Many Christians are asked the question, What makes Christianity unique? What makes it different from any other religion? The answer can be found in the first two words of the prayer Jesus teaches His disciples to pray in Luke 11: Our Father. No other religion can claim such an intimate, personal communion between God and the worshipper. No other religion calls God their father. As Jesus teaches them—and us—to pray, there are some perspective-changing, life-orienting truths to learn from these two words: Our Father.
On November 19, 1863, the country was reeling from the Civil War.
When the military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was dedicated, two men were invited to speak. Press agents from around the country, and from other countries were on hand to record this moment in history.
One of invited speakers was Edward Everett, a renowned statesman whose career had included serving as a senator, as Secretary of State, as Governor of Massachusetts and as the president of Harvard University. He was considered one of the most brilliant orators of his generation.
He stood to speak to a vast audience of American citizens there at the field of Gettysburg. He held the audience spellbound as he delivered a nearly two-hour speech; it was interrupted periodically by cheering and thunderous applause.
When he finished, and the applause died down, it was time for the second speaker – the President of the United States.
A tall, gaunt, weary, Abraham Lincoln walked to the podium, adjusted his steel framed glasses and then delivered his speech which lasted for 2 minutes. When he turned and sat down, a member of the Philadelphia Press Corp leaned over and whispered, “Is that all?” He replied, “That is all.”
The newspapers around the country and overseas printed Edward Everett’s entire speech and attacked Lincoln for his.
- The Harrisburg Patriot called Lincoln’s address “silly remarks”.
- The New York World accused Lincoln of “gross ignorance and willful misstatement”.
- The Chicago Times wrote that – quote – “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads these dishwatery utterances.”
- The London Times wrote that “the ceremony at Gettysburg was rendered ludicrous by the “speech” of that poor president – Abraham Lincoln.”
Today, centuries later, none of us can quote one word from Everett’s 2-hour speech. But most of us know something of Abraham Lincoln’s 2-minute speech, that “our nation was conceived in Liberty … dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
His speech became a national treasure.
I found it interesting, though little known to the public at the time, Lincoln received a note from Everett soon after, which read, “I wish that I could flatter myself to have come as near to the central idea of the occasion – in two hours, as you did – in two minutes.” (“Gettysburg Address” Microsoft ® Encarta (1994 Funk & Wagnall))
I thought of that event as we began last Lord’s Day to uncover this inspired instruction manual on prayer; and the shocking news to this world – and to ours today – that you can effectively reach into heaven, in two minutes or less.
Now in these days, as we learned, the disciples had grown up in a world where just about everything they knew about prayer was wrong; whether they picked it up from their secular culture or from their own religious leaders.
They had been ingrained to believe several misconceptions about prayer that were prevalent in the first century:
• first, the more you repeat your prayer, the more likely God is to answer;
• second, the longer you pray the more likely God will pay attention and,
• third, the more details you give God, the more likely He’ll know how to respond.
We listened in as Jesus Christ clearly and unapologetically said to His disciples, “That’s how unbelievers think – that’s how the pagans pray; that’s how the circus of religion prays as they put on a show.”
No wonder the disciples asked in Luke chapter 11, “Lord, would you teach us how to pray.”
In fact, if you’ll turn back to that passage in Luke’s Gospel, the disciples make their request in what Greek students understand to be an aorist imperative. There’s a sense of urgency to their request. (Darrell L. Bock, Luke: Volume 2 (Baker Academic, 1996), p. 1050)
One of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1b
You can understand them to be asking – literally – “Lord, teach us now to pray”. We can’t wait any longer to learn how to pray like You pray.
Evidently here in verse 1 the Lord’s disciples were aware that the prophet John the Baptizer was praying authentic prayers – although the Bible doesn’t record for us what they were. He was obviously leading his disciples into a practice of genuine prayer.
Now, it’s time for Jesus to pull over and teach His disciples – and us – and this will be recorded in scripture – how to pray.
And keep in mind beloved, that this is not the Lord’s prayer – this is the disciples’ prayer.
In fact, the Lord would never pray some of this prayer – He would never need to ask the Father to forgive Him for sinning. (Warren W. Wiersbe, Luke: Be Compassionate (Victor Books, 1989), p. 122)
This prayer is a pattern for you and me, as His disciples.
This is genuine praying – this is a pattern for reaching heaven – communicating with the heart of God – in a matter of moments.
If I could break this prayer into principles, and I’ve broken it down into 7 principles – and we’re only gonna get to the first 2 today – we’ll come back and pick it up after the summer series.
The first principle would be this:
1. Genuine Prayer Recognizes our Divine Audience.
Notice how the prayer begins now in verse 2:
Father . . . Luke 11:2a
Stop there – not so fast – that invocation would be a shocking introduction to this pattern of genuine prayer.
Pater in Greek; Abba in Aramaic; Padre in Spanish (my two years in Spanish really coming through for me); Baba, in simplified Chinese; Vata in German; Father in English.
No matter what language you speak, this is really the most simple, yet profound introduction which Jesus encourages.
