HARK! Our Father ( A New View)

Our Father Image

When I was growing up in Oregon I got familiar with some of the major lines of Christmas carols.  Some of the lines seemed cheesy and some seemed quite spiritual.  Before and after I had my conversion to Christ when I was about 10 I figured there was room for both in what seemed easy enough for me to comprehend: the Son of God was born in Bethlehem and a bit of heaven came to earth in Jesus and those angels.  “Hark the herald angels sing…” worked for me with a cute baby with a growing biography.

Years later, I want to use the word “hark” as a mnemonic device for a concept that is also oversimplified: this “Father in heaven” Jesus speaks of.  Can such a concept be comprehended?  Or is is something in itself that can be apprehended like something one can just get the jist of?

And to unpack this term “Father” can have not only a doctrinal context of ones understanding but an emotional one.  St. Theresa of Avila would start the prayer known as “The Our Father” and would stop at Father with a mix of awe and joy that the God of the universe would state that in Him we have a Father.  On the other end of the spectrum are clusters of emotional baggage that are too much to list here.  Between culture and individual experience the perspectives are based on an earthly perspective of fathers who are abusive, absentee by choice, absentee by the mom’s choice, incompetent or ambiguous on their role.

Life was really not to unlike what I just described in first century Palestine when Jesus begins the meat of his teaching on prayer in the following.

 “Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).

I would like to take you beyond the fray of common misunderstandings of what a father and even a Heavenly Father can be, but I will only be thinking on the coat-tails of Jesus and his understanding of His Father.  Much better this way.  Thus, back to the HARK.

H is for Holy Father.  “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:11).

This verse is loaded.  The context of the prayer was Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane right before he is arrested.  He says, “I am no longer in the world” was with Jesus conscious that in such a Garden where the redemptive work of the cross begins there was  a distinct level of being set apart for the Father’s will.

While this is the consecration due to the Holy Father, which we will all understand where we face times of elevated brokenness, there is a reciprocal effect of God’s holiness in the impact of unity.  “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one”.  Division that undermines unity goes against the holiness of God in that He is one (Deuteronomy 6:4).  So if we pray “Our Holy Father” we are consecrating ourselves in brokenness to Him (Colossians 1:24) and thus under He as the shepherd that draws us into unity.

A is for Abba, Father. “He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ (Mark 14:36).  Also said in Gethsemane, rightly meaning wine press, Jesus uses the Aramaic equivalent word for Daddy to note how the intimate love is precious.  From that Jesus holds dear the knowledge that God is all powerful and His will is intrinsically better than the desires of Jesus’s flesh.

R is for Righteous Father.  “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me” (John 17:25).  Those who choose darkness over the light because their deeds are evil and they love their deeds more than God do not have a relational knowledge of God.  But this access to The Righteous Father, in God’s spiritual family rests on the priesthood of Jesus and His sacrifice.

For us to know God as Father fully rests on the impact of the gospel that Jesus was sent (John 3:16) and that He returned to Him in his priestly role.  “about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer “(John 16:10).   Jesus continued with this theme of our connection to Righteous Father with words of liturgical connotations, “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).

K is for Know The Father.  This brings us back full circle.  On the other side of Gethsemane.  On the other side of The Cross.  For those who have been touched by the gospel of God, we can shudder with the same awe and joy of St. Theresa of Avila accordingly.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

In this fallen world that we live in, I can understand why someone would say this is good stuff for the head but is not making its way to the heart.  I almost put in some more verses to help that happen but I decided against it.  Instead I would encourage the reader who struggles with the supposedly mean, patriarchal use of the word “Father” to go to Jesus on that.  I include the idea of going to Jesus in prayer if you have not figured who Jesus is yet.  But if you follow Jesus to where He dwells, consistently, you will not regret it.  And you will know the Father.

Living With Our Father

Our Father

There is a common prayer used in solemn contexts in our society.  Protestants tend to call it “The Lord’s Prayer” and Catholics call it “The Our Father”.  They are said mostly the same and I get a lot of affirmation in either set of wording.  As a substance abuse counselor in a residential setting, I hear it a few times a day.  In fact, it has been lately dominating as a chosen prayer more than the Serenity Prayer which is also a very meaningful set of words to pray and live by.  I have thought, though, that maybe The Our Father has been dominating because God is tapping me on the shoulder as I approach this crucial part of my blog series of the Sermon On The Mount.

Jesus sat in the position of a rabbi and taught his disciples (not just the apostles) how to pray.  The themes in this prayer have echoes of salvation history in understood doctrine and turning point events all before Jesus came.  But the words here also point to the expansion of truths in the context of the atonement in Jesus and the apostolic unfolding of its ramifications through two thousand years of teaching.  I hope to do as much justice as I can with some of a bible study feel but also where my own growth as a child of God has been tied deeply to this tightly wound, beautiful Swiss watch of truth.  Well, without further adieu, here it is.

This is how you are to pray:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread;

and forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors;

and do not subject us to the final test,

but deliver us from the evil one.

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:8-15).

I like thinking about how and why this prayer is in a substance abuse recovery context.  “His will” is instead of life as the client has wanted it in their addiction.  “Our daily bread” works well because when someone is working through the complications in their life from addiction it is easy to be trapped in shame in the past and worry about the future.  Being mindful for today is a way to pace ones soul in the now.  “ Forgive us” works with dealing with the guilt and getting a second chance.  These applications are all beautiful and all legitimate. But the lessons I learn from my professors are only some of the values someone can draw from.  In fact, this is milk.

