“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9)

The words quoted above introduce the most famous of all Christian prayers, the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples as a model prayer, a prayer not simply to be prayed but also to be used as a guideline to shape our prayers. 

As with all Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer, as it has come to be known, should be read in context and that context is very striking indeed. Jesus’ begins his teaching about prayer by telling his disciples how not to pray. First, we should avoid the hypocrisy that sees prayer more as a display of our own piety than a humble conversation with God. We must never pray in order to be seen and praised by others! (Matthew 6:5-6) Second, we should avoid the superstition that imagines that we can somehow control or manipulate God through our words or techniques. To pray in that way is to be no better than a pagan (Matthew 6:7-8). Third, we should avoid a mystical view of prayer in which prayer becomes listening to God rather than speaking to God. God’s speaks to us not in our prayer but by His Word the Bible. It is of course good to listen to the Word with a humble, receptive heart and to turn God’s Word in the Bible into prayer. As with the Lord’s Prayer, our prayers should be shaped by all that the Bible says. But we should never confuse our speaking to God (prayer) with listening to God (reading the Bible).

How then should we pray? And it here that the opening words of the Lord’s prayer are so revolutionary and encouraging. Firstly, we should pray in the full confidence that if we have put our trust in Jesus Christ, God is indeed not simply a Father, but our Father! In Christ we are kept in a true and deep relationship with God. Hostilities and estrangement caused by our sin are now at an end since Christ has made peace between us and God (Ephesians 2:11-18). Thus, whenever we pray, we come to God as our Father knowing that, because of Jesus, He always hears us and, in Christ, He will grant everything good that is in accordance with His will (1 John 5:14-15). Secondly, we should pray in the full confidence that the God to whom we pray is our Father in heaven. The phrase ‘in heaven’ reminds us of the wisdom, sovereignty and power of God. It reminds us that God knows what is best for us since He created us. It reminds us that God knows what is best for us since He knows all things, including the future. More than that it reminds us that God not only knows all things, but that He controls all things, even the smallest details of our lives. Thus, as our Father in heaven, God works for our eternal good in all things, even in the midst of human evil and the trials of a fallen world (Romans 8:26-30).  

By teaching us that our Heavenly Father is both able and willing to answer our prayers, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to pray. But more than that, it teaches us that we can and must pray! So often the evil one reminds us of our sins and failures and our hearts condemn us. But God in Christ is greater than our hearts! (1 John 3:20). We need to remember that because Jesus has paid the full price for our sins and now intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand, we may indeed approach God’s throne of grace with confidence to find mercy and help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). No matter how often or how much we have failed or fallen, we should always keep coming back to our Heavenly Father in prayer. This is not to be a hypocrite, but to believe the gospel. Satan the accuser wants to keep us away from God. Jesus our Lord and Saviour wants to lead us back to God our Father. Like the prodigal son, we need to remember that the best place to be is in our Father’s house, not as unworthy servants, but as blood bought children. Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of His Son and the gift of prayer.