By Pastor Glenn Pease
Paul Aurandt in his book, Destiny, tells of the powerful impact a single father can have on a whole society. Norman's father was a salesman in Connecticut. He did not like people who were different from himself, and that was almost everybody. In other words, he was a bigot. He constantly insulted people, and cut them down for their race or color. Women were degraded, and his own wife was not allowed to speak her mind. Home life was one of constant tension with fighting and shouting. Norman's father ended up involved in some shady deal on the sale of stocks.
Norman was 12 years old when his father got out of prison. But this did not change him at all. He was still as narrow, dogmatic, and critical as ever. Norman still loved his father, for in spite of all his weaknesses, he had a good and loving side to him. So when Norman grew up he made his father's image one of the most popular images America has ever known. Norman became a famous TV producer, and one of the biggest hits of all time was Norman Lear's Archie Bunker in All In The Family. Archie Bunker was not portraying a figment of someone's imagination. He was portraying the life of a real father. His views and values were those of Norman's own father.
When we come to the life and teachings of Jesus we need to recognize also that they represent the views and values of a real father. Jesus was the express image of the Father. He said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." If we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus, for He is the full and final revelation of God the Father. Henry Drummond said, "We can unlock a man's whole life if we watch what words he uses most." The word Jesus used most for God was Father. He calls God Father 17 times just in the Sermon on the Mount, and 12 of them are here in chapter 6. He uses this name for God in this chapter more than anywhere else in the synoptic Gospels. This is the God is Father chapter. I call your attention to this so you do not think we relate to God as Father only because the Lord's Prayer begins with our Father. Jesus makes clear that everything we do is to be done in the Father-child relationship. All we do is done either in obedience or disobedience to our heavenly Father, and so the Christian life could properly be called, all in the family.
A Sunday school teacher, after a service on the omnipotence of God, asked her class if there was anything God could not do? There was silence, and then one little guy put up his hand. She felt disappointed, thinking he must have missed the point of the lessons. She asked, "What do you think God can't do?" He said, "Well, He can't please everybody." That, of course, is literally true, for not even our heavenly Father can please everybody, even those in His own family.
The story of the Prodigal Son illustrates this. The Father was an ideal father, and there is not one thing you can detect in him that makes him a poor father. Yet he had two sons, and both of them were not pleased by his values. The younger son did not want to stay around and live under his ideal love. He wanted to take off and live an independent life. The father did not please him enough to hold him at home. The elder brother, on the other hand, was not pleased with his father when he accepted the rebel back. Here were two boys who had as good a father as anyone could ever have, yet they were not pleased.
The point is not, that it is impossible to be a good father, but that it is impossible for a good father to always please his children. Not even the only perfect father, who is God, can do this. The result is God's children all through history are like the two sons in the parable of the Prodigal. One side goes to the extreme of stressing God's justice and discipline, and this causes many to want to leave the family. The other side stresses the love and compassion of the father, and this makes the other side feel like walking out of the family, because this seems to them to make God a wishy-washy indulgent parent.
The family of God is often torn by the conflicting pictures of the nature of God's fatherhood. Is He a Divine Domineering Disciplinarian, or is He a Passive Permissive Parent?
History would indicate that people tend to lean one way or the other depending on what kind of an earthly father they had, and whether they accepted or rejected their father's values. Whole cultures have followed one or the other concept of God. Eastern, or the Greek church, tended to develop the idea of God as the Father-Creator, and the Father-Redeemer. His main purpose in history was to restore His fallen family to Himself through our Redeemer-Brother, the Lord Jesus.
The Western, or Latin church, followed Tertullian, the brilliant theologian who was also a lawyer, who established a more legalistic approach. God was the judge, and the penalty must be paid, and so if you have no alternative you are condemned. God, however, provides a substitute to take your condemnation. It is the Lord Jesus who sets you free. Both of these have a Biblical foundation, but our Western emphasis can be easily distorted, and lead to all kinds of fears of God as a condemning judge. The problem with trying to lock God into one form of fatherhood, or another, is that the universe cannot contain God, let alone some form, category, or description that men formulate for their own convenience. God's fatherhood is as varied as it needs to be to meet the needs of all His children.
