As we are nearing Fathers Day, I wanted to share with you a excerpt from a book that I have been reading about Prayer. The book is called Alone with God, by John MacArthur. I hope you enjoy!
Nineteenth-century pastor and author E.M. Bounds, who is well-known for his writings on the subject of prayer, said it best, “Prayer honors God; it dishonors self” (Purpose in Prayer [Chicago: Moody, n.d.], 43). The scribes and Pharisees never understood that truth, and I fear the same is true for much of today’s church.
The waves of our indulgent, selfish, materialistic society have washed ashore on Christian theology in many forms, including the prosperity gospel. Although the Bible teaches that God is sovereign and man is His servant, the prosperity gospel implies the opposite. Teaching that claims we can demand things of God is spiritual justification for self-indulgence. It perverts prayer and takes the Lord’s name in vain. It is unbiblical, ungodly, and is not directed by the Holy Spirit.
Prayer begins and ends not with the needs of man but with the glory of God (John 14:13). It should be concerned primarily with who God is, what He wants, and how He can be glorified. Those who teach otherwise are not preoccupied with the extension of Christ’s kingdom or the glory of God’s name but with the enlargement of their own empire and the fulfillment of their own selfish desires. Such teaching attacks the heart of Christian truth—the very character of God.
To believe that God is really like some genie, waiting to grant our every desire, flies in the face of Scripture’s clear teaching. Many Old Testament saints certainly had just cause to plead with God to take them out of harrowing circumstances, yet they sought to glorify God and follow His will.
Recalling what happened while he was inside a great fish, Jonah said, “I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to Thee, into Thy holy temple … I will sacrifice to Thee with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:7, 9). When Jonah seemingly had good cause to demand God to get him out of the fish, he simply extolled the character of God.
Daniel was often in dangerous situations because of his strategic role within the pagan Babylonian society. In his concern over Judah’s captivity, he prayed, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned” (Dan. 9:4–5). He began his prayer by affirming the nature and character of God.
The Prophet Jeremiah lived the majority of his life in frustration and confusion, all the while weeping with a broken heart over his people. While he could have easily despaired over his ministry, he never became preoccupied with his own painful circumstances. Instead he would pray and extol the glory, name, and works of God (e.g., Jer. 32:17–23).
Those Old Testament saints knew they were to recognize God in His rightful place and bring their wills into conformity with His. And that’s just what Jesus taught the disciples when He said, “Pray, then, in this way” (Matt. 6:9). In fewer than seventy words we find a masterpiece of the infinite mind of God, who alone could compress every conceivable element of true prayer into such a brief and simple form—a form that even a young child can understand but the most mature believer cannot fully comprehend:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen (vv. 9–13).
Jesus presented this prayer as a bold contrast to the substandard, unacceptable prayers common to the religious leaders of His day, which we considered in the last chapter. After warning the disciples of the perversion that had so corrupted Jewish prayer life, our Lord now gives a divine pattern so all believers can pray in a way that is pleasing to God.
JESUS’ PATTERN FOR PRAYER
This prayer, often called the “Lord’s Prayer,” when it could more accurately be titled the “Disciples’ Prayer,” is not a set group of words to repeat. When Christ said to “pray, then, in this way,” He didn’t mean pray with these exact words. His intention was to give them a pattern for the structure of their own prayers, especially since He had just warned them of the dangers of meaningless repetition. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t recite it, as we do with so many passages in Scripture. Memorizing it is actually helpful so you can meditate on its truths as you formulate your own thoughts. The prayer is mainly a model we can use to give direction to our own praise, adoration, and petitions. It is not a substitute for our own prayers but a guide for them.
The initial benefit of this prayer is the way it exhibits the believer’s relationship with God. “Our Father” presents the father/child relationship; “hallowed be Thy name,” the deity/worshiper; “Thy kingdom come,” the sovereign/subject; “Thy will be done,” the master/servant; “give us this day our daily bread,” the benefactor/beneficiary; “forgive us our debts,” the Savior/sinner; and “do not lead us into temptation,” the guide/pilgrim.
This prayer also defines the attitude and spirit we ought to have. “Our” reflects unselfishness; “Father,” reflects family devotion; “hallowed be Thy name,” reverence; “Thy kingdom come,” loyalty; “Thy will be done,” submission; “give us this day our daily bread,” dependence; “forgive us our debts,” penitence; “do not lead us into temptation,” humility; “Thine is the kingdom,” triumph; “and the glory,” exultation; and “forever,” hope.
In similar ways the prayer can be outlined to emphasize the balance of God’s glory and our need. It can also show the threefold purpose of prayer: to hallow God’s name, usher in His kingdom, and to do His will. And it details our present provision (daily bread), past pardon (forgiveness of sins), and future protection (safety from temptation).
No matter how perfect a pattern this is, we must remember our Lord’s previous warning about our attitude in prayer. If our hearts are not right, even the Disciples’ Prayer can fall into misuse. So how do you make sure you have the right heart attitude? Just make sure you focus on God. That’s why this prayer is such a helpful model. Every phrase and petition focuses on God—on His person, His attributes, and His works. You prevent your prayers from being hypocritical or mechanical when you focus on God, not on yourself.
True prayer comes from humble people who express absolute dependence on God. That’s what our Lord wants in our prayers. The more we think true thoughts about God, the more we will seek to glorify Him in our prayers. Commentator John Stott said, “When we come to God in prayer, we do not come hypocritically like play actors seeking the applause of men, nor mechanically like pagan babblers, whose mind is not in their mutterings, but thoughtfully, humbly and trustfully like little children to their Father” (Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979], 151–52).
GOD IS OUR FATHER
“Father” is probably the most common term we use in prayer, and rightly so, for that is the pattern Jesus set. Prayer should always begin with the recognition that God is our Father, the One who gave us life and who loves, cares for, provides for, and protects us.
The fact that God is our Father means that only believers in Christ are children in His family. Admittedly Malachi wrote, “Do we not all have one Father? Has not one God created us?” (Mal. 2:10) and Paul did say to the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, “As even some of your poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring’ ” (Acts 17:28). But Scripture makes it perfectly clear that God is the father of unbelievers only in creation.
Spiritually, unbelievers have another father. In His severest condemnation of the Jewish leaders who opposed Him, Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). First John 3 clearly characterizes two families: the children of God and the children of the devil. The former do not continue to commit sin; the latter do. The Apostle Paul made a clear distinction between the children of light and the children of darkness (Eph. 5:8).
There is simply not just one spiritual family of mankind under one universal fatherhood of God. Second Peter 1:4 says that only those who believe have been made “partakers of the divine nature.” It is only to those who receive Him that Jesus gives “the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Thus we can go to God as His beloved children.
The Jewish Perspective of God
Whereas “our Father” declares a wonderful intimacy between God and His children, most of the world in Jesus’ day worshiped gods who were characterized as distant and fearsome. That eventually became the Jewish perspective of God. Because of their continual disobedience to God throughout the centuries, including tolerating pagan gods, the Jews severed any true relationship they had with God as their Father. To them He had become little more than a relic of the past, a remote being who once called and guided their ancestors.
But those faithful Jews, both in our Lord’s time and before, knew God as their Father. Isaiah saw Him that way. To deal with the nation’s sinfulness, he prayed,
Thou wast angry, for we sinned, we continued in them a long time; and shall we be saved? For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. And there is no one who calls on Thy name, who arouses himself to take hold of Thee; for Thou hast hidden Thy face from us, and hast delivered us into the power of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father (Isa. 64:5–8).
Isaiah reminded them of the comforting reality that God was their Father, and that He would take care of them.
The Jews in the Old Testament saw five basic elements that encompassed the Fatherhood of God.
As Father of the Nation
First Chronicles 29:10 gives God the title: “Lord God of Israel our Father.” That refers to Him as Father of the nation.
As a Father Who Is Near
A father is closer than an uncle or a cousin or a friend or a neighbor. Psalm 68, while using dramatic language to refer to the grandeur of God’s power, simply says that God is “a father of the fatherless” (v. 5).
As a Gracious Father
A father is forgiving, tenderhearted, merciful, and gracious to His children, which is very true of God: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:13).
As a Guiding Father
A father leads his children and gives them wisdom and instruction. That was also true of God’s relationship to Israel. He said of them, “With weeping they shall come, and by supplication I will lead them; I will make them walk by streams of waters, on a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I am a Father to Israel” (Jer. 31:9).
