In his pattern for prayer Jesus taught us to begin our relationship with God using the words “Our Father”. (Matthew 6:9). Because we use the “Lord’s Prayer” so often we can easily take those two introductory words for granted.
Our relationship with our human parents changes as we grow up. As infants and then young children we rely upon the care and protection that our parents provide. The psalmist writes about his relationship with God with these words “I cling to you; your right hand upholds me”. (Psalm 63:9) As I read those words I am reminded of the strong, protective grasp of my Dad’s hand when we encountered busy traffic in town.
However, as our teenage desire for independence grows, our parents may seem less loving as they try to discipline us. The writer to the Hebrews expresses this clearly (from Hebrews 12:7-11) “For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all….they (our parents) disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness”.
As we look back in adult life, we see that the reason underlying the painful restrictions and discipline from our parents in our teenage years was their loving desire for our own ultimate good and happiness.
I left school and immediately spent a “gap year” working in the rolling mill of a steel works near Sheffield. When I returned home as a young adult my relationship with my Dad had changed yet again. Now we enjoyed a pint together and although he was still my father we were more like companions. The word “companion” is derived from two Latin words “com” and “panis”, which literally mean “with bread”.
Holy Communion is at the heart of Christian worship where we share bread and wine, as our Lord commanded us. In Communion God our Father is indeed our “companion”.
Towards the end of their lives parents sometimes rely on their children for support. Our heavenly Father guides and trusts us to carry on His work for the Kingdom in our own small way. So we see that our loving relationship with God summed up in those two memorable words “Our Father, can be worked out in our lives in several different ways.
However the comparison must not be pressed too far. In the first place Our Heavenly Father is not constrained by the passage of time. He can be “Our father” for us in any of the four ways I have illustrated at any time. For example, He can discipline us when we go wrong, and at the very same time guide us by his Holy Spirit to some positive kingdom building action and, if the task is difficult, we may well sense his “right hand upholding us” (Psalm 63:8).
Secondly, Jesus told us to start our prayers saying “Our Father”, not “my Father”. The word “our” is hugely significant. When siblings meet together they talk about “our” mum or dad. When we pray or meet together as Christians we acknowledge that we are indeed members of a wonderful earthly and heavenly family as we say ….
“Our Father, who art in Heaven”