When Jesus talks, every word matters. When his subject is prayer, every word chosen becomes a text book for showing us how to talk to God. Listen with fresh ears to the words of Jesus when he taught us to pray:
Prayer is plural. It isn’t simply me talking inside my head all day (that’s called thinking). It isn’t even just me talking to God. It is me entering into a supernatural world where supernatural beings participate in divine conversation. When I pray/ talk to God, I assume that on occasion if not often there are angels within hearing distance. Scripture teaches me to believe this. I also assume that on occasion if not often there are demons listening in. Because Jesus experienced these beings and even interacted with them, I must assume they are in the mix even if I’m not aware of it.
Prayer is plural. Which is to say that when we pray, we are praying to the God of the whole world and the God of the Church. We are praying as members of the Body of Christ. We are not an “I;” we are a “we.” After all, we are related to one another because we are related to Him. As I mature in my faith, my prayers ought more and more to include the great company of those for whom God’s heart breaks.
We are members of a family, the head of which is our Father. When we pray, we are praying to a person. God is not some nebulous, positive force or concept. He is a person who desires a relationship with us as his children. If he weren’t a person, there could be no relationship.
Because he is our creator and was not himself created, we call him Father. Some struggle to embrace that name for God. “My dad was good for nothing,” they might say, “so calling God my father messes with my ability to relate to him.” Though I can understand the connection, I would counter that you’re missing the gift here. Even if your earthly father was a mess of a person you don’t have to miss out on the opportunity to have the kind of father you always wanted. Here in your Father God, there is redemption! He offers himself to you in just that capacity, to redeem the years the locusts have eaten. He invites us to belong. He promises us his love. He invites us home and home in him is safe.
Our God is a person, and he lives in a place. Heaven is the Father’s home base and the object of our highest cravings. When we pray, we touch heaven. That gift ought to humble us.
Mark Buchanan says we are born with two impulses and it is the tension between these two impulses that creates our restlessness. One impulse is to go beyond. It is that little voice that looks on life and says, “Is this all there is?” The other impulse is to go home. It is that craving for what is comfortable, for what we know. Buchanan says heaven “is the one place where both impulses – to go beyond, to go home – are … totally satisfied.”
Darrell Johnson says we should translate this first line of Jesus’ prayer, “Our Father, holy-fy your name!” This is what we are asking of God. We are asking him to empower us as partners in the work of making him famous.
The Greek word for “hallowed” is a command. We are asking God to reveal himself as he is and in that request we are also declaring our intent to enter into partnership. We want to participate in the work of glorifying His name. How is it that we can pray this proclamation as nothing more than a dry recitation, when it is meant as a contract with the Holiest Being in the universe? To pray this word is to take seriously an invitation to spend our lives proclaiming the truth of who he is.
The second of the ten commandments calls on God’s people to honor his name. That command transfers over into the New Testament when Paul proclaims (Philippians 2:9-11), “Therefore God exalted (Jesus) to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This is the real work of prayer. It is to bring the very power of Jesus — the King of the Universe, God in the flesh, even the power of his name — to bear on our most desperate situations so that through this personal, intentional relationship he is glorified. We confess our sins. We seek healing. We get our lives in sync with the Father so our lives proclaim his glory.
If you don’t know Jesus in an intimate and powerful way, I implore you to begin using the name of Jesus in your conversations with God. When you call on his name he comes, and he comes in power.