To the world around us prayer seems like an odd thing. To be communicating with a being that you cannot see or even fully comprehend seems insane. And yet it’s a universally acknowledged activity; school assemblies will gather in the morning to reel out the Lord’s Prayer, some unbelievers in times of great despair have said they’ve knelt and started praying to the heavens. It is both strange and somehow familiar, it’s as if we know we are to be in communion with something higher, and yet our being can fight against it. As Christians we see it as a discipline due to this challenge, we can easily be distracted or bored by it, but we know deep down that we need it. Because of this, Jesus knew it was necessary to teach us how to pray. What I want to do in this blog is to reignite not only our desire to pray but to understand the significant weight of prayer, it is a far superior fuel than food or drink and therefore we need to pursue it. In doing so, I will focus on the first line of prayer that Jesus spoke to the disciples: ‘Our father in heaven, hallowed be thy name.’ At once Jesus provides our basis to approach God, that He is our intimate Father, and also what His name is due: honour. What Jesus said here immediately is highlighting what our hearts and minds need to know as we enter into prayer. Importantly, note how at this point ‘I’ isn’t in the picture.
‘Father’ Means Prayer is Intimate
Through the glorious sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus brings those on the outside into the same relationship that He enjoys with His Father. We are able now to call God, Father! That is no small thing. In fact, as I was drafting this blog up I had to pause on this extravagant truth to meditate on it – I knew it was too grand to simply skim over. As I did I began to realise personally in a new way what I’ve been brought into. The description of God in Isaiah 6, awesome and mighty – too holy to withstand – is my Father. If this is true for us, then how does prayer become seriously intimate?
God has blessed me massively with giving me the dad that I have. He is one of my greatest companions. The fact that he is my dad and I am his daughter solidifies certain things that are a given. As a father, he has been placed into my life to have authority over me, and therefore I must trust him. And yet how could I trust my dad if I knew nothing about who he is? I would not know his heart and therefore could not rely on his judgement. But as I’ve grown up I naturally want to know him because I know that him being my dad holds more significance than just friendship. I’m curious about what he thinks and what is on his heart. Because of this life-long knowing of my dad, I want to know what he wants for me, what he thinks about my life decisions and what opinions he has of my plans. As I have done so I know my dad to be wise and caring, and so I trust his words. Two things are happening: I know in my head that he is my dad, and therefore I must know that from my heart. It is what’s due in light of him being my dad.
This is evermore true of our Father in heaven. God as Father means we are to know Him deeply, in fact, He wants to be known by us. He will not settle for us to know in our head that He is our Father, He wants that truth to sink down to our heart. To help us, God has placed things on earth to teach us and reflect what He is like. He has done this with setting out want a father-figure should be like. Yet our fathers, however good or bad, are only a dim glimpse into how He wants to be as our Father. The relationship He wills is profound, there is no shallowness about it. So, prayer is intimate because we need to be in communion with the being who sustains us and sees us as His children – it is what we are made for.
There is a great program on TV called Long Lost Families, where people are able to be reunited with family members that they haven’t met before. Whenever I watch it I always find it fascinating how we as humans have an in-built desire to know where we are from. One lady on the show had never met her dad but she described a yearning inside of her that she couldn’t explain to be known by him and to know him in return. We are to be like this with our true Father. It shouldn’t be enough for us to know about Him, we must feel compelled to know His heart and what His thoughts are from His mouth. Prayer is intimate because the more we know God as Abba Father, the more in love we become with Him and His creation. We trust Him more because we know His pure intentions truly.
‘Father’ Means Prayer is to Honour
So, Jesus begins with wanting us to know our relationship with whom we speak to, and then He describes what our prayers should sound like response: worship and glorifying the name, ‘hallowed be thy name’. What begins to happen when we get to know someone profoundly? We behave and speak what is due to them, the more we know them to be worthy of respect and our attention, we find it natural to do so. As we intimately know who our Father is, we realise that He is due great honour because He is holy.
The importance of declaring God’s majesty, and giving him honour in our prayers is strikingly clear in the book of Job. Job, a man from whom everything was taken, did not present himself rightly before God in prayer. We may say: ‘How can you expect Job to be giving honour when he had been left with nothing, everything he had was taken!’ But if this is what we think, then we do not yet realise the importance of how prayer should always proclaim our worshipful honouring of the name of the Lord, it is what our soul needs to hear from our lips, I’ll explain this in a moment. The prayer of Job reflected a God who was distant, he also largely spoke only of himself: his anguish, former blessings and his innocence. His prayer came from a lack of intimate knowledge of the Lord in that moment. Now, we see this a lot in the Psalms, but as I’ve said in previous blogs, David always ends his sorrowful lament in glorious reflection and declaration. But what does God say in reply to Job’s prayer? God did not answer his pain, he did not give an explanation as to why he was suffering, He spoke only of whom He is. God described Himself, the sheer honour that He is due: ‘Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you know so much.” (Job 38:1-4)
The Lord then continues to describe His handiwork on earth. In essence God was saying, ‘Job, do you see my greatness, can you fathom my ways?’ No, Job couldn’t, and replied in complete humility ashamed of his arrogance. He is left amazed, and healed from his dismay. Why? Surely what Job needed was some sympathy, some explanation. But God knew the root of Job’s problem: Job didn’t know him intimately and therefore he had forgotten who God was. Job finally says, ‘I had heard about you before, but now I have seen You with my own eyes.’ (Job 42:5). Job is taken back to the start of his prayer, and this time does it right: he responds by glorifying the Lord. This is what I mean when I say our soul finds healing in the announcement of who our Father is, it is what our soul needs to hear. It answers all our fears, anxieties and arrogant thoughts. A burst of colour explodes when we suddenly grasp the nature of our Father, our declaration of His mightiness leaves us dancing for joy because we’ve realised who He is, and thus who we are.