comes much closer to implying a form of words than Matthew’s does, and Matthew’s “thus” is ambiguous. What people read into it – pattern, set form of words, or both – seems to me to owe more to the theological presuppositions of the reader, than to the actual words in the text.

    • Hello Doug, what I meant by pattern was “pray stuff like this.” I didn’t mean to imply that he wanted his followers to pray these exact words.

      Maybe each line could be thought of as a potential section of a prayer, maybe “ when you pray, pray about these sorts of things.”

      • Thanks for the quick reply, Phil. I appreciate your point, I’m just not sure that the text (or the diversity between Matthew and Luke, with the Didache thrown in for good measure) allows us to be sure whether Jesus’ intention was “pray this” or “pray stuff like this” or even “pray this and stuff like it”.

  3. Many individuals view God as their father, but as you mentioned many people see their earthly father and say “wow if God is anything like that, then I do not want him around”. Which is hard to explain that God is nothing like our earthly fathers, to a modern society. People do not believe something unless they see it done, and I believe that is why Prayer is not as common, and if we do pray it is all about what we want to be done in our lives. Which should not be the case, we should worship God in our prayers and thank him for what he has done in our lives. Granted everyone prays differently, but it should all be the same concept which is, to praise God and to be in constant communication with him. “Prayer is not informing God of something unknown but drawing oneself in the divine life of the Trinity and into the very mission of God in this world- this God loves us and invites us into his presence with our petitions”.(McKnight,173) God knows the desires of our hearts, he doesn’t want us to pray to him because he doesn’t know what is going on in our lives, he wants us to come to him to be in his presence and know that he loves us no matter where we are at in life. He just wants us to have a relationship with him and many people do not know how to do that. To explain that to a modern society is difficult because they do not know what that means and when we try to explain it we may even confuse them even more.

    • It is weird to think that people view God as something negative, because I view God as something far far from negative. I do agree, that most people fall to having selfish prayers, asking great things to happen in their life and seeking things that will benefit themselves. When we pray we seek God more intimately and use that as a source of communication with him! God already knows your needs and wants before you even bring them to him, so the purpose of prayer is develop that relationship with him.

  4. Prayer is a very important action that brings us closer to God. It is our way of talking to him and telling him whatever we want and going to him as a father. Looking at the Lord’s Prayer gives us a good view on how our prayers are to be focused on God rather than focused on ourselves. A lot of the time we tend to make it all about us, when we should be giving the glory to God and asking for his will to be done. Prayer can be hard for some people, because what we are asking for may not happen right away. We need to remember that what God wants for us will come when he says so. It is his will, not our own. Prayer is also another form of worship. Giving God the praises and the glory about what he has done for us. McKnight talks about how when we pray are are entering and his world and being in Gods presences (McKnight, pg. 173). Prayer is powerful and we should be in the presence of God continuously. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

  5. It is important to note that Jesus shared the Lord’s prayer to his disciples for the purpose of it being used as a model of how to make our prayers less selfish and more focused on the Lord. The Pharisees were all about religion, not so much about relationship. In Matthew 23:27-28 Jesus says to them, “woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” We so easily become like the Pharisees, especially in our prayer life. Instead of digging deep into the idols of our hearts, we just assume that we have it all under control or that our sin really isn’t that bad. Ultimately, we are missing an amazing opportunity for intimacy in prayer with our Abba Father. We are given an invitation of connection through our prayers, which then reveals our hearts. Prayer is not about showing off to God or to others and acting like we are righteous. Rather, we are told in Matthew 6:6, “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.” It is about coming before the Lord, recognizing His significance and being in awe that He is on the throne, and humbling ourselves at His feet. Once we realize that our righteousness is solely because of Jesus we can more clearly see our need for God on a daily basis. We don’t have enough grace for ourselves or for others, but God freely gives an exceeding amount of grace for today. God desires to communicate with us and He wants to be involved in all the small details of our lives. It is up to us whether or not we will accept His invitation.

    • I enjoyed reading your comments on this blog post. I think you make some very good points and have a good interpretation of what was taking place in this story. I feel like prayers have become very selfish for Christians in today’s society. It can become easy to ask of this and that from God, i.e. “Lord help me with…”, “God I really need…”, “Please allow me to get…”. While God wants us to bring our requests to Him, I also believe that it is important to focus on the will of God, rather than the will of Nick. Taking out the selfish nature of our prayers is what God intends for us to do. I believe this is what Dr. Long was trying to say in his opening paragraph. We should follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer and use it in our own prayer lives. Just as you say, we should be “more focused on the Lord” in our prayers. This will create a more intimate prayer life for us with the God of the universe!

  6. First of all, I think it is just so cool that we can take a single phrase that Jesus says and talk about it for pages on pages, and days and days. This just reminds me about how knowledgeable the God that I serve really is, in saying that I really liked how you were talking about how people often pray for themselves in their prayer. I have often thought while I pray that it is not really good to ask God for things for yourself, and as I have been growing in my faith I have realized that God is like my father or my parent, and God wants to know my needs, and he wants me to call on him to get it done. I love that about our Lord, that he wants to be there for me and that is something that I am still learning how to do, is call on him, for each and everything in my life.

  7. “This then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name (Matthew 6:9).” What does this mean? I can tell you what it doesn’t mean, we don’t need to pray this exact prayer every time we pray to God. “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words (Matt. 6:7).” But when you ask God for something be honest and ask whole heartedly. “That theology empowers him to teach his followers to approach God in confidence (McKnight pg. 173).” When it comes to the question of how do we deal with the Father terminology? I don’t have an answer for. I was lucky enough to have a good Dad who never hurt me or abused me so I thank God for that, because I know a lot of other people who were not as fortunate as I was. But I can relate to those people in a way not exactly. My grandpa on my mom’s side is an abusive alcoholic who was very abusive to me over the years. The problem with the terminology is not the word Father but rather the negative memories for some people who associate those memories with the word father. When it comes to this I think we have to show those people who were hurt by their earthly fathers that God the heavenly Father is not the same as their fathers.

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