God is Father to both the legalistic and the freedom loving. Both the Prodigal and his elder brother were equally sons of the same father. The father is not responsible for the weaknesses of either son. He did not want his youngest to go off and live for sensual pleasure. He knew that road would end with hogs and humiliation. But neither did he want his eldest to be such a legalistic snob, who would rather see his brother perish than be welcomed back and forgiven. The father was not the problem, but he was the center of that family, and the only hope of the families survival. The father is the only hope of the two sons ever being reconciled.
So it is in the family of God. The fatherhood of God is the foundation for all Christian unity. Christians will differ on many things, even on the meaning of fatherhood, but the reality of that fatherhood is the basis for their oneness. And that is why the first word of the Lord's Prayer is OUR. Not any father in heaven, but our Father. Not the father I have created in my own image, for my own satisfaction, but the father of all the great family of God, with its multiplicity of personalities, and varied backgrounds and cultures. Here is all the world of human complexity tied up in divine simplicity: OUR FATHER. It is the same concept we have when we say our nation. The United States is one nation, yet 50 states. It is E Pluribus Unum-or, the many in one. Such is the family of God.
The Lord's Prayer, therefore, is a family prayer. You will search in vain to find an I, me, my, or mine in this prayer. It is always the plural you will see: Our Father, give us our daily bread, forgive us, and lead us not into temptation. Jesus said we are to get alone to pray, but not to pray for ourselves alone. You are to shut out the sight and sound of others, but never the sensitivity to the needs of others. The poet captures this truth so beautifully-
You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer,
And even once say "I."
You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer,
And even once say "My."
You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer,
And not include another;
You cannot ask for daily bread,
And not include your brother.
For others are included
In each and every plea,
From the very beginning
It never once says, "Me."
We are not getting into the issue of the universal fatherhood of God, for that would take us down a different road, and we have plenty to see on the road we are traveling, so let me just state what all can agree on: The "our" here certainly includes all who have received Jesus as their Savior, for John makes it clear that as many as have received Him have been given the right to be called sons of God. This means that private prayer still has a social function. Jesus expects that we will come before our heavenly Father with an awareness that we part of a family. This awareness will make a world of difference in both our prayer life, and our life in general. It should make us more selfless, and aware of the needs of others in the family. We have a natural tendency to be self-centered.
A mother asked her boy what he learned from the story of the Good Samaritan? He said, "I learned that if I am ever in trouble somebody should help me." This is the tendency of all God's children, to see life only from the perspective of their own need. This is what makes it so hard for God to please everybody in the family. But if we come before God as, our Father, we will come with a broader perspective that goes beyond self needs. None of us would consider it proper for a father of four to grant all the requests of one at the expense of the other three. Such a father would be spoiling the one, and being mean and unfair to the others.
The gist of what Jesus is saying by the form of this prayer is, all of us should come before God with assurance that He will grant us all the basic needs of life. But when we branch out into other areas, we need to recognize that our requests may not be consistent with fairness to the whole family. If I desire it to be a beautiful day, and pray for sunshine, I need to do so with the spirit of, not my will but thine be done, for I know the wider family needs may demand rain. I can't expect God to be an indulgent Father to me, and grant my every whim, regardless of the consequences for the whole family.
There are a lot of issues in history where Christians are on both sides, and legitimately so, for their needs, background, and values, take them down different roads. It is legitimate also that they both seek God's guidance and providence to achieve their goals. But they should always have the perspective that God does not choose sides in the family, but seeks for reconciliation. We must come with the spirit of plurality, and say, our Father. He is the Father even of those sons who differ with me. Therefore, not my will be done, or their will be done, but Thy will be done. What is best for the whole family should be what we desire.
