And he said to them, When you pray, say, Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done…
I. A TENDER RELATIONSHIP.
1. A tender relationship between us and God: "Our Father in heaven. Well, when you pray, what do you do? to whom do you speak? I fancy some speak to themselves, some to those to whom they say their prayers, many to no one at all. The heathen sees his idol, and speaks to it, and you cannot understand that. But you see nothing, hear nothing, feel nothing, and so when you close your eyes and pray, it is as if you had no one to speak to. But you know how it is when you write to your absent father. You see or hear or feel nothing, and yet you know that you are speaking to him, and that the words you are writing will one day come under his eye, and serve the purpose in view. And so with your "Father in heaven." He is a real personal God, not who was once, but who is now, "which art in heaven." When you think of God, you often think of Him with fear, with terror. He is such a holy God, He so hates sin, and is so just in punishing it, and so mighty. And when you pray, if you think at all about the matter, your thoughts of God are such as these, and you only fear Him. But what says the text? "Our Father in heaven." You may be afraid of others, not of a father. You may stand in doubt of others, not of a father. If there is any one you can trust and love and feel at home with, it is a father. There is a little child crying as if his heart would break. I do all I can to pacify him, but can make nothing of it. My well-meant efforts seem only to make him worse. But when his father comes in sight, how the little one stretches out his hands, how his face is lighted up, and when once fairly in his father's arms, how his sorrow is hushed! Who is so kind and considerate and tender as a father? And such is God. I wish I could persuade you to believe in God's love and tenderness as a Father. There is nothing which you may not tell Him. There is nothing which you may not ask of Him. There is nothing too little — too trifling. I wish I could convince you of that heavenly Father's love. What it would do for you! I can suppose that, in the spring or summer time of the year, when the flowers are so beautiful, you have a little favourite flower. You planted it with your own hand, you water it daily, you watch it constantly, you are bent on seeing it come into bloom. The plant is somewhat sickly, and the long-watched bud seems as if it would drop off without ever opening, till you bring it out of the shade, and set it in the sun; and what you could not force in any other way, takes place quite naturally under the genial heat and sunshine of a summer's day. Such is the effect of coming under the sunshine of the heavenly Father's love. It would do for you what the shining sun does for the flowers — making them healthy and beautiful, a joy to all onlookers. The very word, how it should melt, and draw, and gladden you — "Our Father!" What a word this is to be applied to God! what a name for us to call Him by! There is no petition which we could address to Him at all equal to it. It is a prayer in itself, the most powerful that could be offered. Let me suppose that one of you boys or girls were drowning, that from the sea, or from some neighbouring lake or river, one of you were to send the shrill cry, "Father!" I need not tell you what would follow: I need not describe how your father would be up and off in a moment, how he would rush to the quarter from which the sound came. Not a word more would be needed, it would ask all you required, it would contain at once petition and argument — no prayer would be like it — "Father!" A mother once told me, that from the time her children began to call her "mother," the word had a power over her which she could not describe. She might be in the attic, busily at work, but if, three stories below, she heard her boys calling "Mother!" it went to her heart. The very name was so sweet — it had such a power over her — that she would at once throw down her work and hurry to them. And now that they are grown-up men, it is still the same. I have heard the call, and soon has followed the sound of hurrying footsteps, and the gentle, "Well, dear?" in reply. Now, if this be so, if the name father or mother has such a power with earthly parents, what power may we not suppose that word, "Our Father," from the lips of His children, to have with the "Father in heaven"? I do not know any words sufficient to express the honour of standing in such a relationship to God. Nor would it be easy to tell what we should be to such a God, how we should love and serve and obey Him. Let me just make one remark here. Those who call God "Father," should be like Him. Have you not often been struck with the likeness of children to their parents? There are not a few children whom I could name, though I had never seen them before, just from their likeness to their parents. I have said to a child on the street, "Your name is so-and-so; isn't it?" "Yes." "I was sure of it: he is so like his father." Now, so should it be with those who call God "Father." The likeness should be such that everybody should see it. Ay, and the name should help us to be like Him. I cannot, for very shame, use that name and do as I have been doing. Just as an ill-doing son might well change his name, and try to be as unlike his father in appearance as possible, as feeling it a disgrace to be so unworthy of him; so, many of us would almost do well to give up this name, unless we are more worthy of it. Not long ago, the chaplain in one of our prisons told me, that among the prisoners to whom he ministered, he had met with a soldier whose name had been on the prison-books again and again, but who had always given a false name, assigning as the reason, that he could not bear the thought of his father's honoured name being on the prison-books in the person of his unworthy son.
