Christianity 201

July 16, 2020

Not “My,” But “Our” – A Refection on the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy. – Matthew 6:9

by Clarke Dixon

Prayer is a very personal thing. If we are being honest, the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” show up a lot in our prayers. Yet when Jesus teaches us to pray, we are to address “our” Father in heaven. Throughout the Lord’s prayer we also encounter “us,” and “our” a lot, but never “me,” nor “my.” This is important and reminds of three important facts as we learn to pray.

First, when we pray our Father, we are reminded that God is Someone we experience together. Faith is personal, but it is not something we create for ourselves, it is not something we possess and control or change for our own purposes.

If we began our prayer with something like “my personal cosmic being” we could then perhaps conjure God up as we desire. However, Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father in heaven.” God is not someone we can change to suit our tastes. God has been experienced by a very large community of faith over a very long time.

If you ask my three boys what I am like, the facts they relate will need to fit with each other, plus fit with what you know about me. They might point to the obvious and say that I have blue eyes and and more grey hair today than yesterday. That would be true. Actually, my eyes were blue long before they came on the scene. We won’t mention my hair colour. You get the point though, that what is true about me is true about me whether you asked my boys or not. They cannot conjure me up, rather they experience me through my presence in their lives.

What is true about God was true about God long before you or I came on the scene. God is God, and that would be true even if there were no Church to speak of Him. God is not “my father, conjured up in my mind to suit my preference,” but “our father,” the one with whom humans have had a relationship for a long time. He is the one who revealed himself to his covenant people. He is the one who has revealed himself in Jesus. He is the one the community of faith has experienced and has spoken about. He is the one we meet in the Bible. He is our father, someone beyond us and experienced together by us.

When we pray “our father,” we are reminded that God is beyond us, experienced by a whole community of faith, and therefore can be discovered by us, but not conjured up.

Second, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we are part of a large family which is part of an even larger family of faith. Faith is personal, but it is not practiced alone.

The local church is a family of believers and so we can properly refer to one another as brothers and sisters.

Within our own church family I feel rather badly for those who have come from a tradition where one is taught to enter the sanctuary with quietness in order to prepare for worship. That simply does not happen at Calvary as there is a lot of chit-chat which goes on before and after the service. But as I like to say, God loves a noisy church for it shows that relationships are happening. Yes, we gather to worship God, however, we gather to worship God together. As a family of believers we do not gather at the church, but as the church.

Of course we have an even bigger family to think about. The believers that would normally gather at the church down the street are also our brothers and sisters. As are the believers across the town. Even if we think they are weird. As are the believers across the world.

We are a huge family brought together not by our efforts at thinking alike, or even by liking each other, but by God loving us alike. We do not need to agree with our brothers and sisters to be family. We just need a relationship with our father. When you enter into relationship with God, you automatically enter into a family relationship with many people you might consider a little odd, or even a lot wrong.

When we pray “our father” we also think of the many generations of Christ followers which have gone before. God was their father too. Actually, God is still their father! The dead don’t cease to be God’s children!

Third, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we share something fundamentally important with all people, for God is the Father of all humankind. Faith is personal, but it does not not cut us off from the public.

I once heard someone make a distinction between Genesis 3 and Genesis 1 Christians. If we are Genesis 3 Christians we tend to see people first-off as fallen, as having suffered the consequence of the Fall. We may not even see people at all, we may just see sinners. Genesis 1 Christians on the other hand see people, first-off as being created in the image of God, for relationship with God. In that sense all humans are children of God. Praying “our” father reminds us of that.

However, we may wonder about those times the Bible speaks of people as being alienated from God, or even enemies of God. Is that not evidence that not all people can be called “children of God,” that from the Christian perspective they cannot be considered part of one big family?

Imagine you can go back to the days of slavery in the Southern States. If you met a slave, would you say “slave is an appropriate term for you for that is what you are, this is where you belong,” or would you say “slave is a tragic term for you for you were created to be free. You were created for something better. Slave fits your current situation, but not your identity. You are not currently where you belong.” So too, with those who would live far from God. There are terms, like stranger, and enemy, which accurately describe their situation due to sin, but those terms are tragic. All people were created in the image of God, for relationship with God. He is calling them to come home. In his grace he is offering forgiveness and a new start through Jesus. They are his children, but children may end up living with zero relationship with their parents. This is tragic. Do our hearts break?

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that God is father to all humanity. We are reminded to have the same kind of love and longing for all people from all peoples as God has. Our hearts will break for those who are far, even as God’s does.

