Lesson 1: Our Father
Course: Basics of Spiritual Growth
Lesson 1: Our Father
Welcome to this class on the basics of spiritual growth. Our doorway into this class is going to be the great instruction on prayer that Jesus gave us, and you know it as the Lord’s Prayer. I think you are going to see in this prayer how the whole world of the Christian life can and will open up for you with this. All of the teachings of Christ, all of his words, invite us to a loving attention to him, to growth in him and to this whole business of appreciating, loving who He is, loving Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and allowing him to draw us in to his life and listening to directives from him.
What is a directive? It is something that is given to us to say, “This is how I want you to live your life.” With the directive of this prayer, he is saying, “This is how I want you to orient your life. I want you to be a man and a woman of prayer where you are first listening in prayer and then walking, living, praising, giving thanks in this ongoing relationship with the Father.”
Here is something the early church called “the royal task.” In other words, here is a way that helps take us home now, home fully in the fullness of the kingdom that will come. Millions of people every day, I mean literally millions upon millions in every part of the globe will pray this, and you will have learned it in many, many different translations and hear it as most say it, not all: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
I want to look at every section of this. I want you to dive into every section of this, so that it is not just something that is said, not some dead rote memory thing that has no meaning, no entry to the life of Christ for us. Let’s dive down into this and allow what Jesus intended it to be, to allow what he wants it to be for his bride, for the body, the church.
I. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
The prayer is in plural. The first thing you have to get hold of is that this is in plural. In other words, it is not, “My Father who art in heaven” No, it is “Our Father.” In fact, if you really look at the language, you could also very easily say, “Father of us.” I like this business of “Father of us.” Why? Because most of the world, not all of the world, but most of the world lives in an individualized, narcissistic culture where we really do exalt self. It is a selfish, sick world. We are posting selfies on social media and much of life becomes about me, me, me, me. Then, even in our talking with God, we take on this spirit of thinking it’s all rather a private thing where it’s me, God; and also, there is very little listening involved on our part. So you put it in terms of not listening, you put it in terms of the singular person, and goodness gracious. Then you narrow the whole scope of what Jesus wants us to live into out of this prayer. So, it is plural.
If you are from Texas like I am, you would say “y’all.” If you are from Pittsburg, you’d say, “you’uns.” If you are from the East Coast, you’d say, “youse guys.” Everyone has their own plural. When it is plural, we are remembering that when we are praying this thing, we are not praying just as an individual, even though it may be just you praying the prayer. I think Jesus wants us to have a real broad community in mind when we are praying this. “Father of us.” Really, what is happening here is, he is saying we are coming before our Heavenly Father in a vast company. Think about it, to better understand this “us” part, the “y’all” part and why it is so important for you as a Christian to get hold of this, to get hold of plural, to understand that I walk in Christ in the community. Get hold of this.
A. John 20:17
Look at John 20:17 where Jesus is giving instructions to Mary Magdalene. He says this, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” This is after the great triumphant moment of the Resurrection. This statement not only identifies Jesus as the brother of his disciples, it kind of places us as walking with him as our brother. We are going to spell that out a little bit more later, but let’s stay with the Word.
B. The context is that you are in a family in our father’s house.
It also offers the embrace of the one perfect Son, capital “S,” Jesus Himself, embracing his body. That is you, the members of the body of Christ, naming us as his sisters, his brothers, which means we are daughters and sons of his Father, who is our Father. Jesus is wrapping his arms around the whole church here, the whole body of Christ, his sheep for whom he died. He carries all of us in the strong embrace of sacrificial, self-donating love. He is taking us to his Father. This is a big embrace. Hear what Jesus said to Mary: “My Father is your Father now.” It is a big deal. “My God is your God now.” This is the embrace of the Trinity: The Father embraces the Son and the Son receives the love of the Father, returns it back to the Father and the Holy Spirit is the bond of peace and love between them that is unifying all things in Christ. Guess who is brought into this big embrace now? That is us. We are being brought into the embrace of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This is the great Resurrection gift of entry into the presence of God and is made possible, not by anything I’ve done, not by anything you’ve done. It is made possible because of Jesus and what he has done for us.
