Approaching the Father

Jesus teaches us how to approach the Father in a portion of one of my favorite passages of the entire Bible—which is often called the Sermon on the Mount.

Albrecht Dürer via Wikimedia Commons

Albrecht Dürer via Wikimedia Commons

In Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus gives a wonderful discourse on how followers of the Father should behave. It destroys legalism and points to a higher standard of behavior. Many read it as an impossible challenge that does not apply to us; others interpret it as an even stronger legalism, but it is not. Instead it is based on the higher law of love Jesus summarizes in the two greatest commandments.

I look forward eagerly to writing a series on this discourse, but not today. Today we will look at the portion where Jesus tells us how to approach the Father. And it is rather simple.

How to Approach the Father

Jesus begins in chapter 6 telling us how not to pray. We should not pray like the hypocrites who pray in public to be seen by others. Do you know anyone who insists on saying grace before meals in restaurants as a ‘witness’? We should also not pray like pagan ‘prayer warriors’, who pray long and repetitive prayers, because the Father already knows what we need.

Instead, he says:

This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

The prayer is very simple and has four points.

What Do We Learn?

First, we acknowledge the Father and align ourselves with his agenda of love and reconciliation. His name is set apart from all other names, and we share his desire that his kingdom (all who follow him and are reconciled) take root here on earth and that his will prevail here as it does where he is. This step is perhaps more for our benefit than the Father’s because it reminds us of our alignment with him and our part in reconciliation.

Secondly, we ask that the Father provide us our daily needs. He already knows what they are and is prepared to provide for us, so perhaps this is more to remind us of that than to urge the Father to action.

Third, we ask to be forgiven our offenses toward others, something the Father wants to do anyway. There is no mention of offenses toward the Father; somehow I don’t think he is much offended. But we condition our expectations on the way we forgive offenses of others toward us! Perhaps this is more to remind us how we should respond to offenses in the light of the Father’s love than it is to plead for the Father’s forgiveness for us.

Finally, we address our behavior. I don’t think this is a request for the Father not lead us to inappropriate behavior—we don’t need anyone’s help to follow our negative tendencies. What we need is support against the evil one. Who is that? I think it’s us because, again, we don’t need any help to do evil; we need strength to overcome our own inclinations. This strength occurs as we reflect on the Father’s love and practice true love for ourselves and others.

After sharing this model prayer, Jesus focuses on the major issue in the prayer,

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I don’t think the Father disowns us if we don’t forgive, but if we seek peace and release for our bad behavior toward others, while holding grudges against them, we cannot truly find that peace.

A Fresh Perspective

Sometimes, a passage such as this becomes so familiar that we no longer hear what it says to us, so I offer this rendition for your consideration:

Our Father, your name is set apart from all other names. May you dwell among us, and may your will prevail here as it does where you are.

Provide us our daily needs,

Forgive us our offenses as we forgive others,

And alert us to our bad inclinations and strengthen us against them.

Let us approach the Father, not as a legalistic duty, or a show of superior spirituality, or to manipulate the Father, but simply and with an open heart. And let us remember who the Father is, how he cares for us, how we should respond to offenses, and how we should strive to control our negative impulses.

Next time we hear of something wonderful the Father has in store for us!

Your observations and comments are welcome below.
If you enjoyed this or found it helpful, please sign up for updates in the column to the right (email, RSS, Facebook, or Twitter) so that you don’t miss future posts. Also consider sharing this post using the buttons below. Have a great day! ~Tim
This entry was posted in God, Jesus, prayer, The Father and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Approaching the Father

  1. I’m curious, do you think that asking God to provide us our needs changes outcomes metaphysically? Or is it simply the act of seeking God which helps us understand what we really need?

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    • Hi CE, I think that prayer makes a difference to us in a number of ways. If you are asking whether God actually changes outcomes because of our prayers, I cannot say; this is an ambiguous area for me.

      I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on the question.

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  2. Dick Ford says:

    As CS Lewis said, prayer doesn’t change God; it changes us.

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    • Hi Dick! I am glad to see you here! Thanks for the great quote; I totally agree. I think you know that I love CS Lewis as much as you do.

