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“Unlocking the Treasures
of the Lord's Prayer”

Part :1
"Our Awesome but Approachable God

Based on Matthew 6:5-13
Delivered on April 18 & 19, 2009
by David J. Claassen
Copyright 2009 by David J. Claassen

           In my pastoral ministry I’ve found that around a deathbed or at a funeral, people request that one of two pieces of familiar Scripture be repeated, and sometimes both.  Those two passages are the Twenty-Third Psalm and the Lord's Prayer.  We'll save the Twenty-Third Psalm for another series; for now we're starting a six-part series on the most-loved prayer: the Lord's Prayer.
            Most people don't have much Scripture committed to memory, but almost everyone can repeat the Lord's Prayer, a treasure of Scripture that we always carry with us.  It has been a comfort to countless millions of people for over 2,000 years.  That's why we want to spend some time unlocking the treasures of that prayer.
            Jesus gave this model prayer to His disciples, and it's recorded in two of the four gospels so that we can use it as a model prayer, too.  Apparently Jesus shared this prayer on at least two occasions, because the context is different in the two gospels in which we find it.  In Matthew, it's part of the Sermon on the Mount.  In Luke, Jesus teaches the prayer in response to the disciples’ request: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” (Luke 11:1)
            It's a short prayer consisting of a little more than seventy words.  Though it’s often repeated as a memorized prayer, it was really intended to be a model prayer.  We shouldn’t see it as a mantra, a verbal code to be repeated to unlock God's favor.  Instead we should see it as a reference for what prayer should be like and what prayer ought to include, and view it as a template from Jesus on which to shape our own prayers.  When we do repeat it verbatim, we should give full attention to each phrase, making it our own prayer and keeping it fresh.
            Let's begin our look at the Lord's Prayer.  Consider the opening phrase: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.” (Matthew 6: 9) 

Our Father
           
Jesus has us be personal with God right from the outset: we’re told to address God as “Our Heavenly Father.”  We aren’t addressing “The Force” (as the Star Wars mythology suggests), nor are we to refer to God as “the ground of all being” (as some theologians suggest), nor as “the man upstairs” (as popular culture often calls God).  Jesus tells us to relate to God as “Our Heavenly Father” — which is amazing.
            The idea of addressing God as “Father” was something rather unique with Jesus, not something the average Jew of Jesus' day did.  As scholar D.A. Carson stated, “The fatherhood of God is not a central theme in the Old Testament.” (The Expositor's Bible, p.169)  Referring to God as our Father was something new.
            The privilege of relating to God as our Heavenly Father is not only something that Jesus taught, it’s something that Jesus made possible!  Not just anyone can call God “Father.”  Jesus tied belief in Him to the privilege of calling God our Father.  He said to His critics, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I come from God and now am here.  I have not come on my own; but he sent me.” (John 8:42)  Jesus used the word “if.”  Jesus’ critics lacked a relationship with God as their Heavenly Father; otherwise they would accept Jesus as God’s Son.  God is our Heavenly Father when we accept Jesus as His Son.  According to D.A. Carson, the early church forbade non-Christians to say the Lord's Prayer as much as they forbade them to take Communion.  We can relate to God as our Heavenly Father because we've accepted His Son.
            There’s nothing more wonderful than to be able to call the infinite God of the universe your Father!  However, we need to have accepted His Son in order to have that privilege.  We’re “adopted as his sons [or daughters] through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5), as the inspired apostle Paul put it.
            Have you ever turned your life over to Jesus Christ, making Him your Savior (forgiver of your sins) and Lord (leader of your life)?  A simple, heartfelt prayer of your own making or one like the following will allow Him to establish that relationship with you.  “Dear Jesus, I want you to be my savior.  Forgive my sins, cleanse me now and forever.  I give my life to You.  I want you to be my Lord.  Amen.”

