We find the Lord’s Prayer in two places in the Bible.* In Matthew*, Jesus teaches the prayer as he talks to a large group of people. In Luke*, Jesus teaches the prayer when he is with a smaller group of his disciples.* Jesus had been praying. One of his disciples said to him, ‘John the Baptist* taught his disciples how to pray. Lord, teach us how to pray, too.’
So, Jesus gives them an example of how to pray. He tells them some of the things they ought to pray for. He tells them how to talk to their Father in heaven. Many Christians* learn this prayer by heart* so they can make the words a part of their prayers. Jesus does not tell them to pray this prayer word for word every time they pray. He says pray like this or pray in this way.
Jesus begins the prayer by saying, ‘Our Father in heaven.’ Any time we speak to God, it is good for us to remember who we are talking to. Jesus wants his disciples to remember that when they pray, they talk to God. He is the God who made the heavens. He is the God who is in heaven.
When we hear those words, ‘in heaven’, it seems Jesus is saying that God is out there somewhere. Wherever it is, it is far away. But this phrase does not mean that God is far away. This phrase means the opposite of that. When Jesus says, ‘our Father, who is in heaven,’ he is telling them that God is near.
When the Jews* thought about heaven, they thought about three ‘heavens.’ They used the word to talk about the air, the sky, and the space around them. They also used the word ‘heavens’ to talk about the space above the clouds, the place of the sun, the moon, and stars. The Jews also used the word to talk about the heavens beyond the stars. Past time and space was the place where the angels* live. When Jesus says, ‘our Father, in the heavens’, he is telling us that God is in all of those places. Yes, God is far away, but he is also near. He is close at hand. He is where we are. He is always where we can reach him.
In the Old Testament*, a woman named Hagar* was sent away from her family with her young son. She was alone with her son. They had no food. They lay under a tree and waited to die. But the scriptures* tell us that God heard the boy crying. And God called to Hagar from heaven and told her not to be afraid.
God was where she was. He was there in the desert place. He was so close that he could hear a boy’s cry. He was so close that he could whisper an answer to Hagar and she could hear him.
‘Where can I go from your Spirit?* Where can I run from your presence?’ David* asks. Then he says, ‘If I rise to the heavens you are there. If I make my bed in the depths you are there.’ When we pray ‘Our Father in the heavens’ we remind ourselves that God is not up there, out there, far away, but that God is near. God is close at hand. He is as real as the air that you just breathed. No matter where you are, God is there. God sees you. God hears you.
And Jesus says that God cares as a father cares for his children. He loves us and wants to talk with us. The Jews almost never speak of God as Father. They used many names to honor* God when they prayed, but when they prayed to God, they did not call him Father. Abraham* is called a friend of God. He never calls God Father. Moses* speaks face to face with God and never calls God, Father. David fills the book of Psalms* with prayers, but he never prays to God as Father. But Jesus does it all the time. This had to be one of the things that the disciples noticed about Jesus’ prayer that was different than any other prayers. These men had been praying their whole lives. But they had never prayed like this – like a child talking to a father. Perhaps that is why they wanted Jesus to teach them how to pray. So, Jesus begins his lesson by teaching them to call God, ‘Father,’ too.