The One We Call

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 6:9-13
Luke 11:1-4

The most important thing about prayer is the One on whom we call. “As we believe, so we pray.”


Welcome to our new series on Growing in Prayer, focusing especially on what we call “the Lord’s Prayer.” My hope is that what we talk about each week will find its way into our own praying, in personal devotions, as well as in prayer with others. I’m convinced that the life-breath of our relationship with God and the source of our fruitfulness in service and witness lie in a vital, growing life of prayer. This is more than an academic study. It is our lifeline as followers of Jesus.

Now for some background thoughts about the Lord’s Prayer. Jeremias, a famous New Testament scholar once said, “Word for word, few creations in all the history of literature have received so much attention; probably no other prayer has wielded as much influence in the history of religious devotions.” This is the only prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. It’s brief in compass (in the Greek text of Luke, only 38 words) and yet it has been known and prayed by literally billions of people for 20 centuries. Imagine that!

It was to be prayed in the early church just before communion. It belonged to that part of the service in which only the baptized believers participate. It’s the same everywhere. Those seeking baptism or newly baptized learned it by heart. From then on they prayed it daily, some even three times a day. It formed a symbol of their identification as Jesus’ followers. It was called “the prayer of believers.”

The Disciples Request

One of the disciples asked one day, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). Apparently John had a distinctive way of praying that he taught to his disciples. Jesus’ followers say, “Lord, teach us how to pray as your followers, as disciples of yours, Jesus.”

Now this is not to say that the twelve had never prayed. It was typical of Jewish practice in those days to pray three times a day??”early in the morning, in the afternoon, at night. Often those prayers were rather brief and stylized, a series of benedictions, expressions of praise to God. But the disciples were asking, “Lord, teach us to pray as you do” because they observed Jesus at prayer. They knew about his long vigils, how he would retire from a busy scene of ministry to pour himself out in communion with God and then return to give himself again to ministry. They began to sense that prayer was the open secret of the incomparable poise and power that always characterized his life. So they are really saying, “Lord, we’re just beginners in the school of prayer. Teach us really how to pray.”

The First Concern in Prayer: To Whom?

And Jesus was ready for this ??” almost as if to say, “I thought you’d never ask.” The first thing he said to them was, “Whenever you pray, say ‘Father.'” He’s letting them know that the most important thing about prayer is the One on whom we call. Everything depends on that.

A distinguished scholar once said that “as we believe, so we pray.” Think about that a minute and you’ll see why it has to be true. Suppose you’re an atheist. How would you pray? You won’t, because for you in the great house of the universe there’s no one home. Or if you’re a fatalist you will hardly pray because for you everything is cut and dried from the start. Nothing can change it, so what’s the use of praying?

Or if you are a biblical believer and you fear that God is against you, is out to get you, that he doesn’t have your best interest in mind, you won’t pray much. But if you believe that God is the God that Jesus revealed in this word “Father,” then you’ll pray like a follower of Jesus.

God as Father

The idea of praying to God as Father was not unknown in the Old Testament. There are many sections where God is referred to as the Father of his people (Hosea 11:1, 1 Chronicles 29:10, Isaiah 63:16, Psalm 103:13)). But in the New Testament, Jesus apparently prayed using a word for Father that hadn’t been used in worship before. The word was Abba. We know that because there are three places in the Greek New Testament where the word Abba is brought over without being translated. Jesus prays in the Garden, “Abba, Father.” Abba is the Hebrew-Aramaic word. Pater is the Greek. The biblical writers wanted us to know that the very syllables that Jesus uttered when he prayed were these: “Abba.”

Now this is significant not because Jesus was using a new word. He was using a very homely, familiar word in a new way. Abba was what a tiny Jewish child would call his father. If you were in Tel Aviv today or out in a park in Israel you might hear a little voice piping up, “Abba, Abba.” And that’s the word that Jesus used. It expressed not only a new word to speak but also a new richness of relationship with God. On the lips of Jesus, Abba meant coming to God with joy, with affection, with freedom and above all with confidence. It made a tremendous difference.

Now with some of us, the father image doesn’t help. Perhaps you had a father who wasn’t very caring or attentive, or God forbid, was absent or abusive. You need to see that the One of whom Jesus speaks as Abba is someone wonderfully different. For Jesus, our Father is the one who runs to meet his returning son, who had wasted much of his life in shame, brokenness and estrangement. And the father runs out to him. He throws his arms around him, embraces him, and restores him to his place in the family. That’s what Abba is like, the Father who delights to give good gifts. That Father wants to give us the kingdom. He numbers the hairs of our heads and sees the sparrow fall. To him we are indescribably precious. This Father who so loved the world as to give his son. So that when we think of God like that, we pray in a new way. “As we believe, so we pray.”

The Lord’s Prayer as Jesus’ Gift to His Followers

Now think of the Lord’s Prayer today as Jesus’ special gift to his followers. It’s not a general religious treatise fitting into any tradition. It’s specifically a prayer for Jesus’ followers, for Jesus is the one who embodies for them what the Father is like. “He that has seen me,” he said, “has seen the father” (John 14:9). Paul speaks of, “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). None of us has had a perfect father. That analogy can take us only part of the way to a full understanding. Above all, look at Jesus Christ. See his attitude toward people, his accepting love, his ministry to all kind of broken ones, his utter self-giving for us. Then you glimpse what God’s father-heart is like.

More, in telling us to call God “Abba,” to use his word of address, Jesus is giving us a share in his relationship with God. We become through Jesus sons and daughters of the living God. So now we are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, blessing and privilege beyond words. Now as God’s beloved children, we can pray as Jesus did, with freedom, with joy, with affection and with confidence. As the psalmist urges, “Trust in him at all times, you people, pour out your heart before him, God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8).

But in this prayer he gives us even more insight, an expression of his own deepest concerns, in the way he prayed. Here we look into the mind and heart of Jesus. We learn what is truly important to the Lord and what he prayed for his whole life long. And then it’s as though he says, “Go and do likewise. Pray like this.”

How Are We to Use This Prayer?

Now how are we to use the Lord’s Prayer? Like those in the ancient church, let’s cherish it as a marvelous gift from the Lord and commit it to memory. I would dare say that many of you listening today have already done that. Know it, as we say, “by heart.” But even though we can all say it, we may not have thought very much about its meaning. It’s possible to pray it without thinking and without even desiring what we pray for. The prayer is brief but it’s unspeakably profound. None of us have reached its depths.

During these days together, we want to ponder it as revealing the mind and heart of Jesus, what he wanted, what he asked for, what he lived for and died for. We want to pray it with the purpose that he had. We’ll continue to use it in corporate prayer in worship services with God’s people. It’s a bond of our belonging to Christ and our unity in him, a uniting factor with all believers. And we’ll make it a model, a measure for all our praying. We’ll think about God as a wonderful father every time we pray. We’ll ask ourselves what it means for God’s name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, for his will to be done, and so on. We’ll pray for these great concerns with new awareness, new purpose, new passion. We’ll follow Jesus in prayer.

When I think about following Jesus, I wonder if we will really follow him in any other way if we don’t start by following him in prayer. That was the open secret of his life. Communion with God was the source of his vitality and power and so it will be for us.

Finally, we’ll pray it always through Jesus our Mediator with the confidence that we are God’s beloved children through him. I think of this verse in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come with boldness to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy [which we need all the time] and grace to help in every time of need.” That’s how we can pray because God to us, through Jesus, is Abba, Father.