As a Father Who Requires Obedience
Because God was their Father, the people were required to obey Him. Deuteronomy 32:6 reiterates that: “Do you thus repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you?”
The Biblical Perspective of God
When Jesus arrived on the scene, He reintroduced His Jewish audience to God as a loving, beneficent Father to those who know, love, and obey Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, He taught them that the Father takes care of the needs of His children:
Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matt. 7:7–11)
Jesus reaffirmed to them what their Scripture taught and what faithful, godly Jews had always believed: God is the Father in heaven to those who trust in Him.
In all His prayers, Jesus used the title Father, except when He was on the cross bearing the sin of the world and was forsaken by God (Matt. 27:46). Though the text of Matthew 6:9 uses the Greek word Patēr, Jesus likely used the Aramaic word Abba since that is the language He and the majority of Palestinian Jews commonly spoke. Since Abba is equivalent to our term “Daddy,” Jesus would have used it to emphasize the personal and intimate relationship God has with His children.
To be able to approach God in prayer as our loving Heavenly Father implies several things:
It Dispels Fear
Missionaries report that, because so many individuals live in fear of their gods, one of the greatest gifts Christianity ever brings to primitive societies is the certainty that God is a loving, caring Father. The invented false gods of false religions are typically characterized as vengeful and jealous, and their worshipers must take desperate measures to appease them. But knowing that the true God is our Father dispels all such fear.
It Encourages Hope
In the midst of a hostile world that’s falling apart, God is our Father, and He’ll take care of our future. If an earthly father will spare no effort to help and protect his children, how much more will our Heavenly Father love, protect, and help us (Matt. 7:11).
It Removes Loneliness
Even if we are rejected and abandoned by family, friends, or even fellow believers, we know that our Heavenly Father will never leave us (Heb. 13:5). To drive away loneliness, God’s presence is all a believer ever needs.
Paul Tournier, a Christian physician, wrote in his Doctor’s Case Book,
There was one patient of mine, the youngest daughter in a large family which the father found it difficult to support. One day she heard her father mutter despairingly, referring to her, “We could well have done without that one.” That is precisely what God can never say. He is a loving Father to every one of His children (cited in William Barclay, The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer for Every Man [New York: Harper & Row, 1963], 172).
It Defeats Selfishness
Not one singular pronoun is used in Jesus’ pattern for prayer, and it begins “our Father” because we all are fellow children with the rest of the household of God. Our prayers should embrace the entire community of the faithful. Remember that Ephesians 6:18 says we are to pray for “all the saints.” We are to pray holding up to God what is best for all, not just for one.
It Provides Resources
God is “our Father, who [is] in heaven.” All the resources of heaven are available to us when we trust God as our heavenly Supplier. He “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Commentator Arthur Pink writes,
If God is in heaven then prayer needs to be a thing of the heart and not of the lips, for no physical voice on earth can rend the skies, but sighs and groans will reach the ears of God. If we are to pray to God in heaven, then our souls must be detached from all the earth. If we pray to God in heaven, then faith must wing our petitions (An Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950], 161).
Whatever you seek, whether it’s peace, fellowship, knowledge, victory, or boldness, God has an abundant supply in the heavenlies. We need only ask our Father for it.
It Demands Obedience
If Jesus, as God’s true Son, came down from heaven not to do His own will but His Father’s (John 6:38), how much more are we, as adopted children, to do only His will. Obedience to God is one of the supreme marks of our relationship to Him as children.
Yet in His grace, God loves and cares for His children even when they are disobedient. The story Jesus told in Luke 15 would be better titled the Parable of the Loving Father rather than the Prodigal Son. The father in the story represents our Heavenly Father, who can forgive and rejoice over both a self-righteous son who remains moral and upright and a rebellious son who becomes dissolute, wanders away, but then returns.
When you begin your prayers by calling on “Our Father, who art in heaven,” you indicate your eagerness to go to Him as a child, knowing He loves you. And you’ll find that He is eager to lend His ear, His power, and His eternal blessing to the requests of His children if it serves them best and further reveals His purpose and glory.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). Alone with God. MacArthur Study Series (43–52). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.