Becoming my father.
“Ross, you look just like your father!” Only yesterday evening, while visiting our daughter, Jacqui once again glimpsed in me my late father in a particular facial expression. For a brief moment I became Walter. In a strange way it is mildly unsettling when your wife suddenly thinks that you are someone else. It helps to know she has a high regard for her father-in-law! Strangely, as I write this blog I can look out of the window to the house where Eric lives – and Eric used to work with my father! He has told me tales of how he used to play jokes on his colleagues, which sometimes misfired! Very much in character but nevertheless I enjoyed hearing tales of my father from a different perspective. And each morning as I begin my prayers I make a direct reference to my father when I say the Lord’s Prayer. Ever since last year’s Thy Kingdom Come, an app-based daily devotional published by the CofE, this prayer taught by Jesus has become central in my prayer life. That may appear to you obvious – after all I have been saying the Lord’s Prayer every day in one context or other all my life. However, I now see that this prayer taught my Jesus is entirely sufficient. Despite being short (and the version in Luke is even shorter) everything is there, all we need for our relationship with God. It’s composition, it should be said, is a work of genius. It is also full of surprises – even though it is set firmly in Jewish tradition. And the first surprise is the opening word in the Greek text.
How should I address God? The obvious answer is one which acknowledges his authority, his power, his greatness. “Lord” or even “Your Majesty” seems obvious. However, his kingship comes later, in the third line. First and foremost, Jesus wants us to address God as “Father”. That’s where we are to begin, our starting point. Of course, it is there in the Hebrew scriptures – that God is as a father to his people. But it is not that prominent. To address God directly is to take your life into your hands. His name, YWHW, is never to be uttered. Not one of the 150 Psalms, so familiar to Jesus, begins by addressing God as Father. That is worth saying as we reflect on how Jesus taught his disciples to pray. He wants us to approach God primarily not in the temple or in the palace but in the home, “in my Father’s house.” I thank God that I had a great relationship with my father – that makes all the difference. I never had to beg his forgiveness or wring any concession out of him. Dad would often surprise me just by turning up. Fifty years ago this May I ran in the Varsity Match at Crystal Palace. As I was warming up he called me from the crowd (not that the stadium was packed!) and wished me well, just a few words. He congratulated me after the race, maybe a five minute conversation. And then got the train back to Liverpool. That is, he was involved without being intrusive. I simply took it for granted that he wanted the very best for me, no hidden agenda. I could count on his support. I never doubted his commitment. And that’s how Jesus wants us to think of God when we pray. And speak accordingly – simply, directly, openly. No need to beg or flatter, manipulate or manage. How I speak to God is to mirror the way I speak to my father. “Father.” The tone is important too. It is usually matter of fact but during times of stress or anxiety, “Father!” Or just fed up or fatigued: “Father.” It’s how you say it, not easily communicated – as you have just noticed – in the written word. For those who had a tense relationship with their father, even an estrangement, this will be difficult. Clearly, a need for healing and a new way of thinking. So it is important to reflect on how Jesus teaches about fathers. Above all, in rhe parable of the prodigal son. The father gives his younger son space, even to leave with his share of the inheritance. And then he waits, continually scanning the horizon for his return. And when he does, the father throws all dignity aside and runs to his returning reprobate. He wants everyone to join with him in celebration. Hold onto that image. Above all in John’s Gospel that Jesus highlights our relationship with God as father with no less than 109 references in the text. Clearly for him this is the pivotal relationship, one which we ourselves are invited to enter. Amazing
So he shares with his disciples: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20) However, what is even more amazing is that through the day-by-day ministry of the Holy Spirit something remarkable starts to happen .As Jesus tells us “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) We begin to take on the family likeness. #prayer #LordsPrayer #father