The Lord’s Prayer 1 - Our Father
Message by Pastor Eric Chang, November 24, 1976.
We very often use this prayer in our own prayers, but often, its meaning escapes us. We mumble the words without really knowing what we are saying. I should mention to you that in the Lord’s Prayer - look at these words in Mt. 6:9 - the Lord Jesus says this: “Pray then like this”. Notice He did not say necessarily pray these words, but, “Pray... like this”. In other words, this is a model for prayer. It does not follow we have to repeat it every time. Now, there is nothing wrong in repeating it. There is nothing wrong in doing that. But it is not meant for mere repetition. Unfortunately, many of our Catholic brothers and sisters have gone into serious error at this point, and their prayer is basically limited only to “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”. Beyond that, they seem to be totally incapable of prayer because they have not been taught how to pray. You remember that I mentioned the other day that when I was in Germany, not too long ago, I met a Catholic priest with whom I had some fellowship, if you can call it that, at the end of which I asked him to conclude in prayer, and he did not know how to pray. Why did he not know how to pray? It is because all his life he simply mentioned - he simply repeated - “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”.
The Lord’s Prayer Is a Model for Prayer
Those of us, myself included, who spent many years in Catholic schools, will know the tragedy of this, because we were never taught to pray. We simply do not know how to pray. And when we have to pray, the only thing we know how to do is say: “Our Father which art in heaven”. [KJV] That is what I used to do when I was in Catholic school. Every night I knelt down beside my bed, and I said, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name” and so forth. And it seemed so short that when it was finished, I said, “Hey! That wasn’t long enough!” So, I repeated it once more. From this comes the whole notion of the rosary. Many of you may have seen a rosary. It is [comprised of] beads on a string or beads on a wire, at the end of which there is a cross hanging there. Every time you pray a prayer, you push one rosary bead along. That is what the rosary is for - to help you to count how many “Our Father’s” you have prayed so that you do not lose count at the end of the whole thing. So, here we notice then that the Lord’s Prayer is not just for mere repetition. The Lord’s Prayer is a model for prayer.
Let us look then again at this prayer. I think the words of it in Matthew are extremely familiar to us:
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. [Mt. 6:9-13]
That is where the prayer stops in the original. The latter part of that prayer was later on added on because it was felt that the prayer, as it stands, was incomplete. That shows us again that the prayer was not meant to be repeated, but that it was a model for prayer. Its importance and its preciousness we are going to see in the weeks to come.
Awareness of the Presence of God Is Essential to Prayer
When we come to God in prayer, there are two things of exceeding great importance for us. First of all, when we pray, it is clear that the presence of God is essential to prayer. That is to say, we must be conscious of God’s presence. There is no point trying to talk to somebody who is very obviously not in the room. I was talking to a sister the other day about taping things when nobody is in the room. I find this exceedingly difficult. I am not very used to talking to a tape recorder and trying to imagine that this tape recorder is my friend or some brother and sister in Christ. No matter how I stare at this tape recorder, it does not look like my brother and sister in Christ. Thus, I find myself utterly ridiculous trying to talk to this machine and still in my mind trying to imagine that eventually this brother and sister will be receiving this message. Now maybe some people are much better at imagining than I am. Maybe my imagination is not terribly good, but I find it extremely difficult to talk into a tape recorder. I have, from time to time, sent a message off on tape because it is often a lot quicker than writing a letter, I find, and you can say a lot more. Maybe you have got used to these taped letters. But I find that when I am talking to this tape, my voice becomes monotonous and sounds rather like a meditation because, eventually, it seems to me, that I am really just talking to myself. Why is this a problem? The problem is because you are not conscious of that person’s presence in the room. And of course, he is not present! That is the truth of the matter. That is the problem for many people when they pray.
The problem of prayer, then, is the problem of God’s presence because we very often are simply not aware of God’s presence. And so, we find that we have no desire to pray because who has the desire to talk to the wall? Now, who has the desire to talk to your bed if you kneel down by your bed, or talk to your chair if you kneel by your chair? That is not a very interesting experience. Now prayer, if it is to have any meaning at all, cannot be simply a mental exercise or a spiritual exercise. It is talking to God, or better, talking with God, so that it does not end up as a monologue, by which we are doing all the talking to God and we never listen or give Him a chance to say anything to us.
This lack of the understanding of God’s presence is the very thing that the Lord Jesus is dealing with right here and you will see the beauty of the arrangement of the Sermon on the Mount. Everything is arranged, in the divine wisdom of God, in perfect proportion and beauty. The reason why we are not aware of God’s presence is due to our own lack of spiritual insight and understanding. There is a certain spiritual blindness that afflicts Christians.
