“Back to the basics: Our Father who art in heaven”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
It was September of 1901 and William McKinley was at the height of his power and his popularity as president. And why not! After all, the country had already endured years of economic depression, and McKinley had helped to make our nation prosperous once again. In the words of historian Eric Rauchway, “It looked as if the McKinley administration would continue peaceably unbroken for another four years, a government devoted to prosperity.”
But not everyone was so thrilled about President McKinley, especially one man named Leon Czolgosz. You see, he had lost his job a few years before on account of some labor dispute, so he decided to become an anarchist, despising anyone who held any position of authority. And who held the highest position of authority than the president himself?
He said, “It was in my heart, there was no escape for me. I could not have conquered it had my life been at stake. There were thousands of people in town on Tuesday. I heard it was President’s Day. All those people seemed to be bowing to the great ruler, so I made up my mind to kill that ruler.”
Friends and coworkers had repeatedly warned McKinley that there might be an attempt on his life. Two presidents, Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield, had already been assassinated before him and, at the time, presidential protection was slim at best. Still, McKinley insisted on taking time to greet the people.
Then came that fateful Friday, September 6th of 1901. Just after four o’clock in the afternoon, as Czolgosz reached out to shake hands with his left hand, he shot McKinley with his right hand, firing a bullet deep into his abdomen. And as Czolgosz disappeared beneath a pile of men, he said, “I done my duty.”
A half an hour later, as McKinley was about to undergo surgery to try to find the bullet, he said, “He didn’t know, poor fellow, what he was doing. He couldn’t have known.” And as he lay dying, slowly and quietly, he prayed the words of the Lord’s Prayer.
It’s easy to say that out of all the prayers that have ever been prayed, the Lord’s Prayer is the absolute best and most important one of all. A church father named Tertullian called it, “a summary of the gospel.” Puritan pastor Thomas Watson called it, “a body of divinity.” And preacher and author Frederick Buechner wrote: “We do well not to pray the Lord’s Prayer lightly. It takes guts to pray it at all. To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze.”
And it’s found in the words of Matthew chapter 6. I’ll begin at verse 6. Jesus said: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name…” (Matthew 6:6-9).
So how did it all begin?
The Bible says that one day Jesus was praying. He was taking time out to talk with His Father in heaven. And just as soon as He opened His eyes and lifted up His head, one of His disciples came to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
So Jesus taught them how to pray. He said, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name’” (Matthew 6:9).
Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “Our Father who art in heaven. What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.”
And he wrote in the words of his Large Catechism: “In addition to His command and promise, God anticipates us, and Himself arranges the words and form of prayer for us, and places them upon our lips as to how and what we should pray, that we may see how heartily He pities us in our distress, and may never doubt that such prayer is pleasing to Him and shall certainly be answered.” And he said, “Hence there is no nobler prayer to be found upon earth than the Lord’s Prayer which we daily pray, because God loves to hear it, which we ought not to surrender for all the riches of the world.”
It’s interesting to see that the disciples didn’t ask Jesus how to conduct an evangelistic mission, and neither did they ask Him how to run a meeting. Instead, their deepest desire, the one thing they wanted to know more than anything else, was to learn how to pray like He prayed.
As one author wrote: “What if you had the opportunity to ask the greatest basketball coach of all time to teach you how to shoot a basketball? Or if you were able to ask the greatest chef to teach you how to cook? Or if you were to ask the greatest fighter pilot to teach you how to fly a plane? You’d be on the edge of your seat ready to hear what the expert had to say, and then to put the advice and example into practice.
“How much more should we be ready and eager to hear from Jesus…for prayer is absolutely indispensable for the Christian. We can’t live without it.”
And what did Jesus say? He didn’t teach them how to pray--that they should fold their hands, bow their heads or lift their face up to the sky. He didn’t teach them where to pray--to climb a high mountain or to stand beside a wide, open sea. He didn’t teach them when to pray--whether in the morning or the afternoon or at night. And neither did He teach them what to wear when they prayed--sackcloth or ashes, or sweat and blood.
Not one of those things really mattered to Him. But what did matter were the words they prayed. They should be simple, heartfelt and clear. They should be words a dear child would speak to his dear father.
So He said, “When you pray, pray like this…”
In his book The Great House of God, Max Lucado wrote this: “Heaven knows no difference between Sunday morning and Wednesday afternoon. God longs to speak in the workplace as He does in the sanctuary. He longs to be worshiped when we sit at the dinner table and not just when we come to His communion table. And though you may go days without thinking of Him, there’s never a moment when He’s not thinking of you.”
And when Jesus taught us to pray, notice that He used the word “Our” and that He used the word “Father.”
In the language Matthew used when he recorded this prayer, the Greek language, the word for “Father” is “Pater.”
But the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t originally spoken in Greek. It was spoken in Aramaic. And in that language, Jesus didn’t use the words “Pater.” He most likely used the word He always used when He spoke to His Father in heaven. It was the word “Abba,” a word that meant, “Daddy.”
You see, at the time, among the Jews, that word was one of a child’s first two words--”Abba” and “Imma”--”Daddy” and “Mommy.”
Think about it--it’s not “Our Father who art in heaven,” it’s “Our Daddy who lives and reigns among the heavens.”
The One who created the universe, who made all that exists--the sun, the moon and the stars--is our “Daddy,” ”Our Daddy who lives in heaven.”
Is it any surprise that Jesus would begin His prayer with that word? It shouldn’t be. After all, of the seventy times we know that Jesus prayed, He always used the word “Father.”
John MacArthur tells the story of when he was a little boy, his father set him on a corner and said, “Wait here for me. I’ll come back and get you.”
But as time passed, he didn’t come, and he didn’t come. And it got dark and darker and darker, until he was all alone on the corner. Hours later, after all the stores were closed, there he was still standing in the dark.
So what happened? His father’s car wouldn’t start and he couldn’t come like he had planned. So when he finally did come, his father hugged him and asked if he was alright.
“Of course, I’m alright,” he said. “You told me you were coming back.”
In the midst of a hostile world that’s falling apart, God is our Father and He’ll come back, just as He promised.
And how about that little word “Our”? “Our Father,” He said.
When Jesus taught us to pray, He didn’t say, “My Father who art in heaven, or give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me my trespasses.” Instead, He said, “Our Father who art in heaven…give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
So there’s a relationship we share in this prayer. We aren’t individuals trying our best to make it on our own. Instead, we’re branches on a vine, sheep in a sheepfold, members of a body, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
In the words of a poem: “You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘I.’ You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘my.’ Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer and not pray for one another, and when you ask for daily bread, you must include your brother. For others are included in each and every plea, from the beginning to the end of it, it does not once say ‘me.’”
One more thing. When you were young, there were many different people who played an important part in your life. There was that big sister who stuck up for you at school. There were those brothers who wrestled you down to the floor and tickled you until you cried. And there was your mother who worked so hard, night and day.
But if there was anyone who really stands out in your memory, maybe it was your dad. His hands were rough and calloused. His fingers were short and stubby. But when he was there, laughing and smiling, you knew things were going to be okay.
In the book of Revelation, the apostle John talked about God, our heavenly Father. And He said that someday He’ll wipe our tears away.
The same hands that once stretched out the heavens and sprinkled stars across the sky will touch our cheeks. The same hands that formed mountains and gouged out rivers and streams will hold our face. And He’ll brush our tears away.
That’s our Father. That’s our Daddy. And it is to Him that we pray.
Dear Father in heaven, we thank You for the grace and the power You’ve shown to us in Your Son. May we humbly and confidently come to You as our dear Father in heaven. And by Your grace, allow even us to bring glory to Your name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen