The Disciple’s Prayer is a most wonderful pattern prayer for us the people of God to use. We have started with the first words, which are most precious. OUR FATHER.
1. OUR FATHER should be the most common term that we use in prayer when we address God.
2. OUR FATHER is a term of INTIMACY. The Lord Jesus Christ made intimacy with God a possibility.
3. OUR FATHER reminds us that we are made in God’s image and therefore can grasp that He is a listening God with a father’s heart.
4. OUR FATHER reminds us that we can approach Him at any time - we can go to Him and ask for what we need and he will provide it.
5. OUR FATHER makes a demand of us – that we conform to his rules and standards. Children can show their respect for their father by keeping his rules, honouring his name and never doing anything that would displease him.
We need to remember all that this term OUR FATHER means to us. What a father He is! He is far greater than any earthly father could be. We can approach Him with respectful faith. We can approach Him with the twin attitudes – intimacy and awe! Our Father is also the sovereign majesty of the universe, the God of all power and the God of all authority. But his children acknowledge Him as their king and ruler and the supreme power in the Kingdom. Awe and intimacy – respect and familiarity – reverence and closeness.
It has been said that,
“to begin a prayer, “Our Father, which art in heaven” is to indicate eagerness to come as a child, beloved by a Father, to receive all that His love and eternal, supernatural resources can possibly give.” (John MacArthur)
The next phrase points us to a location for God. We are distributing booklets by John Blanchard at the moment entitled, “Where was God on the September 11th?” What a question!
1. Where is God?
The simplest answer to that question is that God was where He always is and has been and ever will be – in heaven. But for many people that answer is precisely the problem for them. They know this scripture –
Our Father which art in heaven.
THEY are asking, “What was He doing in Heaven? Why was He not here on earth where all the trouble is happening? Why was He not here to prevent those planes from flying into those buildings? Why is He not available to stop children being abused, passers by being shot, people dying in famines and earthquakes, elderly folk being mugged, young people being enticed to start on drugs” and many other things. They accuse God of being in heaven and not caring about what is going on here on earth. But those who question like this do not know God! They have no concept of the meaning of this phrase
Our Father which art in heaven.
Part of the problem is that people do not understand what heaven is!
Putting it as simply as possible we understand from the Bible that there are the heavens that God made – and the heaven which is God’s presence.
Genesis 1 v 1 clearly states
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Before the heaven and earth were created by God’s divine fiat, His command, they did not exist. He spoke them into existence with the power of His spoken word!
They therefore had a beginning.
So, did God produce from nothing a place for Him to live – because He was homeless before the creation?
To even ask such a question is quite ridiculous.
God created the sky, the space where the stars are placed and all of the galaxies further away.
What are we to make of these things? How are we to understand them?
The word commonly used for heaven is OURANOS, which occurs 284 times in the New Testament.
It is used for
1. The space above earth where there is air.
It is the aerial heavens where birds fly and clouds drift. Jesus used it, in Matthew 8 v 20, to describe the flying creatures that he had made
And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
They are the birds of the heavens, the sky.
2. The sky which includes space where the stars are
– sometimes called the sidereal heavens – the location of stars (Latin SIDERIS - a star.)
Matthew 24 v 29 – 31 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
This is the equivalent to the Hebrew term for Firmament or expanse in Genesis 1 v 14.
Heaven therefore is sky and space created by the Lord Jesus Christ as Hebrews 1 tells us –
10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: 11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; 12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
There is a third use of OURANOS.
3. It is used for the eternal dwelling place of God.
Matthew 5 v 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 12 v 50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
Revelation 3 v 12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
It was from THIS heaven that the Lord Jesus Christ descended to become incarnate of the virgin Mary. It was to THIS heaven that He ascended from the mount referred to and described by Paul in Hebrews 4 v 14
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into (literally “through” – DIERCHOMAI – to pass through) the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
He passed through the sky, space and sidereal heaven TO this other heaven – the dwelling place of God.
Paul said in Ephesians 4 v 10
He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.
There are many other scriptures that distinguish between what we know as heaven or the heavens – namely the created heavens – and heaven, the eternal dwelling place of Almighty God.
So we may now be sure that the Bible tells us of these distinct entities.
When we are converted, so the hymn says, “heaven above is softer blue.” That heaven is the sky, the created starry heaven and all the galaxies beyond. The psalmist considered the heavens and all that they contained in Psalm 8 – that they were the works of God’s fingers. But He was not at that moment considering where God lived. He was marvelling at the vastness of the universe, and his smallness compared to the heaven’s bigness. The created heavens cut each one of us down to size.
It is no accident that OURANOS describes all three entities – heaven. Is it because there is a shortage of words that the Lord God could use through His divinely appointed authors? Not a bit of it! It is no accident of vocabulary – it is because we are supposed to see a relationship between them.
The sky and space speak to us of the true heaven, the dwelling place of God. –
Our Father which art in HEAVEN.
The natural heavens bear witness to the power and glory of the creator –
Psalm 19 v 1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
God’s rainbow in the heavens reminds us that God is God who keeps His promises. The billions of stars remind us of the innumerable descendants of Abraham and his spiritual as well as physical children. God calls all the stars by name – and remembers them – we have difficulty remembering the names of some of our own circles of friends and relatives! The heavens speak to us of the HEAVEN and point us to the God of Heaven.
But you and I as Christian people are said in the New Testament to be those who live in heavenly places!
Ephesians 1 v 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
v 19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
Ephesians 2 v 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
We who are Christians have another side to our existence – we “dwell with Christ in heavenly realms, the heavenly places,” which actually are our future eternal inheritance. This is a place as Dr Gilmore describes it as “separate from earth and a place less noted for its geography than for its stability and authority.”
What is this place? It is not the sky. It is not space. It is not a distant galaxy. And it certainly is not that other heavenly realm controlled, and filled with destructive spiritual squatters – namely demons, fallen angels – the enemies of Christ and His believing Christian children. From that heavenly realm Satan marshals his demon troops and from there he oversees his mission to oppose the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ at every opportunity. We thought about that place when so recently we studied Ephesians 6 v 12ff.
Heaven therefore does not contain evil spirits – the “heavenlies” do. In this whole consideration of heaven we can be absolutely sure that the heavenly realms from which Christ’s enemies operate, from which they advance and retreat – are DISTINCT from God’s special presence – “Our father which art in heaven”. The scriptures teach that Satan is BOUND. This means that he is confined to this heavenly realm. He has been banished forever from God’s special presence. Only angels and elect men have access to God’s special presence!
Our question then, Where is God – and the answer, Our father which art in heaven, focuses on the special presence of the Living God in His perfect dwelling place. David called it “The house of the Lord” where he knew that he would dwell forever. Isaiah prays to God to
Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: (Isaiah 63 v 15)
Heaven is God’s home – He is “Our Father which art in heaven.”
You may be objecting now. You like me believe in the omnipresence of God – that He is present everywhere. You identify with King Solomon’s statement in 1 Kings 8 v 27
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?
What is so special about the Heaven where God is, where He is, as it were, AT HOME? It is the place where the most eminent and spectacular manifestations of His glory can be seen. There are sights that would shrivel us sinners up if we should see them. In THAT heaven God’s magnificence is expressly revealed. All that we see on earth, in the sky and in space, glorious though they are, are nothing compared with the perfections of unimaginable splendour and beauty that can be seen there. Heaven is the place of God’s glory. And we will not be able to see it until we have slipped away from these sinful bodies of ours and with redeemed souls and new eyes we will get a glimpse of the glory of God. When we have become adjusted to the sight of the glorious glories we shall settle down to gaze in love and wonder for all eternity. Glory and the sight of glory are ahead of us brothers and sisters. We have the promise of scripture –
Psalm 73 v 24 Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
We depend on the promise of our Saviour –
Hebrews 2 v 10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory.
The heaven where the Father dwells is so identified with glory that the two terms are almost interchangeable.
So having understood where God the Father is – in heaven and what that heaven is we may now return to earth and apply this teaching to our earthly existence and ask secondly
2. What are we to learn from our Father God being in heaven His dwelling place?
In other words what difference if any should it make to us that God is in heaven?
1. Our Father which art in heaven should make us pray in a much higher sense than we do now.
Our prayers are often stuck to our earthly experience here in our present situation and we fail to appreciate the greatness of our God – who is above earth. We sometimes treat the Lord God as a pal who may or may not do us a favour! But we must resist that at all costs in our prayers. The great God, the One who inhabits heaven cannot be approached in a flippant, casual or informal way. One of the tragedies of the informal society that we live in today is that children are encouraged to call adults by their first names which does not encourage respect, honour or dignity for the person addressed. With this casual atmosphere prevailing it is no wonder that God is approached in the same way.
Yet He is the creator! He is almighty, all-powerful, able at a moment to end our lives, able to bring calamity or prosperity should He choose. Yet He is gracious as well as omnipotent and delights to invite mortals to approach Him, and the majesty that he is. In prayer then we should raise our thinking from earthliness to heavenliness – from informality and familiarity to reverence and humility. He is great, we are small – he is the great High God, worthy of worship and adoration – He is our glorious Lord God – let us raise our minds to think much more of the One to whom we pray. We will sing in a few moments
There, there on eagle-wing we soar, And time and sense seem all no more; And heaven comes down our souls to greet, And glory crowns the mercy-seat.
2. Our Father which art in heaven should help us to learn more of God’s majesty, omniscience and glory.
Psalm 104 v 1 Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. 2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
We need to be in awe of our great God. He is the King of Kings. He is eternal. He is regal – He reigns over the whole creation and beyond. He is THE most glorious person in His being. Oh my friends we need to realise just who it is that we are dealing with here in prayer. Sometimes we lose sight of His majestic greatness.
Sometimes we forget that the Lord God sees everything and forgets nothing.
Hebrews 14 v 13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
How little we believe this. If we really believed it then we would never indulge in sin in secret – because we would realise that there is no such thing as keeping a secret from God. Perhaps it is that we are more afraid of others around us finding out what we do than we are of God finding out! Let the words “Our father which art in heaven” never be the means of our thinking that He will not see us – or hear us in our conversations or even our thoughts. God is not remote when He is in heaven – He is the ever-present glorious God.
3. Our Father which art in heaven helps us to learn more of His sovereign Power.
Consider the following scriptures -
Psalm 115 v 3 But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.
1 Chronicles 16 v 25 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised: he also is to be feared above all gods.
Ephesians 1 v 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
God’s power is absolute. It is the power of a sovereign ruler – and the power of a kind King to those who obey and love Him. He is pleased to reign and rule, and pleased to bless, protect and love His creatures – in particular the redeemed sons and daughters of God.
If men gain great power, so that they are absolutely powerful in their own sphere, their tendency is always to become despots or tyrants.
It is not so with the sovereign Lord God. He IS all powerful, but He is also all loving, all forgiving, all merciful and all gracious. His rule is kind – it is always what is best for His creatures. “Our Father which art in heaven” teaches us to have confidence in the powerful Lord of all.
Children who know the benevolent power of their fathers, easily and confidently rest and trust under their father’s shadow of protection. “My Dad is a strong man. My Dad will look after me and Mum. My Dad can do anything. I love my Dad.” Such is the confidence of a child who knows, because he has been shown, the power of his father.
So should we know more and more of the sovereign power of our Almighty God – and then trust Him at all times and especially when we come to Him in prayer.
4. Our Father which art in heaven communicates to us wonderful comfort for us as believers.
Thomas Watson says
“When we know God as our father and that He is in heaven, then the way to heaven can never be blocked up.”
Our own fathers may be on the other side of the world. Access to them may be denied us. But God is never inaccessible. We may be ourselves a long way from our earthly father – but we are never far from Him who loves us and is ever ready to receive our requests and praises.
We can come to this heavenly father with confidence and love. What a joy and privilege this is.
But we must remember always to come with proper humility and awe. This recognises the greatness of who He is.
To come only with the first – with confidence and love – can lead to unholy familiarity.
To come only with the second – humility and awe – will lead to coldness and dread of One so High and mighty.
But to come with balance – confidence, love, humility and awe – all four – will lead to a satisfying and blessed prayer encounter that will thrill, comfort and nourish all at once.
Do we want to know how to properly approach the Mightiest being in the Universe – the Lord God, powerful creator, loving Saviour?
Then let us come to Him as He deserves with
Our Father which art in heaven!
Do you know Him my friend? Is he your Saviour?
Have you come to Him humbly, repenting and confessing that in times past you have assumed too much and presumed upon His sovereign mercy?
Has He turned away His wrath from you and placed all of your sins onto His dear Son the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary? Have you peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ?
Then approach Him carefully with “Our Father which art in heaven” – and you will have joy in your heart and soul, that will last for ever!