      I hope you come back to comment soon. Your insights are always amazing.

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  3. I like Dick Ford’s answer. And I still pray for people who are in hard times and trouble as if my little prayer can help, although I lack any clarity on what good it can actually do, but still do it just in case 🙂

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    • I agree CE. I think the action of thinking of them and supporting them makes a difference. When I had a serious bout with cancer (everyone thought I was gonna die), the support of so many people made an impact on me and was comforting. Many of those were praying for me, others sent ‘positive thoughts my way’, a Catholic lady made me a quilt and had it blessed by a priest, a native-American shaman did a ritual for me, and a Buddhist temple…I am not sure what they did.

      Many of these people knew me only through a shared acquaintance, but I heard the reports of their good will and felt the comfort. It helped give me the strength to survive. It had an effect on me, but I do not know that it caused God to interfere on my behalf.

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  4. Lana says:

    It’s taken me a long time to learn to like anything in Matthew 5-7 because as a kid, I had to memorize the whole thing, and it was all presented me as legalistic dos and don’ts (ATI homeschool program is based off those verses). But today I am appreciating the depth of the simple words….let your kingdom come, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

    May it be so.

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  5. In a response to a comment on one of your posts you said that you had studies paganism.
    I think that it is important to make a distinction between paganism and Satanism.
    My understanding of paganism is that it is following the myths of the ancient world – Greece, Rome, Egypt etc..
    Satanism, however ,involves pacts with the devil, black magic, and witchcraft etc..
    These are not the same things.
    I would like to hear your response to this.
    Michael E. East.

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    • Good question Michael. I think that most current pagan movements, like Wicca and Druidism, are modern revivals of old paganisms rather than movements surviving from antiquity.

      If you are asking about modern Satanism, I think the same is true. Modern Satanism was created by Anton LaVey in the 20th century. He wrote the Satanic Bible and Satanic Rituals, both of which I have read. However, modern Satanism seems not to believe in the real existence of ‘Satan’; Satan is used as a symbol in opposition to the idea of God. I would consider LaVey’s Satanism to fit broadly under the umbrella of paganism, though it intends to be shocking and malicious in a way that some other paganisms do not.

      I hope I understood your question correctly. I would like to hear more of your thoughts on the matter.

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  6. Pingback: Jesus Speaks of the Father’s House | Jesus Without Baggage

  7. An interesting article, although, at times it seems that you have a “burr under your saddle.” I mean when you write of those “who insists on saying grace before meals in restaurants as a ‘witness’”. Anyone who looks for faults in others can find them or can be offended by the actions and behaviors of others. However, I know many people who “offer grace” in restaurants do it out of love and devotion to God. It almost seems that there is some residual personal offense that might still need forgiveness. Such slights expressed in your writing are not worthy of the message you are trying to bring across and, in the end, only detract from what you are saying.

    Also, I would challenge you that, when we ask forgiveness of our debts, we are also asking forgiveness our our debts towards God. In fact, our sin against God is often greater than our sin against each other. Also, when Jesus said, “if we do not forgive each other than the Father will not forgive us”, especially in the context of the parable of the slave forgiven much but refused to forgive his fellow slave, I think Jesus really meant it! Its hard to explain away what was clearly stated and taught by Jesus.

    Finally, as believers, I don’t think we are the evil one. We are redeemed, forgiven, and born again, how can we be the “evil one!” That being said, the Greek simply says, “deliver us from evil”, not the evil one. We are asking to be delivered from external evil that seeks to harm us and from any evil motives, intents, or behaviors that would rise up and defile us from inside.

    Finally finally, you are right, we are to come to God based on His grace, favor, and invitation rather than based on our own righteousness obtained through keeping of the law.

    David

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  8. David, thank you for your excellent comments.

    There is nothing wrong with saying grace in public, but I know that many believers are committed to do it as a ‘witness’. I was raised this way and did it myself for longer than I wish I had. The purpose was to demonstrate our righteousness for the benefit of others. We were not ashamed to draw attention to ‘Christ’ (us). There were stories of strangers coming up and thanking such folks for what they did.

