Perhaps the very best request one of the disciples ever made was to ask, Lord teach us to pray. Jesus’ prayer is magnificent. It is concise, yet broad in scope. It has depth. It reflects due humility and raises justifiable expectations. It honours God, while addressing human need. “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” ’” (Luke 11:2–4) From our modern perspective we might compare the Lord’s prayer in Luke with the version in Matthew and ask, why are they different? We must remember that Jesus was an itinerant preacher who very likely shared the same teaching with slight variations in different locations. Biblical scholars are rigorous, and you will often find footnotes in the bible indicating alternate wording or variations in the ancient manuscripts. When you look into this, these minor discrepancies don’t change the meaning of what we read, and it can give us greater confidence that we have the original words and original meaning of the scriptures.
Calling God Father makes this a very relational prayer. Seen from one perspective this names and defines who God is, who we are praying to. But of considerable importance it also indicates who we are - children of God. As Jesus gives us permission to address God Almighty as Father, he is inviting us into a prayerful relationship with God. We have no innate right to step into the presence of God on our own merit. As Christians we are so used to free access, we tend to forget what a privilege it is and at what great cost it was given to us. We can approach God in prayer because Jesus died to cleanse us from our sin and because he grants us his righteousness.
We need to be careful when calling God Abba, Father. Some years ago it was popularised that the Aramaic word Abba (Father) was a babbly baby word, dada or daddy, that an infant might use to address their father. This has been shown to be incorrect. In Jesus’ day the word Abba was used in other ways, even at times for a respected uncle. It is not a simplistic word, the first sounds of a baby, but a word used by a child who is old enough to know the love of a father and to be respectful of that relationship. Abba is best thought of as a relational word of intimate respect.
Jesus both began and ended his teaching on prayer using the word Father. He highlighted the natural fatherly care in a family, and asked if our heavenly Father would do less than this. He makes clear God gives us the good gift of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 11:11–13). Doing this Jesus raises the expectations of those who pray to the Father. God is not a prankster playing nasty tricks on people, rather we can trust him to give good gifts. As James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
We began this series with the idea that Prayer is a journey towards: The heart of the Father, The likeness of the Son and The fulness of the Holy Spirit. This passage encapsulates this journey. When Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer he opened with an address to God as Father, and ends by identifying the good gift given by the Father as the person of the Holy Spirit. In this small section of teaching we see how prayer is a journey to the heart of the Father, the likeness of the Son and the fulness of the Holy Spirit. If prayer is such a journey, then it is incredibly important and must have a high priority in each of our lives. Timothy Keller wrote about prayer: Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change—the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life. We must learn to pray. We have to.
- Why do you think many people find it hard to pray aloud in the company of others?
- Do you remember the first prayer meeting you attended or when you began praying aloud?
- What do we learn about prayer from Matthew 18:20 and Acts 1:14? Do you find anything surprising in these verses?
- What do you make of the differences between the versions of the Lord’s prayer found in Luke 11:2–4 and Matt 6.9? How might you explain these differences to a new believer.
- What does it mean to you that when you pray you can address God as Father?
- What is the nature or type of answer God gives to our prayers Luke 11:11–13 & James 1:17?
- What do you make of Timothy Kellers comment that prayer is …the way we finally treat God as God? Are there any other concepts from this quote which interest or puzzle you?
Rev John Malcolm