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Our Father in Heaven: God's Intimacy & Sovereignty

Matthew 6:9 reads: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. These first lines of the Lord's Prayer are heard around the world, in many different languages, every single week on Sunday mornings. Today, we are going to focus in on these words, and the idea that Jesus is trying to teach his disciples something about God through them.

In his book How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Simple People, Pete Greg writes, "The way we view God affects everything about everything." He claims that every other idea in this prayer is both "preempted and primed" by these opening words of adoration.

The foundation and catalyst of Jesus' model prayer is this adoration, or intense admiration. Before desires, requests, petitions, or intercessions, Jesus admires God. His "primer on prayer" starts with loving and knowing God.

So then, who is this God? When we look at verse 9, we see a God who is both familiar and sovereign. There are some hallmarks of God's intimacy and "other-ness" that can be seen in this verse. Let's dive in.

The Familiar God

The first element that stands out is the word Father. This points to the divine mystery of the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Son speaking to his Father, so it is not at all odd for him to use this turn of phrase. What is a little strange is the invitation for the disciples to also address God as Father. Usually this would be a relationship based on blood, but now it is an invitation: Jesus inviting his people into a relationship with the Father.

This might have felt strange, or uncomfortable, to the disciples as Jews. The Israelites held God in great esteem, even to the point where they would not say God's name, YHWH, out loud. So this familial language is even more beautiful because it invites the disciples to know and love God in a new way. Even more, he is calling them to experience being loved by God. Look at Romans 8:15-17:

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

When we call God our Father, we are remembering that we are completely and uniquely loved. But in our reading of this verse, you might have looked over one simple but powerful word: our. God is not just a Father, or the Father, or their Father; the model of the prayer teaches us that God is our Father. In fact, not once in this prayer is there a singular pronoun! This whole prayer is social, not individual. When we pray this prayer, we pray as one big family.

Let's take a moment to think about what usually compels us to pray. What are the moments that make us go, "I think I need to pray right now"? They are often moments of need, or anxiety, or even obligation. Interestingly, however, in the words of Justin McRoberts, many of the circumstances that bring us to prayer are the ones that convince us that we are alone. We often feel like the trials and burdens and fears of life are ones we have to face alone; but these lies begin to unravel with the word our.

This is another invitation: the invitation to see ourselves as part of the Lord's family, and the burdens we carry as ones also carried by others, to whom we belong. You are not alone, in your trials or in your prayers. All of those who went before and will come after us will say, our Father.

The Sovereign God

Yet in these verses, we do not only see God's desire for intimacy with us; we also see God's greatness and holiness. This appears first in the phrase, in heaven. Now, in heaven feels like a separation or "other-ness" of God, who is off in the clouds while we all suffer down here. Right? But we might need to reframe that idea a little. Heaven is just God's territory, and God actively wants heaven and earth to be reunited. When we "go to heaven," it's not an escape; it's a reconciliation.

At the same time, heaven, in the context of this verse, describes where God is located. This where the illustration of a familial relationship falls short a little, because this Father is outside of us. He comes from a place where there is no time, no money, nothing binding him as we are bound to this world. There is a beauty in being able to say that this God, who rules and reigns in a place and a way outside of my own understanding, is my Father.

Let's now look at the rest of this verse: hallowed be your name. With these words, we move from a sort of sentimentality of God is our Father into true worship, God's rightful place. Because God is not just the God who loves us; God is also holy. God is worthy of all the praise, honor, and glory.

Here's a linguistic tidbit for you: this phrase is not describing God as holy. Jesus did not say, "God, you are holy." No, he said hallowed be your name. This is the command tense. Jesus is rightfully and actively placing God as hallowed. So when we pray this prayer, we are stating not only that God is holy, but we are giving God a position of holiness.

As we ascribe to God this holiness, we alter our posture as well. We approach God in a position of humility and appreciation for who God is.

So the dichotomy between these two concepts, intimacy and holiness, familiarity and sovereignty, helps us to understand not just that we are a part of a family; we are part of God's family. The God who created and sustains the universe claims us as his children.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, is a declaration and an invitation to remember: who God is, who we are, and who we are to one another. The foundations upon which we pray, according to the Lord's own model, and before anything else, is adoration of God, of God's love for me, and of his invitation to all.

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