The "our" of the Lord's Prayer is the key to harmony and peace in the family of God. It can do wonders for unity in the home as well. The assumption is that the father will do what is best for the family whether or not he does what is best for you. That will make you sad or glad depending on seriously you take the "our." Abraham Lincoln told the story of the farmer who married a woman he thought was as meek as a dove. She was until one day he said to her, "I'm going to enlarge me dairy." She said, "That is our dairy dear." He was shocked at her claim, and stubbornly said, "My dairy, dear." She went wild and began to clobber him with the skillet, and in self-defense he fled to the bedroom and crawled under the bed. After a while she appeared at the door and said, "Now what are you doing?" He responded from under the bed, "I'm just looking for our pants dear."
What husband has not had to have a little help to get passed the, "My car, my money, my whatever," thinking. Some never make the transition, but the fact is, only when, "our" comes through is unity and oneness becoming a reality. That is the goal in marriage, and in the family of God, and that is why prayer needs to begin with the word "our." Jesus did not teach any prayer for an only child, for God has many children, and this is a major importance in our approaching Him in prayer. No request can be consistent with His will if it is detrimental to others in the family. The Prodigal got his fair share, but the father did not give him any of his brother's inheritance. A wise father must constantly balance his giving so as to be fair and just to all of his children.
The very nature of prayer, because of this "our" means many prayers will not be answered. This is another subject we will not pursue now, but we need to recognize what is true for human parents. Have you granted your children every request they have made? Have you even attempted to fill the endless requisitions of their never ending need, and unquenchable greed? If so, you already know why God does not answer all prayers. Much prayer is as unanswerable as your children's request of you. When our grandson was little he had days when all he wanted was Cherios. If you gave heed to his every plea for them he would never eat anything else. Many prayers get off to a false start, for they begin with a request, not to our Father, but to my Father. That is, it is a purely selfish request with no regard to the rest of the family. We cannot expect God to grant our every wish regardless of how it affects others.
We need to see that the reason the our is so vital to successful prayer is because every defect and neurosis there is in the human family, because of poor fatherhood images, is also a part of the family of God. There are Christians everywhere who have the right concept of God in their heads, but do not have it real in their hearts. Their views of fatherhood are distorted by many factors. Robert Frost gives an example in his book, Our Heavenly Father. A gifted Bible teacher told of her tragic childhood because her parents took the discipline by fear approach. All parents use it sometime, but it was their specialty.
Beside constant threats, they once packer her suitcase and dragged her down the stairs saying they were going to give her away. She became hysterical, and begged for one more chance. She was constantly told that God would punish her if she was bad, and each time she fell and skinned her knee this was used to inform her that God was punishing her. It is not hard to understand why her image of God was that of a sadistic fiend whose greatest joy was the suffering he could inflict. She grew up and studied the Bible for herself, and came to grasp a totally different view of her heavenly Father, but the emotional scars were still in her heart.
Ten of thousands of God's children have had such scars from false teachings, and the experiences of their youth. One of the most common problems Christians have in their inner life stem from bad father images. Their healing demands that they go beyond the, my father level, to the our father level, and see in God all they never had in their earthly father. The beginning of the Lord's Prayer could bring healing to many who can be brought to see that the our Father represents the ideal father, and not the fallen father they have come to fear.
Understanding all things!
This is God our Father,
What have we to fear?
This is a message of good news that millions need to know and believe to be happy members of the family of God. We are to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, and this one word OUR can be a feast that will develop our spiritual muscles, and make us mature sons and daughters.
The point Jesus is making by this opening word is not that prayer is never personal and self oriented. Jesus prayed prayers that were totally self-centered. He said things like my God, my God why has Thou forsaken me. Life is full of occasions when we cry out to God for personal needs that have little to do with others in the family. These are valid concerns, and are not signs of selfishness at all.
Selfishness comes in, however, and dominates our lives when we lose an awareness of the family, and cease to approach God as our Father in most of life's issues. Prayer then becomes a method whereby we seek to manipulate God so He is always on our side in the world of competition.
1. God help my team to win.
2. God help my stock to rise.
3. God help my interest to come out on top.
We do not consciously think these selfish things, but that is the inner motive that drives us. We have lost sight of the our, and family nature of prayer.