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that family dynamics are always changing. Every person we meet can potentially also desire to pray this prayer too someday. Those far from God can come home. Faith is personal, but it is not private. What we call “evangelism” is often seen as unethical in our day of privacy and individualism, however, evangelism is unavoidable when we pray “our father.” Our father desires that all His children come home. Given that we are family, we would love to see them come home too!

“I,” “me,” and “my” may show up a lot in our prayers and that is fine. Prayer is personal and we approach God as individuals. He relates to each of us on a personal and individual level. However, let us remember that Jesus taught us to pray addressing God as “our” father. Let that be a reminder that,

  • God is a very real Someone that an entire faith community has experienced, and continues to experience.
  • we are part of a big family, in fact a huge and complicated family of faith.
  • We are part of an even bigger and even more complicated family, which includes even those who would rather not be in the family at all, whom God loves and is calling home.

May we ever be mindful that God is not just “my father,” but “our father.”


This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” at Clarke’s church You can also watch the reflection here.)

January 15, 2016

The Father’s Discipline

Today’s devotional writer, Art Toombs is new to us. Before we dig in, check out his archives of scriptures covered in past posts, you never know when you might need it. His website is Art Toombs Ministries – Online Bible Commentary. To read today’s sample at source, and then look around the site, click the title below.

The Lord Disciplines those He Loves

Hebrews 12:5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (NIV)

The writer of Hebrews is addressing Hebrew Christians, encouraging them in their walk with God. Of course, these words are meant for all Christians, because we all face hardships in life. God does not want the hardships of life to pull us away from Him. So, in this passage he gives us some insights into the nature of hardships and how we should respond to them.

The writer begins by reminding us of “that word of encouragement” (v. 5a) in verses 5b-6, which are taken from Proverbs 3:11-12. The literal Greek translation for these verses is as follows: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor faint while being corrected; for whom the Lord loves He disciplines; and whips every son whom He receives.” To us, this probably does not sound like encouragement. No one chooses to be disciplined, or whipped for that matter.

But this is a picture of God’s correction for his children. Our Creator knows us best and knows the discipline that will achieve the desired result. He is not politically correct. God cares little for the rules of man, when they do not align with His word. Here He endorses whipping as a correction for children. God’s age of accountability is about twelve years old, so this would seem to be the age that such discipline is no longer warranted.

Also, we should not despise the one who disciplines us because he only disciplines us because he loves us. Contrary to the thinking of the PC crowd, we show our love for our children by disciplining our children, not by refraining from discipline. Physical discipline should be a part of that discipline, but only until the age of accountability.

The Lord disciplines adults, as our Father in Heaven. But discipline of adults usually comes in other forms. Physical discipline gives way to discipline of consequences. Adults face hardship, which is a consequence of sin. Our hardship may be a result of our own sin or it may be a result of living in a sinful world.  God allows hardships in our lives in order to discipline us. He disciplines us in order to refine us, to make us better. Through hardship he shapes us into being a child of God.

We should “endure” this hardship “as discipline” (v. 7a). We should understand that God is disciplining us. He is refining us. He is making us better, stronger. He is treating us “as sons” (v. 7b). He is allowing discipline because he loves us, as His son, or daughter.

God loves everyone, and wants no one to be lost, separated from Him. Therefore, “everyone undergoes discipline” (v. 8). The rain falls on everyone. God “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness” (Mt. 5:45). Everyone suffers hardships in their life. It is God’s way of correcting us, and showing His love for us.

Hopefully, we learn from our hardships. Hopefully, we are wise enough to know that we must fall in line with God’s ways of doing things if we want things to turn out right. Hopefully, we will reach a point in our lives when God does not allow hardship.

But nothing is guaranteed. We do not know the amount of refining that God wants for each of us. He may have different things in store for some, and choose to allow more refining of them. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isa 55:8).

Whatever the case, we should never resent God for His discipline. He allows it because He loves us. The alternative would be that He does not love us. None of us should want that. So we should rejoice in our hardships, knowing that God is working on us because he loves us. And no matter what, He is always there with us in the midst of our hardships. He has promised to never leave us, nor forsake us. And He always keeps His promises.

June 11, 2011

Remixing Our Image of God

Today’s post is by James Rubart the author of two popular Christian fiction novels, Rooms and The Book of Days. This is the first of nine short vignettes — and one longer short story — that are yours for the reading at his website. To read the eight others, click here.  Both of these links open .pdf files; to learn more about James’ books, click the link at the end of this article.