2. A tender relationship between us and Christ. This remark explains the last. This is necessary in order to the last. But for this, the other could not be. We were not always sons. We were strangers. We were enemies. "Ye are all the children of God, by faith in Christ Jesus." "Predestinated unto the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ." The relationship between us and Christ is that of brotherhood.
3. A tender relationship between us and others. No believer needs to be, is, can be, alone. Whenever he comes to Christ, he comes into the family.
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF TRUE PRAYER.
1. It should be trustful: "Our Father — our Father in heaven." Trustful as regards His ability to do what is asked. Little children have extraordinary notions as to what their fathers can do. To hear them speak, you would almost think they believed in a father's power to do anything. You must have noticed this in others, or in yourselves. If there is a heavy load to be lifted, which a child cannot move, more than likely he will tell you his father could lift it. If any one threatens to do him harm, though a far stronger man, he says he will tell his father, as if he could put all to rights. Prayer should be trustful, as regards God's willingness to do anything, His love: "Our Father." Once more, prayer should be trustful, as regards God's wisdom: "Our Father in heaven." How often do others give us what our fathers would deny! I find the thought on which I have been dwelling, of trust in "our Father," beautifully illustrated in a most interesting little book, entitled, "Nettie's Mission: Stories illustrative of the Lord's Prayer." Three little children were spending the evening together, when a violent thunderstorm came on, which obliged them to stay where they were, all night. "Just before prayer time, Mr. Thorn told them that they might each choose the Bible verse they liked best, and tell why they loved it. 'I know what my verse will be for this night,' said Margery. 'I don't know where to find it, but it says, 'The Lord of glory thundereth.' 'Why did you choose that verse, Margery?' asked Mrs. Thorn. 'Because I think it so nice, when you hear that awful noise, to know it is God. It makes me think of one day long ago. Aunt Annie was out, and I heard a great noise up in the loft, when I thought I was all alone in the house; and I was so frightened, I screamed, and father's voice called out, "Don't be afraid, little Margie; it's only father." And now, when it thunders very loud, it always seems as if I heard God say, "Don't be afraid, little Margie; it's only Father;" and I don't feel a bit frightened. "Don't you think it's a real nice verse?'" In travelling lately in a railway carriage, a friend told me the following facts with which he was personally conversant. Some years ago, a vessel, crossing to this country from the Continent, was overtaken by a storm. One of the passengers, much alarmed, asked a young sailor-boy on board, if there was danger. He said there was, but added, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him." The ship reached the port in safety, and not long since the fact was called to mind in this interesting way: On board one of our steamers, a clergyman told the captain what I have told you, adding that he was the passenger, and that the boy's trustful word had had such effect on him, that it had led him to seek the Saviour, and ultimately to become a minister of the gospel. "And I," answered the captain, "am that sailor-boy!" I give you the story, in substance, as it was told to me; that Christian sailor and his friend being, I believe, still alive.
2. Prayer should be reverent: "Our Father in heaven." The word "Father" implies that, still more "in heaven." How particular you are when you speak to one higher in rank than yourself! What thought it gives you beforehand! How anxious you are to have all right, as regards your dress, your hair, &c., how in the porch outside, you might been seen, with your cap or your handkerchief, wiping the dust off your shoes; and after you have rung the bell, how your heart beats before the door is opened, and you are ushered in! With what reverence people appear before and speak to the Queen! The highest men among us would be not a little anxious to-day, if they had to appear before her Majesty to-morrow. And what about appearing before God, and speaking to God?
3. Prayer should be in the name of Jesus.
4. Prayer should be unselfish.
(J. H. Wilson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.