    If this motivation does not illustrate Jesus’ comment, ‘when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others’, I don’t know what does. Now, it doesn’t bother me when people say grace in public; some do have better motivations, and even if they don’t they have done nothing wrong. But Jesus is the one who brought up the subject in order to prepare for instruction in the right way to pray; I just supplied a contemporary example.

    Regarding the evil one, I was using the NIV translation and did not want to get bogged down with clarifying the translation, but I still think that temptation originates within us. In fact the translation, ‘deliver us from evil’ would support my point more strongly.

    I always appreciate your comments. We do not approach the Bible in the same way and we have disagreements. But, as you point out in your comment, we do agree on some things. In fact, we agree on a LOT.

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    • michaeleeast says:

      Tim,
      I am little bit concerned about your reading on Satanism.
      I would be worried if you had dabbled in the dark side.
      This is apostasy and rebellion against God.
      Did you ever turn away from God?
      If so have you been reconciled to God?
      Or was it just an intellectual exercise?
      It is something I would never consider.
      Michael E. East

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      • Thank you for your concern, Michael, but I have never dabbled in the dark side. I read LaVey’s books in order to better understand the movement, which was much in the news in the early 70s. In fact, I was a theology student in a conservative Christian college.

        I have never turned away from God. Even in my deepest spiritual crises, I did not abandon God. If you are interested, see https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/about-tim-chastain/my-spiritual-crisis/.

        Comparative religion was a major interest of mine, so I also read Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Mormonism, Christian Science, Watch Tower Society, Theosophy, Wicca, New Age, Spiritualism, and a host of other movements. But I did so from a Christian perspective.

        I hope this alleviates your concern, and I admit such investigation is not for everybody!

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        • michaeleeast says:

          Tim,
          Thank you for replying.
          There is a lot of Satanism around, particularly in the rock music industry.
          I suffered complications from my listening to rock music.
          These are better since I gave it up.
          I now listen only to classical music (mostly sacred).
          So you can understand my concern.
          Michael E. East.

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  9. Pingback: Jesus Speaks of His Relationship with the Father | Jesus Without Baggage

  10. consultgtf says:

    …Forgive us our offenses as we forgive others…

    Can we say the same prayer like this …Forgive us our offenses_IF_ we forgive others…By this we will/have to forgive others as we need forgiveness!

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  11. Chas says:

    Having endured a number of long and detailed prayers from the church leadership in the past few weeks, there is a need for us to be aware of God’s capabilities, so that even what is known as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is unnecessarily long. We have little, or no, knowledge of what is really best in any given situation, so if we feel a need to pray, we should just say, ‘Your will be done, Almighty One’. (One leader did this last week, by accident, when someone else had recounted a list of things he thought needed prayer and suddenly called on this leader to pray. He had not been expecting to have to respond, so had not memorized all these things, so he had little choice but to say, ‘God, you know what is needed for all these people, may your will be done’).

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, I think prayer is individualized and I think your approach to prayer is a very good one; I really like it. It is important for us to remember that while a certain approached to prayer might be suited to us, it does not mean that we should prescribe our approach to someone else as the way they should pray.

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      • Chas says:

        Tim, I am not trying to impose this; just suggesting it as advice. We speak to God as and when we can, and listen to Him in the same way. It is very easy to try to put conditions in our service to God. I find that now I mostly use prayer as a way of telling God that I want my service to Him to be unconditional.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          I’m sorry, Chas. I did not mean that I thought you were impose your way of prayer on others; I had in mind those who think that the way they pray is the RIGHT way and try to impose it on others.

          In re-reading my comment, I see how it probably sounded that way.

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    • consultgtf says:

      ‘Your will be done, Almighty One’ You have said it all, if this can be done by all of us, then…

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      • Chas says:

        We can say it, and we can mean it, but can we live with the consequences?

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        • consultgtf says:

          Sorry,you have used a wrong word,”consequences” it should have been, “Blessing”.
          That blessed life, I am blessed with!

          But as you have rightly said, others will have to face the consequences, because they live on their “FREE WILL” and EGO…

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