If you can do it, think of God unedited by how you’re supposed to see Him. Not what religion or your mind tells you-oh, God is love—but your heart. What images come to mind?

Principal?

Dictator?

Judge?

The image I fight is of Him standing in front of me with folded arms saying, ―Well, you’ve sure screwed up a lot but I have to let you in anyway.

It’s probably why I cry every time I read Luke 15. You know the passage. Whole books have been written on it, music videos done, modernizations have tried to convey the message in a more compelling way. And there’s good reason for all the focus. It is the entire gospel in twenty-two verses. With it, Jesus encapsulates the core of the Father’s heart towards us.

The part that reduces me to tears? The first part of verse 20:

Luke 15:20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (NASB)

My Bible has little notations down the middle of the page sometimes showing the literal translation of a word, and in this case it puts a whole new spin on the verse. Before I dug into the literal translation of ran, embraced and kissed I pictured the Father jogging up to the son, giving him a swift hug, a pat on the back and a quick kiss on the cheek. A kind of Jewish-Italian-Mafia/Marlon Brando thing. ―Welcome back to the family kid!‖

Wrong.

This is how I’d write the translation based on the literal meaning of the words:

Luke 15:20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and raced toward his son like an Olympic sprinter. When he reached him the father nearly knocked him to the ground with his passion and joy. Seizing him with all his strength, the father wrapped his son up in his arms, and squeezed him tighter and tighter into his chest as tears flowed down the Father’s cheeks onto his beard. The father kissed his son feverously over and over and over again.

That’s how God feels about you.

Notice two more things before you go. When did the Father do the things above? Before the son confessed or after? And what was the Father’s reaction after the son did confess?

He ignored the confession.

And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Amazing.

He doesn’t even address the sin.

Don’t get me wrong. God abhors sin. Cannot abide it. But that’s why He sent Jesus; to abolish it forever.

But there are no folded arms, no cruel scolding, no tyrant or dictator to be found. Only unbridled passionate love.

Ask Him. Ask Him now to rewire your thinking about who He is.

And run into his violent embrace.

~James Rubart, JimRubart.com

November 15, 2010

Is The Heart of Jesus The Heart of God?

South Africa native Andre Viljoen’s blog, Amazing Love, was just added to Alltop in the Christianity category.  Although many of his blog posts betray his former calling as a journalist, I thought this recent one would fit the devotional theme here at Christianity 201 quite well.    It poses the often asked question about the relationship we have with God the Father versus that with God the Son.   This is often phrased in terms of whether the God of the Old Covenant is the same as the God of the New Covenant.

He sees some answers in Jesus’ own relationship with the father, and titled it, Jesus and the heart of the Father.

It is not difficult to grasp the amazing loving heart of Jesus, who laid down his life for us while we were still his enemies.

But what about the Heavenly Father? Is he warm and loving? Or is he stern and remote as some suppose?

Jesus set the record straight when he told his followers that “I and the Father are one ” (John 10:20) and “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

And so every time that Jesus demonstrated his amazing love by healing, delivering and reaching out to the lost, he was also demonstrating the true heart of the Father. He wanted us who follow him to know the true nature of the Father so that we would not miss the Father’s purpose for us to live forever as his beloved sons and daughters and not as fearful slaves working hard to earn rare moments of approval.

And when Jesus taught that he obeyed his father in everything, even dying on the cross, he was teaching a profound lesson about the obedience to God that flows naturally out of being in a loving relationship with him. The elder brother of the prodigal son was resentful when his father threw a lavish party for his brother who had returned after squandering his inheritance. He said he had served and obeyed his father all his life and yet his father had never even given him a small goat that he could use to celebrate with his friends. He did not understand that everything the Father had was already his, and so he laboured like a slave in the hope of earning an inheritance (Luke 15: 29-31). How different to Jesus who gladly obeyed his father in everything because he knew, loved and trusted him. Jesus said: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34) and “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29).

Jesus’ example of loving obedience to his Father helps us to embrace the following words which Jesus spoke to his disciples — and to us: “No longer do I call you servants…but…friends” (John 15:15), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15), and “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

May you and I rest and trust in the Father’s unfailing love and delight in obeying him as we follow Jesus. And in so doing may we experience the fellowship and the power of the Holy Spirit who the Father sent to dwell with us! And if you don’t yet follow Jesus, know this, the Father is waiting for the moment, so that he can throw a party in heaven with the angels! (Luke 15: 10)

Andre Viljoen