In this word, “Father of us” that he, himself, that Jesus gave us, what is the big deal here? The big deal is, we find our center of being, who I am, who I most deeply am, not within myself as an isolated creature. In fact, what we are going to see here is that isolation, away from God, this is the great sin of pride, this is what alienates us from God. We don’t see ourselves as isolated, but we see ourselves as members of a great family. Their lives, hear it? The lives of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit become my life. This is a big deal. Their love draws me into their purposes for my life. In other words, this fellowship that they know, this union of the three, three distinct persons, one God, this communion infuses – that means flows in as a gift, faith, hope, and love – into our lives. Faith, the absolute assurance that Jesus is who he is and trusting in his goodness. Then hope is the sure confidence that he gives us that he is involved in our lives and in our world and in our whole life history and our family. His intentions are good for us. Love, the love that the Father and the Son have for one another as the Holy Spirit flows back and forth between them, that same love is given for us as well.
C. The prayer situates you with disciples of Christ of all time.
Moreover, here’s the big deal for walking as a Christian disciple. What is a disciple? One who follows after Jesus. If we are going to be disciples of Christ, the Lord’s Prayer, this Father of us, this y’all business, places us in a far greater context than what you can ever dream of. This is a huge context. It is a real family. It situates us in a real family within our Father’s house. We stand not only beside Jesus, our brother, but with him as our entrance into the Father’s presence. He is the gate, he provides the path, he provides the way home.
The great reformer in the 1700s, John Wesley, wrote, “Our Father, not mine only, who now cried before him, but our, our, the God and Father of the spirits of all flesh, the father of angels and men, the father of the universe, of all the families, both in heaven and in earth.” You see where I’m going with this, what I think Jesus is telling us about the family and this “our” business. The prayer situates us with Christians of all times, from the beginning, from the beginning. Where is Biblical evidence for this? We don’t believe anything a human being says if he cannot support it with the Word of God. Amen.
Hebrews 12: 1-2 gives us a great “therefore.” Let’s see what the inspired Word of God has to say. Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore.” Of course to get to “therefore,” I really want to encourage you to read all of the 11 chapters coming up to this, so you can understand what the “therefore” is there for.
D. You worship God with those both in heaven and earth.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” In other words, since we stand on the stage of human history with the Christians in heaven looking on, we can lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely. Why? To run the path before us. The Lord has a purpose for your life, he has meaning. He wants you to be engaged and to understand yourself as a minister of the Gospel of Christ. I realize I am not talking to preachers right now, I’m talking to you, the people of God; yes, you, to understand yourself as a full-time minister of the Gospel of Christ wherever he has situated you. We don’t want this bifurcation between the full-time folks and the part-time maybe folks. That is not a Christian understanding. Everybody is fully in. Everybody is fully ordained by God with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and with calling in their lives and with purpose and meaning. So lay aside the weight of sin that clings so closely, so that you can run with perseverance the race, the calling that is set before you, right here, right now, in your own life, right where you are, right where he has situated you.
When we worshipfully come into the Father’s presence and with thanksgiving and adoration and prayer, the Son literally places us with the whole of his people, who are also praising him and worshiping him and thanking him. We are placed in the magnificent crowd of the worshipers of God. We stand in awe, then, with angels and archangels and with the church on earth; and then we also stand with the church in heaven. The bonds of love are not broken between those in Christ in heaven and those in Christ here.”Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him” – Hebrews 12:2 – “endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his place at the right hand of the throne of God.”
E. When you seek God in prayer, Jesus is interceding for you.
This is immense. What does it mean? It means when you are listening to him in prayer, when you are praying with others, when you are praying by yourself; when you are listening and when you are seeking him in prayer, he is himself there, hearing our prayers, interceding for us, speaking on our behalf to the Father, bringing us, drawing us into the love of the family. All of this means that we are not praying alone. I don’t care how isolated you feel, how lonely you feel in your life right now - and there are times of loneliness, particularly if you are going through a time of loss and a time of grief – you are not alone. Christ our Lord gives us that assurance. You are not alone.
All of this means that we are not going to be by ourselves wherever we are in our path on the way home. The loneliness does come at times. The Word of the Lord sometimes seems silent to us. The gift of faith – this is the trust that Jesus is with us. This gift allows us to see the wide and magnificent rhythm of God’s mercy flowing throughout the whole creation, the entirety of human history. He has not abandoned, he just has not abandoned us. We are traveling as a family, a magnificent family. Much support and encouragement issues from the family.