This is new. God was referred to as Father only 7 times in the Old Testament and even then it was a national reference and not a personal reference.
The world of Jesus – both in Judaism and in Rome – knew nothing about this kind of intimate, confidence, loving paternal relationship.
In fact, during the days of Christ, the Greek and Roman gods were believed to be touchy and sensitive about how someone addressed them. A person had to be careful not to offend them by addressing them the wrong way.
David E. Garland, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Luke (Zondervan, 2011), p. 461
But here, we can begin to address the true and living God with a simple Father.
This is a stunning invitation to transparent communion with God; but it’s also a qualifier.
Everything in this prayer is hinged to the fact that God is your Heavenly Father.
Which means you can’t even begin to pray and expect God’s attention until you’ve come to Him for His redemption.
In other words, you can’t call Him your Father until you call His Son your Savior.
Suppose I got a letter this week in the mail. The envelope is addressed to Pastor Stephen Davey; on the upper left-hand corner is a return address with a name I don’t recognize and an address I don’t recognize. It doesn’t look like an advertisement – it looks personal – so I open it.
Inside is a handwritten letter that begins with the words, “Dear Dad” . . . I look down at the bottom of the letter and it’s signed, “Your son, Charlie”.
I’m immediately suspicious. But it’s addressed to me, it begins with “Dear Dad” – so I read on:
Dear Dad, my school bill for the coming fall semester is due in two weeks. I don’t have the money . . . so please send me $5,000 dollars as soon as you can. Thanks so much – and by the way – you’re the greatest Dad ever.
Now, I’d like to help him out – he thinks I’m a great dad – that oughtta be worth at least $20 dollars. The trouble is, I don’t have a son named Charlie. And he’s not my responsibility.
So I’m gonna toss the letter in the trashcan – why? Because I’m a grouchy old Dad? Yes. I mean, no . . . I’m gonna throw it away because the request is based on a relationship that does not exist.
Whoever Charlie is, he wrote to the wrong Dad . . . he’s not my son.
You need to understand that this entire prayer – in fact the entire issue of prayer – is based on a personal relationship with God.
You have to be one of His children. He has to become your Father! How does that happen? When His Son Jesus becomes your Savior.
Jesus said in John 14:6 that “No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s not just a reference to getting into Heaven although that’s the primary application in that context.
But in a broader context, there’s only you can get through to the Father, and that’s through Jesus, whom the Bible calls, the only mediator between God and man, earth and heaven (1 Timothy 2:5).
So let me put it this way: you can’t get into Heaven without God the Son; and you can’t get in touch with Heaven without God the Son.
But when God the Son becomes your personal Savior, God the Father becomes your personal Father.
The Bible says in John 1:12,
But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12
1 John 3 and verse 1 says:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. I John 3:1
Galatians 3:26 says:
For you are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26 (KJV)
So praying is effectively claiming the right as a family member to begin a conversation with God as your Father.
Now over in Matthew’s account, Jesus added the addendum to Father by adding to our understanding of our divine audience, the words;
“Our Father in Heaven”
Or as we might have memorized it
“Our Father who art in heaven”
I love way the little boy got it wrong, but got it right, when he said, “Our Father who does art in the heavens.” And He certainly does incredible art in the heavens.
Our Father in Heaven. The Lord emphasizes the fact that His disciples get the right address.
And that address by the way is critically important because there happens to be a Father representing the family members of Heaven and there is a Father representing the family members of Hell.
And they both happen to be in the practice of answering their children’s prayers.
Jesus stunned the Pharisees – who were leading the three-ring circus of religious practices – all for the praise of people in their world; they were hypocrites who cared nothing for God but everything about themselves.
And Jesus pulled off their religious mask – their costumes made of religious fig leaves – and let me tell you, they weren’t happy about being exposed.
They end up having this contentious conversation with Jesus, recorded in John’s Gospel, chapter 8:
They said to Him, “We were not born of sexual immorality.”
In other word, the religious leaders were attempting to discredit the testimony of Jesus by bringing up an ongoing accusation that Mary was single when she conceived Jesus and thus immoral. They denied any testimony of a virgin birth. Let’s read on;
We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and I am here . . . you are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Imagine telling the religious leaders of his day that while they thought their Father was God, that they belonged to the Father of Heaven, Jesus says that in reality, they belong to the father Hell – their true father was Satan.
Which means, the prayers they loved to pray – which they thought God answered, Satan answered.
But wait a minute. Does Satan really answer the prayers of his people – would he answer their prayers to deceive them into believing they belong to God when they don’t?
Absolutely . . . he’s doing it to this day. In fact, one of Satan’s favorite deceptions is to give someone some kind of religious experience or religious epiphany or religious feeling and then use it to deceive them into thinking that it came from God and that they were now right with God, no matter what they thought the Bible or of Jesus or the gospel.
I remember reading the testimony of a man who didn’t believe in Christ, but he talked about being out at the lake one day and he had been overwhelmed with a sense of joy and peace and warmth and he just knew it came from God; and so he was obviously right with God even though he didn’t believe what anybody tried to tell him about the gospel.
