ccording to a number of surveys, most Americans continue to believe in and practice prayer (over 90 percent).1 Although these statistics tell us something about the openness of Americans to interacting with something or someone beyond, they do not tell us about the relationship between core beliefs and prayer.
In my discussions with people, I frequently get a blank stare when I ask, “To whom do you pray?” It seems that many people have never thought deeply about the connection between our prayers and the character of the one to whom we pray. I believe our practice of prayer is shaped by our understanding of who God is, who we are as human beings, and what kind of world we live in.
For Christians there is no better place to go for instruction on prayer than to Jesus himself. Jesus’ most well known teaching on prayer is found in what has been referred to as the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4). I like to call it the Jesus Prayer. For the purpose of this article, we will use the text in Matthew 6, as found in the New International Version.
“Our Father in heaven.” The idea of addressing God as Father was very significant. In the Old Testament, God is referred to as a Father in relationship to his people (Deut. 32:6), and Israel is called God’s son in several places (Exod. 4:22; Hos. 11:1), but it is most significant that the fatherhood of God is directly connected to the relationship between God and the promised Messiah (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:27–28). The privilege of knowing and communicating with God as Father is based on our union with Jesus the Son. Through being united to the Son, we experience new birth (John 1:12) and are encouraged by the Holy Spirit to call out to God as Father (Gal. 4:4–7).
The knowledge of God’s Father-love is the first and simplest but also the last and highest lesson in the school of prayer. Prayer begins in the personal relationship with the living God as well as the personal, conscious fellowship of love with Him. In the knowledge of God’s Fatherness revealed by the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer will root and grow. The life of prayer has its joy in the infinite tenderness, care, and patience of an infinite Father who is ready to hear and to help —Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer
The fatherhood of God is revealed most clearly through the words and actions of his Son, Jesus the Messiah (John 14:7–9). In Galatians 4:6, Paul tells us that it is through experiencing the fellowship of the Father and the Son that the Spirit moves us to pray. Having grounded prayer in the context of familial relationship, Jesus moves on to teach us about the Godcentered motives that should shape our requests.
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