The secret to a lot of things – perhaps everything – in life is balance; holding two or more things in tension. For instance, the smart manufacturer will want to create a product that is a match between the right price and the right quality; a wise parent will want to balance love and discipline, and so on.The Lord’s Prayer does this with those little words Our Father in heaven.
First, we are here reminded that God is Father. Now here I need to say immediately that if, like so many people today, your experience of a father is so negative that the very word raises your blood pressure, you may need to do some work. You may have to constantly and firmly remind yourself that God is the ideal father that you never knew, or even think of him in terms of a ‘perfect parent’; someone who is lovingly and wisely concerned that you grow into who you are supposed to be. Problems with the word father should not undermine the extraordinary truth that we can know God as a loving parent. We can get rid of any ideas of God as some sort of cold, calculating, celestial supercomputer or throw away any thoughts of him being the Chief Executive Officer of the universe. Prayer, says Jesus, can and should involve a family relationship with God. Now there is an implication here; in order to have that relationship we need to put our faith in Jesus and, by doing so, become his brothers and sisters. There is a beautiful logic here: to put your trust in Christ is to be adopted into God’s family and so, by definition, to be in a son or daughter relationship with God. We become ‘linked in’ to a new set of relationships both in heaven and on earth to other believers.
This wonderful truth is balanced by the reminder that God is in heaven. He is all powerful, utterly holy and quite beyond our comprehension. He understands everything, knows everything, has created everything and sustains everything. We need this. It’s all too easy to create a reduced, pocket-sized God in our own image but this is a God who is in heaven: bigger and greater than anything we can imagine.
This, then, is the perfect balance; we should have something that we might call affectionate awe or delighted devotion – call it what you will – but a holding together of these two truths. This is important because many believers, perhaps all of us, have a prayer life that frequently gets out of balance. So we can neglect God’s cosmic power and end up treating him as little more than some sort of comfortable friend up there who doesn’t mind at all what we do. Or alternatively we can neglect God’s paternal love for us and conceive of him as some sort of distant and detached overlord of the universe. Here Jesus is teaching that what we have is an astonishing privilege: if we have put our faith in Christ we can know the God of heaven in all his power and glory as a loving, concerned, perfect parent. Amazing!
As we use this prayer let’s pause with those first words Our Father in heaven; let’s stay balanced.
“Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Matthew 6:9 ESV
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