Prayer – Our Father

Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. He gave them a prayer that can be recited or used as a pattern for prayer. CS Lewis remarked that whether we use the specific words or allow those words to be a pattern for prayer is irrelevant, for the words are but “anchors” or the “movement of the conductor’s baton, not the music.”[1] This understanding of the use of the Lord’s Prayer is also seen in the Westminster Larger Catechism #187.

The Lord’s Prayer consists of three parts; a preface, petitions, and a conclusion (WLC #188). The opening words of the preface is of great importance. Jesus instructs his disciples to address the almighty and sovereign King of the Universe as “Our Father.” There is an intimacy and closeness in this address that was heretofore unknown. But through Christ, the blessings of God as our Father have been opened to believers. The opening of the preface teaches us that our prayer is to be addressed directly to God alone, our prayer is to be made with great reverence, and our prayer is to be made with great intimacy.

Prayer requires that we address someone for something which we wish to obtain. Jesus instructs us that God alone is the only appropriate recipient of our prayers. Only God can provide what we wish to receive. He is the only one worthy of our worship and our adoration. He is the only fountain from which our blessings flow. It is from His gracious hand that we receive anything and everything. Thomas Watson makes an important point regarding the persons of the Trinity.

“Though the Father only be named in the Lord’s prayer, the other two persons are not excluded. The Father is mentioned because he is first in order; but the Son and the Holy Ghost are included because they are the same in essence. As all the three persons subsist in one Godhead, so, in our prayer, though we name but one Person, we must pray to all.”[2]

But prayer to anyone or anything else, be they angels, saints, or the virgin Mary, is simply idolatry.

Jesus’ instruction to pray to “Our Father” leads us to come to prayer in great reverence. Our Father is the “Ancient of Days” (Dan 7:9). He is perfect. He is wise. He is loving. He is rich beyond measure. He is eternal. We are to honor our Father with a reverential fear. Seeing God as our Father should lead us to proclaim what is great about God and to refrain from doing what displeases him. We should display his excellencies. And we should reject what defames him. We should know that what we do reflects and resembles our Father to others. We must rightly bear his image. With this in mind, our prayers are transformed with great reverence.

But our prayers are not only made to “Our Father” with great reverence. They are also made with great intimacy. It would have been appropriate if Jesus had instructed his disciples to pray to “Our Great and High King” or “Our Glorious Judge” or “The Omnipotent Creator and Ruler of All.” These are appropriate titles for God. But Jesus gives us a different title to use, “Our Father.” This is, as the Puritan Thomas Watson puts it, “an expression of love and condescension…the name Father carries mercy in it.”[3] As we come to the Almighty in prayer, we do so as his children, adopted by grace. We come to a gracious and generous Father who desires to give his children good things. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will our Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11).

We not only address God as “Father” but as “Our Father.” The personal possessive pronoun is of tremendous significance. By creation, God has made all things. All people are created by God (Acts 17:28, Mal 2:10). By this pronoun, Jesus teaches that only those who know God as adopted, regenerated, and believing children of God can call upon him in prayer. An unconverted person is not a child of God in this way, and thus cannot address God as “Our Father.” Even if he were to use this term, it offers no comfort or liberty because he is ultimately a “child of wrath” (Eph 2:3). But the believer in Christ can with confidence pray “Our Father” and “express his faith that God is his portion, that he is permitted to address Him as Father, is a member of the family of God, and has communion with all the saints.”[4]

[1] C. S Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer: Reflections on the Intimate Dialogue between Man and God (San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1992), 11.

[2] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (London; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 2.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), 3.488.