And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven . . . (Matt 6:7-9)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
The first phrase in the Lord’s Prayer is: “Our Father”.
We come before God as a community under a sovereign God. Addressing God as father focuses primarily on God’s sovereignty, not God’s gender . God is a benevolent sovereign who desires relational intimacy with his children. He is not a buddy god or a needy god that can be manipulated. Rather, we depend on God for everyday bread—not the other way around.
Our Human Fathers
For human fathers who are not good role models, scripture reminds us that God is a father to the fatherless (Ps 68:5). Scripture is not just “turning a phrase” here. One consequence of slavery in Egypt and later in Babylon was illegitimacy, which kept many Jewish children from ever meeting their fathers. The word, orphan, is used in over fifty verses in scripture—eleven times in the book of Deuteronomy alone. Jesus himself assures us: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18) Our Heavenly Father’s love for us, His children, inspires our human fathers, not the other way around.
Christian spirituality has a communal character—it is not my spirituality; it is our spirituality. In baptism, for example, we are presented to God and to the church. In communion, we remember our baptism and celebrate our covenantal relationship with God and with one another. We can enjoy solitude with God while recognizing the vital role our community of faith has in shaping our relationship with God. In turn, we know God better as we love one another.
The communal aspect of God’s intimacy implies that our spirituality is not focused just on warm, fuzzy feelings. Ours is not a consumer spirituality. Great panoramas, great music, great poetry, great architecture, and great intellectual achievements all point to God, but our spirituality is inherently relational. We are most likely to see God’s face in the faces of those around us.
Cain and Abel
Jesus’ stories and parables drive this point home:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-24)
Our spiritual identity is in a sovereign God and in right relationships with His people. The two are inexplicably bound together.
Doctrine of the Trinity
The doctrine of the Trinity reinforces this point. Every conversation is three-way. It is always you, me, and God. God is above us, between us, and within us. In God’s transcendence, God is all powerful and in control. Through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God shares our pain and provides us a role model. In the Holy Spirit’s presence, God comforts and guides us. We are in relationship with God in three persons. Our identity is defined uniquely and independently in relation to each person in the Trinity (Miner 2007, 112).
But why is the Lord’s Prayer addressed to heaven? The obvious answer is that heaven is God’s home address. Another obvious answer is that heaven clarifies which father we are talking about!
Notice that almost all the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer center on God, not us. Do we listen for God’s voice? Are we approaching our sovereign God in appropriate humility?
 The image of God as our father makes a statement about His character. God is spirit; being neither male or female.
Miner, Maureen. 2007. “Back to the basics in attachment to God: Revisiting theory in light of theology.” Journal of Psychology and Theology, 35(2), 112–22.
Our Heavenly Father
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