In his book Is God Listening?, Andrew Steinmann shows readers how God’s Word teaches us to construct our prayers so that they are centered on God’s promises. The following excerpt is from the chapter “When Prayer Becomes True Prayer,” in which Dr. Steinmann examines the words of the Lord’s Prayer.
The Opening of the Lord’s Prayer—God as Father
Scholars have long recognized that the Lord’s Prayer contains seven requests or petitions. . . . Before giving these petitions, Jesus taught His disciples to address God as Father. This was the way Jesus addressed His prayers (see Matthew 11:25–26; 26:39 [or its parallels Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42]; 26:42; Luke 10:21; 23:34, 46; John 11:41; 12:27–28; 17:1–25). Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to God as their Father (Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11, 21). While God was occasionally referred to as a father in the Old Testament (Psalm 103:13; Proverbs 3:12), no prayers address Him as Father. Jesus is the one who teaches us about our relationship with God as our Father. That relationship brings us to God in prayer, trusting that He loves as a perfect Father who listens to His children’s requests and who wants to give them every good thing. In other words, praying to God as our Father focuses us on the First Commandment. It reminds us we should have no other gods that we trust (see Exodus 20:3–6). When we pray to God as our Father, we are saying that we trust only Him.
The early Christians understood this and prayed to God as their Father. Paul reminded his readers that when they prayed, they called on God using the Aramaic word for father, Abba (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6), just as Jesus did (Mark 14:36). Of course, we have other ways of addressing God in prayer. However, Jesus and Paul both emphasized that when we pray, we should understand the close relationship that God has with us. When we believe in Christ and all that He has done for us, we become children of God who know His love. This should lead us to pray with the confidence that God wishes to hear our prayers and is always ready to listen to our requests. Moreover, this should make us bold in prayer so that we do not hold back our thoughts and desires from God when we pray. Instead, because we know that our Father loves us, we can bring all our thoughts and requests to Him.
However, Jesus instructs us to pray this prayer together. Individual Christians are not to think of themselves as if they were God’s only child and pray “My Father.” Instead, Christians are to pray together and for the common good. Therefore, Jesus taught His disciples to pray “Our Father.” While Luke’s form of the prayer begins simply “Father,” it also assumes Christians are praying for their common good. Luke quotes Jesus as saying: “When you [plural in Greek] pray . . . ” Moreover, both Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “Give us . . . ,” “Forgive us . . . ,” “Don’t allow us . . . ” Calling on God as our Father does more than remind us of our relationship to one another. If God is our Father, we are brothers and sisters. Jesus instructs us to pray as united family members who have the love of the Father and who love one another.
The address to God also reminds us that He is our Father in heaven. Our relationship with Him (and, therefore, with our brothers and sisters) is a spiritual one. Jesus is teaching us to pray to our Father in heaven so we learn that our prayers transcend our earthly limitations. We pray to God in heaven so the earthly barriers of culture, language, social or economic status, race, and age are overcome. Too often we want to identify Christianity with our situation in life. We tend to think of our culture or subculture as somehow embodying Christian characteristics instead of understanding that all human cultures not only contain good but also contain sinful traits and characteristics. In the United States, churches have often been polarized along racial lines. Instead of praying “Our Father” we can be at times praying “My Father (and the Father of those like me).” Yet Jesus reminds us that He came for all people in all races and cultures, of all languages and ages and classes. Earthly divisions are not relevant when we pray to our Father in heaven.
From Is God Listening?: Making Prayer a Part of Your Life, pages 120–22 © 2004 Andrew E. Steinmann, published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.