Prayer is a very personal thing. If we are being honest, the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” show up a lot in our prayers. Yet when Jesus teaches us to pray, we are to address “our” Father in heaven. Throughout the Lord’s prayer we also encounter “us,” and “our” a lot, but never “me,” nor “my.” This is important and reminds of three important facts as we learn to pray.
First, when we pray our Father, we are reminded that God is Someone we experience together. Faith is personal, but it is not something we create for ourselves, it is not something we possess and control or change for our own purposes.
If we began our prayer with something like “my personal cosmic being” we could then perhaps conjure God up as we desire. However, Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father in heaven.” God is not someone we can change to suit our tastes. God has been experienced by a very large community of faith over a very long time.
If you ask my three boys what I am like, the facts they relate will need to fit with each other, plus fit with what you know about me. They might point to the obvious and say that I have blue eyes and and more grey hair today than yesterday. That would be true. Actually, my eyes were blue long before they came on the scene. We won’t mention my hair colour. You get the point though, that what is true about me is true about me whether you asked my boys or not. They cannot conjure me up, rather they experience me through my presence in their lives.
What is true about God was true about God long before you or I came on the scene. God is God, and that would be true even if there were no Church to speak of Him. God is not “my father, conjured up in my mind to suit my preference,” but “our father,” the one with whom humans have had a relationship for a long time. He is the one who revealed himself to his covenant people. He is the one who has revealed himself in Jesus. He is the one the community of faith has experienced and has spoken about. He is the one we meet in the Bible. He is our father, someone beyond us and experienced together by us.
When we pray “our father,” we are reminded that God is beyond us, experienced by a whole community of faith, and therefore can be discovered by us, but not conjured up.
Second, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we are part of a large family which is part of an even larger family of faith. Faith is personal, but it is not practiced alone.
The local church is a family of believers and so we can properly refer to one another as brothers and sisters.
Within our own church family I feel rather badly for those who have come from a tradition where one is taught to enter the sanctuary with quietness in order to prepare for worship. That simply does not happen at Calvary as there is a lot of chit-chat which goes on before and after the service. But as I like to say, God loves a noisy church for it shows that relationships are happening. Yes, we gather to worship God, however, we gather to worship God together. As a family of believers we do not gather at the church, but as the church.
Of course we have an even bigger family to think about. The believers that would normally gather at the church down the street are also our brothers and sisters. As are the believers across the town. Even if we think they are weird. As are the believers across the world.
We are a huge family brought together not by our efforts at thinking alike, or even by liking each other, but by God loving us alike. We do not need to agree with our brothers and sisters to be family. We just need a relationship with our father. When you enter into relationship with God, you automatically enter into a family relationship with many people you might consider a little odd, or even a lot wrong.
When we pray “our father” we also think of the many generations of Christ followers which have gone before. God was their father too. Actually, God is still their father! The dead don’t cease to be God’s children!
Third, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we share something fundamentally important with all people, for God is the Father of all humankind. Faith is personal, but it does not not cut us off from the public.
I once heard someone make a distinction between Genesis 3 and Genesis 1 Christians. If we are Genesis 3 Christians we tend to see people first-off as fallen, as having suffered the consequence of the Fall. We may not even see people at all, we may just see sinners. Genesis 1 Christians on the other hand see people, first-off as being created in the image of God, for relationship with God. In that sense all humans are children of God. Praying “our” father reminds us of that.
However, we may wonder about those times the Bible speaks of people as being alienated from God, or even enemies of God. Is that not evidence that not all people can be called “children of God,” that from the Christian perspective they cannot be considered part of one big family?
Imagine you can go back to the days of slavery in the Southern States. If you met a slave, would you say “slave is an appropriate term for you for that is what you are, this is where you belong,” or would you say “slave is a tragic term for you for you were created to be free. You were created for something better. Slave fits your current situation, but not your identity. You are not currently where you belong.” So too, with those who would live far from God. There are terms, like stranger, and enemy, which accurately describe their situation due to sin, but those terms are tragic. All people were created in the image of God, for relationship with God. He is calling them to come home. In his grace he is offering forgiveness and a new start through Jesus. They are his children, but children may end up living with zero relationship with their parents. This is tragic. Do our hearts break?
When we pray “our father” we are reminded that God is father to all humanity. We are reminded to have the same kind of love and longing for all people from all peoples as God has. Our hearts will break for those who are far, even as God’s does.
When we pray “our father” we are reminded that family dynamics are always changing. Every person we meet can potentially also desire to pray this prayer too someday. Those far from God can come home. Faith is personal, but it is not private. What we call “evangelism” is often seen as unethical in our day of privacy and individualism, however, evangelism is unavoidable when we pray “our father.” Our father desires that all His children come home. Given that we are family, we would love to see them come home too!
“I,” “me,” and “my” may show up a lot in our prayers and that is fine. Prayer is personal and we approach God as individuals. He relates to each of us on a personal and individual level. However, let us remember that Jesus taught us to pray addressing God as “our” father. Let that be a reminder that,
- God is a very real Someone that an entire faith community has experienced, and continues to experience.
- we are part of a big family, in fact a huge and complicated family of faith.
- We are part of an even bigger and even more complicated family, which includes even those who would rather not be in the family at all, whom God loves and is calling home.
May we ever be mindful that God is not just “my father,” but “our father.”