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When you pray— No. 2
By Stanley M. Horton
What a privilege it is to call God “our Father” and to be a part of His family! This was the privilege of the Israelites in Old Testament times. Isaiah, after confessing Israel’s sins, cried out, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father” (Isaiah 64:8*).
The psalmist Ethan, in celebrating the covenant given to David, told how God encouraged David to cry out, “You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior” (Psalm 89:26).
In the Old Testament God’s fatherly characteristics were clearly portrayed in His care and pity or mercy (Psalm 27:10; 103:13; Isaiah 1:2; 63:7,8; Jeremiah 3:22; 10:20; Malachi 3:17). People recognized this and gave their children names that honored God as Father in a personal way, names such as Abiel and Eliub, both meaning “God is my Father”; Abijah, “Jah [Yahweh, the Lord] is my Father”; Abiram, “the Exalted One is my Father”; and Abiathar, “the Great One is my Father.”
The New Testament gives further encouragement for us to come to God and expect to find Him as our Heavenly Father. Jesus said, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil [weak people who do not always have the best intentions; evildoers in comparison to God who is totally, good], know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good [useful, beneficial] gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:9–11). (See Luke 11:13 which shows that the best gift is the Holy Spirit who gives us many gifts.) Children who come to an earthly father, however, come not only because they want something but also because they know that they are dependent on him. So we, too, coming to God and calling Him “our Father,“ must recognize how dependent we are on Him.
It is through Jesus Christ, however, that we can all become part of the family of God. Paul reminds us that Gentiles “were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. … For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with Gods people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:12,13,18,19).
Four things stand out in this passage. First, apart from Christ, that is, until we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are “without hope and without God in the world.” God is the Creator of all, and every person is God’s creature. But God can only be our Father and we can only become His children through Jesus Christ. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). No one who has not experienced through faith the salvation provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus has the right to even begin this prayer and say “our Father.”
Second, both Jews and Gentiles have access to God as Father now through Jesus Christ. He died on the cross and shed His blood so barriers might be broken down and that both Jews and Gentiles might be brought into the one family with Jesus as our Elder Brother. Thus all true believers have the right to call God “our Father.”
Third, we have access to the Father “by one Spirit,” the Holy Spirit. He makes our relationship with God real. In New Testament times Jewish believers cried out to God, Abba (Aramaic for “O Father”). Gentile believers cried out, “Ho Pater” (Greek for “O Father”). But as they did so, it was the Spirit who testified to both that they really were Gods children (Romans 8:15,16). It is still true that when we cry out to God as our Father, we are not just saying words. The Holy Spirit still testifies with our spirit and makes us know that our relationship with God as our Father is real.
Fourth, we approach God, not just as individuals saying “my Father,” but as members of the household or family of God saying “our Father.” James 4:2,3 tells us, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” We cannot say “our Father” and pray selfishly.
As members of the family of God we are part of the body of Christ. Our concerns should be for the edification, not just of ourselves but of the Body. God is “our Father,” and He loves us all. So we approach God, recognizing that we need each other and that “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Then, because God “so loved the world’ (John 3:16) that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), our concern should always have an eye out for the effect of our prayers on the sinful world outside, that they too might be brought into the family of God.
This means coming to God as our Father with a love, not only for Him, not only for our fellow believers, but even for our enemies and for those who persecute us. Jesus said this is necessary “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44, 45,48). A perfect love — that is a mature love that does not depend on how other people treat us —will help to let the world know God truly is our Father and what a wonderful God and Father He is.
*Scripture is taken from the New lnternational Version.
Stanley M. Horton, Th.D, is distinguished professor emeritus of Bible and theology at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.