“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father…” -Matthew 6:9
This weekend is Father’s Day weekend. At our home church, our pastor, along with another elder and me, recorded a Father’s Day message sharing insights and thoughts (along with far too many “dad jokes!”) revolving around being father’s. As I prayed about what I could contribute to the conversation, the main thing God put on my heart was something unique in how I have thought about it or taught it before. But it is especially relevant right now in the context of tensions around race in the United States and, frankly, cultural clashes around the world. I also want to note that what prompted taking the time to write this article was a conversation I had with a mentor of mine who shared with me what he was planning to preach this Sunday. What amazed us both was that separately, we both received the exact same message in focus! And that focus is a reminder of the first two words of what has historically become known as the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told them to begin with two profound and powerful words: our Father.
Over the years, when I have taught on this, I have emphasized how revolutionary it was of Jesus to teach us to refer to God as “our Father.” So many other terms and names for God are used in the Bible for God, but nobody, until then, addressed God as Father. The term Father carries with it strong connotations that are wonderful to explore. However, many Father’s Day messages, of course, discuss our challenges with this, especially if we did not have a positive relationship with our human father. I usually have focused my messages around those themes, and what it means that God is our Father in terms of relationship with him. I often have used the “Prodigal Son” story too to talk about the Father’s love for both prodigal sons (the liberal son and the religious conservative son) despite both being lost. I believe it is still a critical message for an American Church that is deeply political in a way that I think is an unhealthy focus of priority and perspective. We need a more robust Kingdom orientation and consistent faithfulness to Scripture even when it might confront our political biases.
All that, however, to get to the main point of this blog article and this Father’s Day. What struck me (and others too apparently!) in a new way this year, especially considering cultural dynamics, is the word that comes before “Father” in the Lord’s prayer. It is the very first word Jesus taught us to pray. The first word is “Our.” This is more profound than we might recognize at first, and if you are like me, I have kind of missed and skipped over.
What Jesus was teaching his disciples and us, is that when we pray, we pray not only in terms of intimate relationship personally with God but in view of our collective family relationship with one another as God’s people and community of brothers and sisters in Christ. God is not just my Father. God is our Father together. We are brothers and sisters in Christ despite our unique differences and races.
In a culture that is so polarized, divided, and at odds with one another, I believe this is a message needed now more than ever! When we come together in worship and prayer, we come together diverse and different, but united in terms of who we are in Christ and with God as our Father. We come equally as brothers and sisters adopted into the family of God. As we draw near to God in prayer, we also are brought close to one another. My relationship with God (and yours) is personal, but not private. My relationship with God affects not just me, but us together and collectively. Did you ever notice there is not a single “me” in the Lord’s Prayer? Everything is “us” or “our.” Jesus never intended for us to have our own little thing going on with God apart from community with one another and brotherhood/sisterhood together!
In other words, every time we pray and come before our Heavenly Father, we should be coming together not only with our own needs but also with the needs of one another globally. When we pray, we come not only thinking of ourselves and our context but others and their struggles, which, as a family, also becomes ours even if different.
When we pray, we come not only thinking about our relationship with God but our relationship with one another. We are reminded that to love God is also to love one another. 1 John 4:20, for example, could not be more explicit. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
The church needs to be leading the way right now in modeling the beauty of unity within diversity. The church needs to be leading the way in modeling community and what it means to be the family of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. There are differences in any family, but there is also a bond more significant than those differences. We need to be a microcosm of heaven on earth within our churches because heaven will be filled with people from every tribe, tongue, and language! And we will be united by one thing: the bond we share as the children of God because of Christ’s great love for us.
And so, this Father’s Day, let us remember, when we pray, we need to pray not only with our needs or relationship with God in mind. We need to pray as Jesus taught us. And that begins with two profound words… “Our Father.”
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. -Ephesians 4:1-7