Our Father in Heaven
There are two records of what we call the Lord's prayer. One in Matthew 6 and one in Luke 11. They are quite similar but seem to be taught by Jesus on two different occasions: one in the Sermon on the Mount, and one on-request after Jesus had been spending some time praying himself.
These two instances should tell us two things. First, the form was important because the outlines are repeated. Second, the exact words are not a mystical incantation because they were not copied exactly. If the Holy Spirit preserved this teaching from Jesus with this similarity and variety, we should pay attention to both of these things.
Given that the one in Matthew has more content in it, we will primarily follow that one to see how Jesus instructs us in prayer.
The prayer is prefaced: "Pray then like this:" (Ma 6:9a)
This means that Jesus is teaching us about how we should, or ought, to pray. This comes off the back of comments about how NOT to pray; that is not to show off and not with great verbosity and length (i.e. "heaping up empty phrases" Ma 6:7). Those things are clearly avoided in this prayer because it is simple and short. Unless you put on a silly vocal affectation, it is quite hard to show off with the Lord's prayer.
Far too many people think that prayer is a free-for-all where anything vaguely spiritual goes. They judge their prayer by metrics that Jesus doesn't use. So, if Jesus provides clear teaching on this, lets sit up and pay attention. Imagine being asked to bake a cake: you're given a recipe, it's a guide so you can vary the amounts a little to provide a cake that is a little softer or bigger or tastier etc. But, if you don't follow the recipe at all, you're not going to end up with a cake. Be careful to keep the leaven out of your prayers.
Jesus gives us a way to pray that is true, profound and concise. A worthy model to mimic. "When you pray, say..." (Lu 11:2a).
Who should we pray to?
While God the Father, Son & Spirit are all God, Jesus teaches his disciples to primarily address the Father: "Our Father in heaven" (Mt 6:9). Or to put it in the classic old-speak KJV: "Our Father which art in heaven" (Art thou not desirous that we should converse in like manner always?).
This is the One we are to make holy and beseech; our Heavenly Father. He can hear our prayers and respond to them, like an earthly father responds to his children's needs (Lu 11:10–13).
Now, all of us have had fathers. All of us have had fathers who were sinners. But for some of us, our experience has so tainted our view of fatherhood that we have a hard time seeing God this way. However it is important that we do not take the earthly shadow and use it to understand heavenly reality. So let's set the record straight. Our Heavenly Father...
- Will never leave or forsake his children (De 31:6),
- Will protect his children (1Pe 1:5),
- Knows & supplies his children's needs (Lu 12:22–31),
- Disciplines his children appropriately (He 12:4–11),
- Gives wonderful gifts to His children (Lu 12:32–34),
- Leads His children well (2Co 2:14, Ex 3:8–10),
- Knows when to say "No" (Ja 4:3),
- Always fulfils his promises and never lies (He 6:13–20).
God is infinitely better than our earthly fathers. We should expect our dads to mimic as much of this as is possible, but when they fail us, don't put that on your Heavenly Father.
God is everywhere: omnipresent. He is spirit (has no body), and yet he is said to be in heaven. So while he cannot be contained, there is some way in which the Father is "located" in the spiritual realm of heaven. God is often described as being in a throne room, presiding over heavenly councils and all the activities of earth. It's kind of like how we understand Parliament house, Buckingham Palace or the White House as the location of power and authority, even if the persons in power are not contained there.
God the Father presides from Heaven, which is figuratively above us, over the affairs of earth. And so, because he is the one "in power" he is the one we turn to with due respect to make petitions, seek pardon, and thank for His lavish bounty.
Yet, He is not some distant bureaucratic deity, He is OUR Father. He has come and made us part of His royal family. The Father made an epic plan to make us His children, by sending his only-begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, to redeem us. Then the Spirit of God was sent to apply that redemption to our lives, adopting us in to a family that we have no right to part of!
Now we can come and speak to our Father, who is in Heaven, and call on his Holy Name because we are not strangers or outsiders or enemies, but His children whom He loves.
"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Ro 8:14–17).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved." (Eph 1:3–6).