When people die and Jesus is looped in there are funerals.  It is common in those funerals where people will pray the Our Father there.  Some will know and say it by memory with the passion of tying ones shoes.  Others reflect on the meaning and will center on God being in heaven.  With this God in heaven they will hope, depending on the deceased, that God is forgiving.  And if this funeral attender is reflective enough on their age, moral deficits or both they will hope the same for themselves too.  In fact, they could have that moment of remembering this loving God is who can deliver them from the evil one.  But will He? Insert shiver here.

A practical setting where I personally see it the most is when my wife and I tuck in our kids for bed.  I can only guess what they pick out the most from it since the kids old enough to pray it with us are 5 and 4 years old.  My wife and I have our own concepts of it and hope the values we emphasize will percolate in their hearts and minds as they develop their own personal journeys in Christ.  We start and finish it by crossing ourselves and open our hearts to the presence of God in our lives and hope the kids can model themselves on that.

The most common public place I have experienced this prayer prayed with reliable regularity is in The Catholic Church.  This makes sense in that the Catholic Church overlaps with that through all the lines but especially through “on earth as it is in heaven”.  This is because in a Church that endeavors to reach for Jesus in communion, or the Eucharist, there is a connection to God in view of the work of the cross.  The desire is to worship in spirit in truth through humble vessels like us while a continual worship is already happening in heaven.  A mirror image is crucial in the worshiper there and The Our Father ties that up in a bow.  Therefore there is the communion every mass with the Our Father every mass and spirit and truth work together.

Do you feel a goose bump like I do?  Great!  But that is not enough.  What I try not to forget is that Jesus is never supposed to be convenient because He never stops challenging those who call themselves disciples to action.  With that in mind, I plan to unpack this prayer verse by verse.  Sometimes I will come at it with a general Christian lens.  Sometimes from my family relationships.  Sometimes as a Christian who had a redefined Christian faith two years ago by being received into The Catholic Church.  And last, sometimes, as a social worker who has seen the best and worst in humanity.  What I hope is that in learning to take the values of the Our Father taught by Our Lord is that the reader will join me in Jesus’ call to action and the grace to do it.

Praying Without Show And Tell

Benny Hinn

I heard from someone a long time ago that “prayer is as simple as two people embracing”.  It could be going overboard in this description but I think it hits much of the mark.  If prayer to God is understood like that, then the understanding that prayer for the individual needs to begin at the individual level.  Also in a simplicity context of prayer, there is not the pressure to speak what I call “Christian-ese”.

This is a term I use is for a type of religious talk that goes on between people of different Christian faith communities that an outside may not follow or indeed be in awe of.  Praying like that is asking to be recognized as “holier than thou”.  Someone projecting themselves as the center of a s spiritual show will either draw people to the latest religious flavor of the month or too often repel people from the gospel.

So along came Jesus of Nazareth to bring redemption through the cross but also in frank clarity to the fancy-shmantzy assumptions of the religious figures of the day.  On the time, place and motivation of prayer they had lost their way particular on what their needs were and it not including a show about them.

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8).

When you pray—  Jesus is assuming of the hearers that it is a given his listeners were praying.  Or maybe he is using the term “when” to be about urging the hearers to start making it a lifestyle.

who love to stand and pray in the synagogues….. so that others may see them.—- The custom of the synagogue includes all eyes being on someone but during their teaching that is tied to the reading of Sacred Scriptures.  Even a rabbi is not the main place of focus in a way but if they are it is in a way that represents the glory of God and thus points to Him..  What is more, they operate the most rabbinically when they sit down to prevent spiritual stardom.

and on street corners so that others may see them— I can only speculate more about the motivation.  Suffice it to say they are getting recognized for their spiritual initiative.  And that is what their reward is which they have in full.  They put themselves in a place of recognition doing a faith act for the flesh context.  Jesus says, “Congrats”.  Sort of.

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.— One of these hypocrites that does not like what Jesus said in the first part may hope to apply some of what he said but in the living room with windows and a loophole that someone will notice them.  Jesus makes it clear that they are to make the context for God’s reward to not be observable.  The embrace of God is best a secret one.

And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.—But how does this Father repay?  Well, if you get a measurable reward of “Oo, ah” when you intentionally want to make a spectacle of yourself, which is measurable, I can only say that God will do the rewarding in a way that is immeasurable.  However He does it will be awesome.  If I could say that there is a hint in specifics, I would say it is from Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him in love”.  Could holiness in according to these heavenly blessings be its own reward?  Absolutely not!….according to the flesh.

do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. —This is important to notice in part because the next passage, which I will write about in my next blog is the Our Father prayer.  Many well meaning Christians will look at that and say it is a classic way to do vain repetitions.  But are repetitions in our communication with God necessarily vain?  How about, “I love you God”?  If such words are used in a formulaic way that is not relational and submissive to God’s will for your life then it will not be rightly spiritual and therefore not hit the mark of faith which credits your true righteousness.

who think that they will be heard because of their many words.— One does not have to pray like a Shakespeare on spiritual steroids.  The gift of simplicity in prayer is that you reduce in your mind and heart everything to what your needs are and not how highly your philosophy is formed about them or any other complex spin.  This gives us all the more picture why Jesus says so many times that are capacity to receive the kingdom is found in the temperament of a child.  So much simplicity, so much more room for God to get through and embrace us in His love by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him—- So why ask?  Isn’t the Christian life all in God’s hands anyway?  The place one can get to in light of how faith and reason are worked out in salvation history is that our petitions and His grace is not a matter of an ultimatum but a mystery of both His grace and our response to it that is humble and centered on Him.  In other words, a beautiful “both/and”.

So if prayer is as simple as two people embracing, what is stopping us?  Who do we feel we need to impress?  What role do we assume for ourselves in our spiritual communities that is not centered on that “secret reward”  I referred to?  And if I do not like the answers, am I willing to ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to drawn me into that “inner room” for the right reasons?