            Calling God “Father” makes prayer personal.  As Eugene Peterson wrote, to address God as “Father” is to “defend against the subtle but insidious depersonalization of prayer,” keeping it, as Peterson puts it, from being “an impersonal technique.” (Tell It Slant, p.167)  Relating to God as “Father” keeps us from approaching Him as a divine vending machine.  God wants to be much more to us than just a supplier of our needs.  He has a Father's heart for us!
            Being a father, and now a father of adult children, helps me to understand the Heavenly Father's heart.  I remember visiting our daughter Julie and her family in
Mexico last year.  There had been a terrible lightning storm just before we arrived, and it ruined Julie's laptop computer.  She had a tremendous amount of valuable data about their ministry in that laptop.  We tried everything, but it wouldn't boot up.  I remember her sitting across the living room, realizing that it was a lost cause, and breaking down, weeping.  I went over to her and put my arm around her; my heart went out to her beyond words.  I brought the computer back to the United States and had someone put the hard drive in an external case and retrieve the data.  Then I got a new laptop for her, installed the programs, and took it to her on our next trip.  It gave me a profound sense of gratification as her father to be there for her.
            Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)  When you have God as your Heavenly Father you can approach prayer knowing that He’s all for you!  He has a father's heart for you, more so than any earthly father could ever have.  That reality can transform the way you look at prayer!  

Holy in Heaven
           
There’s something about our Heavenly Father that we mustn’t overlook if our prayers to Him are going to be all they can be.  He isn’t just our “Father”; He’s “Our Father which art in heaven.”  He isn’t an earthbound father; He’s our Heavenly Father.  We’re supposed to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”  His name is to be considered hallowed, or holy.  He is to be honored, glorified, and magnified above all else and anyone else.
            Hallowing God's name helps to keep us from making God into our helpful buddy or turning Him into a comfortable, non-threatening image.  The Old Testament Jews had a grasp of this.  God had revealed Himself as “I am who I am” (Exodus
3:14) to Moses.  That became a name for God, often expressed as “Jehovah” or “Yahweh,” but around 300 BC the Jews stopped pronouncing it out loud, and substituted the word “Lord” wherever that name for God appeared.  Most translations, including the NIV, have two names for God in the Old Testament.  When “God” is used, it's the Hebrew name “Elohim”; when “Lord” is used, it's the substitute for the name for God that they didn't want to pronounce.  That's how holy they considered God to be.  We can call God “Father,” but He’s also holy and heavenly!
            Would we want it any other way?  If God were no bigger or better than our biggest and best thoughts of Him, we'd be in trouble!  Being “holy” means being totally “other” than everything else: in a separate class and totally transcendent.  Don't try to figure Him out, and don't try to make Him a super buddy!
            I felt close to my dad when I was growing up and I loved him dearly, but we were never buddies!  An earthly father is deserving of respect and honor; how much more, then, should we relate to our Heavenly Father with the utmost respect, honor, glory, and praise? 

A Balanced Relationship
           
One of the most special offices in the world is the Oval Office in the White House, and one of the most special desks is the President's desk in that office.  An engaging picture of the President’s desk was taken during John F. Kennedy's presidency.  It's an image of the President at his desk.  He’s arguably the most powerful man in the world, unapproachable by almost everyone (just try to get into the White House to see the president!), but there, playing under his desk, is a little boy!  Why is a boy allowed to play at the feet of the President of the United States?  The boy is John-John, the president's son!
            Now we see pictures of two little girls playing with their dog on the White House lawn and hugging the President of the
United States.  How are they able to do that?  They’re the daughters of the President of the United States!
            This is the kind of relationship we’re meant to have with God.  He’s holy and heavenly, supremely above and beyond anything and everything else, yet through His Son Jesus He invites us to be His sons and daughters, too!  He invites us to call Him “Our Heavenly Father”!
            When we pray to God we should keep both aspects in mind.  He’s “Our Father,” which brings us to familiar ground, because we know what a father is — and even what an ideal father would be like.  Calling Him “Our Father which art in Heaven” takes us beyond what we know, because we know little about heaven — just that it’s beyond anything we can imagine.  God is like that.
            “Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed by thy name, . . .”  When we pray that we’re attempting to grasp two amazing and contrasting ideas of God at the same time — and that’s very, very good!  It’s amazing that the great, awesome, and infinitely holy God of the universe wants us to call Him “Father”!  Prayer will be good when we remember these twin realities about God: He’s an awesome God and an approachable Father!


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