Yesterday we talked about the way textual criticism helps us to understand the Lord's Prayer. For example, should we pray "Father," or should we pray "Our Father in heaven"? Now, if the latter is the original text, then there are three things to say.
First, Jesus is teaching us to address God as "Father." Clearly this term emphasizes the character of God as perfect love. The term "Father" implies that the God we pray to is a compassionate God. God is just as much a Father as our earthly fathers were, in fact more so. He never disappoints; he is never too harsh on the one hand or too indulgent on the other.
But secondly, if the original text indeed reads "Our Father in heaven," then we realize that the one we address in prayer is not only compassionate but all-powerful. "In heaven" denotes not so much where God abides but the authority and power he possesses as Creator and Ruler of all. That is, God's fatherly love is combined with his heavenly power, so that when his love directs us to take a certain course of action, his power is what enables us to perform it.
Thirdly, the word "Our" is not to be overlooked. We Christians are part of a family of believers. Of course, we may always approach the Father individually. But we may never approach him as individualists, for since God is our Father, he is concerned with the welfare of all his children. In a previous blog post I linked to a powerful sermon by Haddon Robinson on Luke 11:1-4 in which he said (my paraphrase), "When we pray 'Give us this day our daily bread,' we are not only praying for ourselves. So if God should give me two loaves, I should not take that to mean that I have one loaf to eat and another to save. No, if we truly pray that God would provide for our daily bread, then if he gives me two loaves, and our brother or sister has none, then one is for eating and the other is for sharing."
Thus Jesus is always calling his followers to remember three things when they begin to pray. He emphasizes that God is not only ultimate love but ultimate power, and that when we pray we are to think of others as much as we think of ourselves. With God's help, I can learn to bring all my needs and cares to this one who loves me, helps me, and enables me to bless others in his name.