SBTS chapel live blog: Hallowing the Father’s name: Or, where authentic prayer begins … and ends

Communications Staff — March 12, 2009

Speaker: R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Text: Matthew 6:9

For most Christians, prayer is the most intensely theological act that they do.

Jesus makes it clear that our conception of prayer must be grounded in right understanding. This is a rebuke that we need to note: when Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray, He begins by teaching His disciples how not to pray.

This tells us that if we not taught how to pray, we would pray wrongly.

God gave scrupulous detail in His orders for worship in the Old Testament. He gives specific instructions down to the smallest detail for how the temple was to be constructed.

Prayer is not fundamentally about what we devise, but about how we obey. God demands worshippers who worship Him in spirit and in truth. God reveals Himself in specific words to which we are accountable. And when Jesus teaches us how to pray, He says do not pray like this. Instead, pray according to this model.

Jesus does not only give us a model of words for prayer, but a theology of prayer that is both implicit and explicit in this passage.

Unfortunately, prayer is the most minimally theological act for most Christians.

’Our Father who are in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.’

Where do we start in prayer?

  • Needs?

We have many needs, needs that are right before our eyes. The world, advertising, is built on catering to our needs. Jesus will get to our needs. But that is not where He starts.

Not needs.

  • Confession of sin?

After all, we have a Father who is perfectly holy and righteous and we are sinful. Is there anything that we can say to God as sinners that He should hear? Perhaps we should begin with confession. Perhaps the one great need of forgiveness of sins is where we should begin. That will come, but that is not where we begin.

Not confession of sin.

  • We begin with God.

There is no first person singular in the entire Lord’s prayer. One of the besetting sins of evangelicalism is our over-reliance on the first person singular: ‘I.’

Perhaps we are our first problem when it comes to prayer.

When you become a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are no longer most fundamentally an ‘I.’ You are a ‘we,’ an ‘our,’ a part of the body of Christ, of the church.

We begin with ‘Our Father.’

The correct way to begin in prayer is with God, not ourselves. And not God as a vague principle, but God as Father. A personal being. When we begin with Father, we need to recognize that this is not merely a title, but the marking of a personal relationship.

Father does not mean dad. This is a fundamental misunderstanding. When the Word ‘Abba’ appears in Scripture, it does not minimize or sentimentalize the reality of God the Father. ‘Abba’ signifies a relationship that Christ has enacted and effected and achieved. It is because of Christ that we are to pray, ‘Our Father who is in heaven.’

This implies the personal nature of our relationship. We do not come to prayer wondering about God’s disposition to us. We come to the relationship, to one who is Father, who is Abba. This is not a sentimentalization, but the assertion of a reality. It points to our salvation.

Taken out of its Gospel concept and context, to speak of God as Father is to risk being misunderstood. Apart from the Gospel, the Fatherhood of God can become universalistic. God is properly Father to those who know Him as Father through the Son.

We can pray the Lord’s prayer not by natural right, but by adoption. The only way that we can pray ‘Our Father’ with any validity is because we are adopted. It is by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and our adoption as sons and daughters through the Gospel of Christ that we are able to say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ (Gal 4, Rom 8).

We are now through the blood of Christ authorized and commanded to come before the throne of God Himself with these words of thunderous grace: ‘Our Father.’

We don’t have to introduce ourselves to God when we pray. We are known by our Creator and we are predestined for adoption for sons in Christ, before we are born.

Instead, we simply begin from the context of faith. A faith that is built on the security of our adoption as sons.

’Who art in heaven’

Abraham learned to refer to God as the Lord, the God, of heaven. God is infinitely distinct from His creation. Even as He is personal, our Father, He is not God our next door neighbor. He is our Father who is in heaven.

The Lord makes it clear that He is God and there is no other (Deut 4:29, 33:26). The fundamental distinction between the Creator and the creature is key to our prayers.

When God speaks to Job in the final chapters of the book of Job, His thunderous words come down to this: ‘Which one of us is in heaven?’

’Hallowed be thy name’

We do not name God: God names Himself. Adam was authorized to name all of the animals (Gen 2). He gave every animal a name. He even named woman. But Adam doesn’t name God.

When Moses is at the burning bush, he receives a commission to speak for the One who spoke from the burning bush. But Moses doesn’t have a name for this One. Moses knew that he had no right to give God a name. God names Himself to Moses, giving Moses a name to proclaim.

God repeatedly tells us in Scripture that He acts for the sake of His name, not our name.

Every single Christian is invested with a stewardship of the name of God. We are to pray in such a way that our Father who is in heaven, that His name is hallowed. By our existence, by our salvation and discipleship and witnessing, by our lives, task and vocation we are to hallow the name of God.

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