“Our Father in heaven . . .” (Matthew 6:9)
In our culture we’re a bit flippant about names. We tend to use first names for almost everyone, without a lot of regard to relationship or age or role. But even we haven’t managed to erase the importance of names.
What you call someone is deeply significant.
What’s in a Name?
The way you address someone identifies your position relative to them and their position relative to you.
For example, I call my father “Dad.” My friends don’t call him that; they don’t have the same position in his life, so they don’t have the right to use that name. To them he’s “Jay” or “Mr. Thomson.”
My mother calls my dad by his first name, which I don’t have the position to do, and she also uses a lot of names for him that no one else does or can.
In the same way, you address your boss, or a police officer, or a prime minister in a way relative to your position, and vice versa.
Jesus opens the Lord’s Prayer with the words “Our Father.”
So right off, he positions us relative to God and God relative to us.
In a world where it’s pretty common to feel lost, Jesus tells us right where we are. He finds us in relation to a fixed point—God, our Father in heaven.
(I’ve written a lot about this line of the prayer before, in my book Heart to Heart: Meeting with God in the Lord’s Prayer. You can read chapter 1 here.
God My Origin
The Bible is incredibly layered, and the words “our Father” can be looked at in myriad ways, all of them wondrous and revelatory.
But for me lately, the idea of God as my origin has been especially significant.
That’s what the words “our Father” mean, after all. By using these words, Jesus points to God as our source, our origin, our progenitor. God is our first cause.
My life came from God, and so did my essential nature—my character as a human being. We’re told in Genesis 1 and 2 that God created humankind, male and female, in his own image. What does this strange and wonderful statement mean?
While it means many things, ultimately it means we can know ourselves only by knowing God, and to some degree, we can only know God as we come to know ourselves.
In his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “Men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”
God My Provider
What caused this truth to hit me so hard was my awareness of how relentlessly needy I am. And my needs don’t end with physical ones. Oh no, give me food and water and a roof over my head, and I still remain a great need with skin on.
I need love. I need purpose. I need affirmation and identity in something transcendent.
My own tendency is to see my needs as an imposition on God—as something problematic that it would be good to shed.
But if I see God as my source, my origin, my Father, then I realize something: God isn’t just the meeter of my needs, he is also the source of them.
I need love because God is love, because he loves, and because he wants my love. Purpose and identity are found in God. My creative nature is found in God. My deep desire for authentic, intimate relationship comes from God.
My needs aren’t impositions; they’re drivers—pointers, hungers, leading back to the source.
Follow the river of the soul to its headwaters, and you’ll find God and know yourself for the first time.
Lost and Found
We feel generally lost as human beings because we are. We are wandering around the face of the earth without a clue who we are, where we came from, or where we’re going. We try to answer the question in various ways, religious ways and scientific ways and local, personal ways.
But eventually, if we’ll still the noise long enough, we all find ourselves out under the stars at some point, staring up and feeling frighteningly small, and knowing with every atom of our beings that there is something more.
So Jesus says “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
The New Testament calls Jesus the “archegos” of life and of salvation (Acts 3:15, Hebrews 2:10). The Greek word means origin, beginning, source, author, pioneer. Jesus, God-made-man, is all of this, the source both of our original natural life and of our second birth, our salvation.
So don’t hide from your needs. Don’t try to cover them up or be ashamed of them. Instead, get quiet and really look at them, and see what they tell you about who you are and where you came from.
And then say the words “My Father.” And try the name “His child” on for size.
With Jesus it is just the opposite.
With Jesus you are only allowed to participate in the supernatural if you take the mask off.
If you are real about who you are, so that you can find out who God is.
Here I Am
The very beginning of Jesus’s prayer requires us to show up as children of God and acknowledge Him as the source not only of our needs but of our own selves. It positions us before Him with the role and rights of children, looking to the only One who can really tell us who we are.
It is worth getting alone with these words, getting quiet with them, and taking the time to think deeply and marvel at what it means that God is our Father. Let us not pass over the mystery of ourselves, or miss the chance to express gratitude and worship to the One who gave us life.
“Our Father” is not the beginning of a stale recitation. It’s the beginning of a journey—back to the beginning, and all the way to the end.
(This is Part 59 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)