The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9–13) consists of six petitions. When we pray, we ask God that
- his name be hallowed,
- his kingdom come,
- his will be done,
- our needs be met,
- our sins forgiven,
- and our souls protected.
Notice the order of these requests. First, we direct our attention to God and his concerns; then—and only then—we direct God’s attention to us and our concerns. When we prioritize God, we receive his blessing: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing, etc.] will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33).
Notice also what Jesus assumes about God. The Lord’s Prayer tells us what to pray for, but it assumes certain things about God’s character and power. It assumes he is worthy of our requests and able to grant them.
These assumptions find expression in the name Jesus uses to address God: our heavenly Father. We are so accustomed to referring to God as Father that we forget what a radical idea and innovative practice it was in Jesus’ own day. New Testament scholars believe that Jesus invented the habit of calling God Father. He did so because he was conscious of his unique relationship with God. In John 20:17, for example, he distinguished his way of relating to God from ours: “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” But his relationship with God is not a zero-sum game. We too can become God’s sons and daughters because Jesus is God’s Son par excellence: “In love,” Paul writes, “[God] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Eph. 1:5). When we call God Father, we say something important about his character: He loves us, and it is his pleasure and will to welcome us into his presence.
When we call God our heavenly Father, we say something equally important about his power. In the Bible, heaven is God’s dwelling place, the throne room from which he rules the universe. It connotes divine majesty and absolute power. Revelation 4:1–11 records John’s vision of heaven. It is a place of unimaginable beauty. All day long, angels and human beings worship God to the fullest extent of their abilities. They sing:
You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.
In lights of this song, stop and reflect for a moment on the meaning of the words, our heavenly Father. The God who created and sustains the universe is pleased to be a Father to you and me. How can we not rest assured, then, that our prayers will be answered when we pray to such a God?
Who you pray to matters, it turns out, as much as—if not more than—what you pray for.