The more we become conscious of the our, the more we will recognize both teams have Christians playing, and both want victory. The only honest prayer, therefore, is, help us to do our best, and thy will be done. If God, in His providence, wills to shift the balance in favor of your opponent, as part of the family, you know it was for the good of the whole family. If the victory goes to you, you also know it is no basis for pride, as if God loves you more than His other children. It simply means, God either stayed neutral, and your team has superior skills, or God providentially tipped the scales in your favor for values that go beyond your personal need, for the good of the family. In prayer, as in all other activities, are ultimate goal is not self-satisfaction, but the pleasing of God. That is why the first three petitions of this prayer focus on God before there is any mention of personal need.
Christians do not realize how they hurt one another by their false use of prayer. It actually becomes cruel to use prayer as a self-centered means of excluding the rest of the family. People will say, "I prayed, and God brought my son home from the war." This said, by one Christian to another who also prayed, but whose son did not come back, can be cruel. Others might say, "I prayed and my cancer was healed." This can be a low blow to the family where cancer is not healed, even though they prayed with equal fervency and deep faith. It is not that we should not praise God and give public testimony to His blessings in answer to prayer, but that we should recognize that it was the Father's good pleasure to so respond to us, and not our superior faith or worth compared to others in the family. In other words, whether prayer be answered or denied, the true family spirit is the same: Thy will be done. It was for the good of all the family that Jesus did not escape the cup He so much dreaded. He drank it to the last drop, not because there was anything in Him worthy of such suffering, but because it was necessary for the whole family.
History is full of examples where Christians have suffered and died, not for anything in them that demanded it, but for the sake of the whole body. Some Christians suffer much, and other suffer little. It is not because God plays favorites in the family. God is no respecter of persons, but is a fair Father. If there is one son whom He did favor, it was His only Begotten Son, and He suffered more than any in the family. There are many mysteries, and much we do not grasp about the plan and will of God, but the point of this pattern prayer for the whole family of God is to recognize we are all in it together. The goal is not to come out on top, but that our Father will be gloried, and that His kingdom will come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That is the primary purpose of this prayer, and the focus that unifies us and makes the family one.
Their are millions of born-again Christians in both of the major parties of our nation. They are Christians who disagree on many political issues, and theological issues as well. They will tend to pray for that which supports their party. This is perfectly natural, but they need to recognize the valid concerns of others in the family, and not pretend that theirs is the only perspective that God should be supporting. In other words, how much you read into this one little word that begins the worlds most universal prayer will change your theology, your politics, and your attitudes and actions on every issue of life. If God is my God, and my God only, then I will use God for my ends, and my Christianity will be primarily competitive. If God is our God, then my goal will be primarily cooperative, for the good of the whole family.
I do not think any of us can fully escape the individualistic and competitive spirit of our culture, and we shouldn't, for there are many values in it. But we should always examine it in the light of the Lord's prayer. This will enable us to keep it in balance so we do not let the competitive spirit rob us of the cooperative spirit. This is vital to the family spirit of those who desire to be truly Christlike. This means the successful prayer is one we have already looked at as being, secret prayer, and simple prayer. Now we see it is also to be selfless prayer.
The goal of prayer is not to get what you want, but to get what God wants for the whole family. If that means you must give up your personal desire, then so be it, if that is what is best for the family. The Pharisees got what they wanted, and Jesus said that was their reward. Their own self goals of self glory and public acclaim is what they got, but they missed the only reward that really matters: The reward of being cooperative with God in getting His will done on earth, and pleasing Him. This may cost some personal dreams, but if it is best for the family, and the purpose of God, the reward will more than outweigh what is given up. Competition does get something, but cooperation gets everything that really matters.
Immaturity in the family of God is evidence by a selfish and competitive spirit. We see it in Corinth where they were saying, "I am of Apolos," "I am of Paul," "I am of Cephas." The Christians of Corinth had so many family problems because the spirit of competition so dominated them that the spirit of cooperation could not get a foot in the door. That is why Paul had to stress the matter of love. Agape love rises above selfishness and competition, and makes cooperation the dominate motive. No Christian is a mature and successful Christian until the spirit of cooperation dominates. Such a Christian takes very seriously the implications of the, our Father.