Think about it now. God’s angels are on duty. What are they on duty to do? They’re carrying out the instructions of the Father of us. There are Christians in heaven, they are in glory now, they are cheering us on. The Son has given us the Holy Spirit. It is all in the Gospel of John and look on in Acts. The Son has given us the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do? He loves, he guides us, he inspires us, he guards us, he witnesses to us of the Father’s will in our lives. This, dear friends, is a huge, huge issue.
II. What type of father is he?
A. Contrasting your heavenly father to your earthly father, Matthew 7:7
Jesus made an important comparison in the Sermon on the Mount, between fallen, sinful earthly parents and his Father in heaven. Matthew 7:7 in the Sermon on the Mount says, “Ask, search, knock.” Then he offers a rich and compelling illustration, touching a warm place in our hearts where we care for children, where we love the children. “Is there anyone among you,” he says. Matthew 7:9-11, “who if your child asks for bread, will give him a stone; or if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake.” This would be a mean and cruel thing, giving a child something that would hurt them. “If you, then, who are evil” – talking about the basic nature of our lives and this whole business of total depravity in our lives – “if you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more would your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.” This “how much more” business points to the whole expanse of the love of God for you. It is hard to get it across. It’s hard particularly if you didn’t have a good father image. By faith you have to go beyond what your actual experience may have been of a father, to know that there really are good fathers and there is The Good Father.
One of the great psalms that you can learn in your life to say over and over as the way to guide you, Psalm 136:1: “O give thanks to the Lord.” Why? “for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Here is the foundational point of what we rest our lives upon. Here is the foundational point of why I can have confidence, even when it appears that things are collapsing around me. I do not collapse and cry. I am held together through all events. Even when my life comes to an end, I am still held together in Christ and he takes me on across the Jordan.
When Jesus expressed the Father’s how-much-more care, he is really, really communicating the importance of God’s reliability and his provisional sufficiency, providence. He takes care of you! For me, who was born a natural worrier and who tends to get anxious, this is kind of a hard and direct word. Go there. He promises to take care of you. Rather than worry, my good friend Mike Boyce?_____22:45.0 says, “Worry is simply praying to yourself.” Rather than worry, I am going to pray, not to myself, but to God; and I am going to have confidence that he is good, he is good. He takes care of the physical needs of his children. He loves us, he values us more than the birds, than the flowers, which he magnificently clothes, he says.
B. God gives us his presence.
Not only will he give us the good things that we need, but he will also give us the most important, sustaining reality that we need, which is his presence. That is the big deal. Jesus opened the whole horizon of heaven for us, so that we can have the promise of the company of the three of our loves, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How much more will he give his presence, the Holy Spirit, to those who ask. Exemplary parents, earthly parents, what do they do? They protect, they provide, they nurture, they guide, they instruct, they comfort, they help build up their families. How much more, how much more.
When our first two grandchildren were 4, just a few months apart, it suddenly dawned on my wife and me, What in the world are they going to call us? Since our children tend to be a little wild at times in terms of poking fun at their old mother and dad, I was quite concerned. It kind of seemed like meme was going to be a frontrunner for my wife’s name and I was okay with that, but my son was urging those kids to call meme “Meme” and he was urging them to call me “Pepe.” So Meme and Pepe. Of course, he was just doing this to be crazy with those little girls. So I was quite regularly adjusting that and saying, “No, we’re not going to call your poor old grandfather ‘Pepe.’” Then, lo and behold, out of a 9-month little baby, the words “good dad” appeared. Didn’t suggest it, didn’t think of it; but our little Avery started saying, calling me “Good Dad.” They ran it together, they said, Good-dad. Thank you, Jesus.
Listen. Jesus is telling us, our heavenly father is a Good Dad. You can love him and trust him. This is a fallen father. I would give my life for any of these children, for these grandchildren. Who among us wouldn’t do that? We would give our lives for these children, even when they grow up and are a little ornery along the way and even when they go through these teenage times, Jesus help us. We would do whatever we needed to do for these children. This is what Jesus is saying. He is a good and loving father. He places us in good company. Jesus embraces us with the goodness of the Father and we can rest in that.
Blessed be the name of the Lord, who teaches us how to pray. First of all, not by saying anything, but by resting in the assurance that this Father of us places us in a magnificent family over which he is the head. He is good and loving and Jesus is the head of the church and Jesus shows us all of the goodness of the Father and the Holy Spirit applies it in our lives. Blessed be the name of the Lord where this kind of confidence starts. Amen.
Transcribed by Shirley Taylor.