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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Our most daring presumption

“Father!” So I begin my prayers each morning, taking Jesus at his word to use this word to address the creator and upholder of this awesome universe.

I’ve been saying the Lord’s prayer for nearly all of my life, certainly since saying it every day during my school years. Things were different then. And then, virtually at every church service since. It’s become part of my life. Sadly its very familiarity has cushioned the shock of what we are actually doing, addressing God as father.

And yet strangely it is only over the last few years that this simple prayer of Jesus has the fulcrum of my prayer life. The stimulus came from the first Thy Kingdom Come launched by Archbishop Justin in 2016, which encouraged all people to pray the Lord’s prayer between Ascension and Pentecost in order to experience God’s love.

At the time Justin taught: “Prayer moves us closer not only to God, but to one another. It connects us with those whom we otherwise cannot see. Prayer breaks down division, in prayer we take each other’s hands and find our safe stronghold.”

So we pray as Jesus taught us.

The first thing to say is that this prayer which Jesus taught his disciples to pray is incredibly short. Each morning I read one of the Psalms, working my way through the Psalter, ideally over 150 days. And then back to the beginning. Invariably I sigh on day 119, the very day I am pushed for time!

In contrast to most of the Psalms, the Lord’s prayer is incredibly short. Blink and you will miss it. We find it in two of the Gospels, in Matthew and here in Luke’s.

“‘Father, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation.’”

(Luke 11:2-4).

That’s it. Incidentally the doxology, beginning with “For thine is the Kingdom,” comes from the first century Didache. It’s as if those second generation Christians thought that the prayer Jesus taught needed to be rounded off, to be given – so to speak – more body.

And yet, this prayer is short, very short.

We all find prayer both difficult and easy. It comes naturally and yet we are so easily distracted. So when Jesus teaches his disciples how we should pray, his main message is obvious. This is how we speak to our fathers in everyday life, no long preambles or concluding phrases. My daughters invariably come to the point.

We are to resist the temptation of thinking that the longer the prayer, the more likely God is going to respond. Long prayers can so easily feed our egos or betray an insecurity.

It’s short because of who God is – our loving, heavenly father. Jesus invites us to join him and address him as Abba, the Aramaic word for ‘father’ revealing a close, intimate relationship. Above all our father loves us and wants the very best for us. No Jewish teacher other than Jesus used this familiar word to address God, altogether presumptuous.

So Jesus wants us to pray to God just in the same way we would speak to our father – simply and to the point. Certainly no need for repetition or elaborate phrases.

So each morning I presume to address God as Father. Not King or Lord but Father, even though we pray for the coming of his Kingdom where his Lordship is acknowledged.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught: “The child asks of the Father whom he knows. Thus, the essence of Christian prayer is not general adoration, but definite, concrete petition. The right way to approach God is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father.”

Above all, the Lord’s prayer is God-centred. We begin with his name, his Kingdom. At last week’s New Wine, John Tyson observed that we so often pray the Lord’s prayer the wrong way around, beginning with our own needs before working our way to acknowledging God’s glory.

When we pray to our Father, we immediately pray for the coming of his Kingdom, defined in Matthew’s version as when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Only then do we bring to God our own needs as a child would rely on their parent day-by-day.

Strangely the first need we articulate is not for forgiveness but for our daily bread, a reference to the experience of the people of Israel in the wilderness. This day-by-day reliance is at the heart of our relationship with our heavenly father. No need for large barns here.

And as always for Jesus, relationships are central. We are to live as God’s family so that we forgive all those who have wronged us, no exceptions. That’s how our heavenly father wants us his children to live, safe in his care.

So with Jesus as our Savour, we are bold to pray “Our father.”

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