Let me show you a group of dynamic people who even represented Jesus – who mesmerized audiences and held people in the palm of their hand. Jesus takes us into the final courtroom scene where all the unbelieving world is being judged. But some of them protest their verdict.
Jesus prophecies of that coming judgment in Matthew 7:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father – get this – who is in heaven.
On that day (of judgment) many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name? And then will I declare to them “I never knew you…”
These individuals prophesied in the name of Jesus – prophesying can refer not only to foretelling, but forth-telling – telling forth the word of God in a powerful dynamic manner, but their power had deceived them for it was from Satan.
The cast out demons – imagine they had a reputation as being power players in the kingdom, over the demonic world are related to the Prince of demons who allowed them power over demons only to deceive them;
They performed works of power – dunamis – which can be translated miracles. They succeeded in performing miracles of all kinds – they held sway over thousands of people – yet they were self-deceived children in Satan’s family instead of God’s.
By the way, Jesus never denies their prophetic ministry, their miracle working power. And more chilling is the fact that Jesus doesn’t deny here that they did it in His name – they did. But Jesus simply says, I never knew you.
You weren’t a member of my family. You were simply part of the three-ring circus – performing spiritual acts that brought applause and approval which you secretly longed for – it was not for God’s glory but for your own.
Jesus says, “When you pray, make sure you are related to your Father in Heaven – and how can you be sure?
Well, let me tell you, a hypocrite will never give his life to the Lord – he’ll never really care about God in his heart of hearts. He’ll never long to be with God in Heaven, in fact, he will only truly care about getting everything out of earth.
And let me tell you – hypocrites will not be interested in praying this kind of prayer.
• They will not confess that they are a sinner and need forgiveness;
• they will not be interested in the will of God being done on earth;
• they couldn’t care less about the kingdom of God;
• and they certainly aren’t interested in avoiding temptation to sin.
So when you pray . . . you’re not gonna reach heaven unless you get this opening phrase correct – Father in Heaven.
That leads me to my second principle for today:
1. Genuine prayer not only recognizes our Divine audience but secondly;
2. Genuine prayer reverences God’s Divine attributes
Saying “Father in heaven” isn’t just about His address; it’s about His attributes.
Matthew writes literally, “Our Father in the heavens”; this refers to God the Father’s elevation above all creation.
Listen to the way the psalmist exalted God as sovereign above creation:
The Lord looks down from Heaven;
He sees all the children of man;
from where He sits enthroned He looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
He who fashions the hearts of them all
and observes all their deeds.
This is a reference to His divine attributes – that He is above and separate – He is sovereign and majestic – He is just and righteous and merciful.
Listen to this quote from Donald McCullough who writes:
“Visit a church on Sunday morning – almost any will do – and you will likely find a congregation comfortable relating to a deity who fits nicely with its positions, who conforms to individual spiritual experiences. But you will not likely find much awe or sense of mystery. The only sweaty palms will be those of the preacher unsure whether the sermon will go over; the only shaking knees will be those of the soloist about to sing. Yet the New Testament warns us, “Offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.” But today, the consuming fire has been turned into a candle with no heat, no blinding light, no power for purification. And that’s because we prefer the illusion of a safer God, so we have whittled God down to a manageable size. It may well be revealed that the worst sin of the church [in this generation] is the trivialization of God.” (Adapted from Donald McCullough, The Trivialization of God (NavPress 1995), p. 13)
Jesus is making it clear – genuine prayer elevates God the Father – it sets the Father in His proper place.
You see, it’s gonna be a lot harder to pray to Him as if he were a doting grandfather who just can’t say no or a genie in a bottle who lives to make all your wishes come true.
No, God is on His throne and we are at His feet. Which is why the Lord is going to teach us later on here that praying isn’t demanding our will to be done in Heaven, but for God’s will to be done on earth.
Before we even finish the opening line of this model prayer, Jesus is teaching us to magnify and exalt the attributes of the Father.
And that’s because genuine prayer doesn’t trivialize God, it pays tribute to God.
So as this prayer opens, it invites us into the living room of the Father’s House to talk openly and personally with God our Father – but He’s also gonna tell us to wipe our feet on the rug when we come in – this prayer will tell us how to stay clean.
So right here at the outset, we’re not only promised a reception by our Father, we’re given the implication of a responsibility.
We’re His children; we’re in His family – He’s given us His family name – the name of his Son our Redeemer – Christian is our name. We’re Christians.
Many times as a young person, before my brother’s and I left the house on some activity; heading to a ball game or some other event at school, just before we got out the door, our mother would say those familiar words; “Don’t forget your last name.”
She could warn us with a few words – don’t forget your last name.
It was a warning – but it also was a sense of belonging. We belonged to our father – who had given us the family name. Be careful with it.
Don’t forget to whom you belong - Christian. He’s your Father – He’s given you the family name.
So, before we get past the opening line, we are brought to recognize our divine audience and reverence His divine attributes.
And with these opening words, we’re on our way to reaching into the very court of Heaven, and it only took a few moments of time.
Our Father . . . in Heaven.