1) Everywhere God’s Presence Can Be Found
Now, wonderfully, our Brother Wilson just now asked us to read together Psalm 139, in which I hope you will notice the fact that God is to be found everywhere, in that psalm. I think this is really wonderful - the arrangement - because no psalm could have been more appropriate. I guarantee you that I did not ask him to read that psalm. He chose it entirely himself, without knowing perhaps that I would be touching or making any use of that psalm because, of course, in that psalm there is no reference to God as Father. So we find that here in this psalm, the psalmist is saying that there is nowhere that God’s presence cannot be found. God is absolutely everywhere! He is up in the heavens, but if you go down to Hades, the realm of the dead, you do not escape Him there either. Many people think that they can escape by committing suicide. Suicide solves no problems at all. You have not escaped from God’s presence by suicide or by any other means. There is no way by which anyone can escape the presence of God. God is to be found everywhere! Now that seems to be something we are familiar with, but you know there are many truths we are familiar with, without having deeply appreciated the meaning of that truth. We say, “Oh yes, God is everywhere.” But think for a moment what that means, that God is everywhere, that at all times, He knows exactly what there is to know about you, that there is no way you can escape from His presence. It is not a question of finding His presence; it is a question of not being able to escape from His presence. Now think about that next time you pray.
You know, Adam and Eve, when they sinned, they hid themselves in the bushes. That is not very clever, is it? Can you imagine trying to hide from God in the bushes? There is no way you can hide from God, [not even if] you dug a great hole and found your way down to the center of the earth. There is no way to hide from God, [say,] to find a cave in a remote desert. Everywhere God is! And it is we who hide ourselves from God; that is, we shut out His presence. At least, we try to, but it is all in vain. Remember then, the first point: It is that God’s presence cannot be escaped. You do not have to look for it. He cannot be escaped. That is the Scriptural teaching.
2) God Is Present in Us
The second point is this: When we become a Christian, this question of whether God is present or not becomes even more meaningless. And it should be meaningless because Christ is in us. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. The whole New Testament tells us about this, that the Holy Spirit now lives inside of us and that we become the temple of God. Now what is the temple of God? If the Holy Spirit does not dwell in us, we are not the temple of God. But Paul tells us in Corinthians that the very body - in 1 Corinthians Chapter 6 and 1 Corinthians Chapter 3 - that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God lives inside of us! Think about that. How easy [it is] to commune with God when you realize this truth, when you deeply ponder upon the reality that God dwells inside this humble body of ours. We have this treasure, Paul says, in earthen vessels. [2 Cor. 4:7] God dwells inside of me. That is something wonderful. I must say that that is a thought and a reality that has been for me a tower of strength, to go out day by day to realize God lives in me. In this earthen vessel, in this house of clay, God dwells in me. Ponder that sometimes. Do not take great spiritual truths, and just say, “Yes! Yes!” but ponder it. This is where there are deep Christians and shallow Christians. The shallow Christians are the ones who say ‘yes’ to everything. The deep Christians ponder it deeper and deeper, considering what this means, working out its implications - that God dwells in me. This second point, then, describes, you might say, the Scriptural teaching of God’s presence in us.
3) God Is Specially Present in His Church
The third point deals with the special presence of God that we find in the Scripture, which, for example in a meeting like this, there is God’s special presence. Did you know that? The Lord Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am in the midst.” [Mt. 18:20] Now He dwells in all of us, that is true, but He dwells in us particularly in the midst of His congregation. That is the special presence of God. God is everywhere, yes, but He is specially present in us and He is then also specially present in His church. Just as we saw in Israel, God is everywhere - also in Israel! - but He has His special presence in the temple. That is where the Israelites went to seek God’s face. There is no point saying, “Well, God is everywhere, so why should I bother to go to the temple?” The point of bothering to go to the temple is because God’s special presence is in the temple. You may say, “God is everywhere, so why should I bother to go to church to pray?” “God’s presence is everywhere, so He is also in my home.” Yes, He is! But His special presence is to be found in the church. And you miss the blessing of that presence unless you meet together, even if there is only two or three. “If two or three gather in My name,” not just gather, but “gather in My name”, i.e., gather for His sake, under His authority, [then] His presence is there in a very special way.
That is why, oftentimes, you will find that it is so good to have a prayer partner. Praying by yourself is good, but having a prayer partner makes prayer so much more effective because of God’s special blessing, special presence. “Where two or three of you agree on any one thing,” the Lord Jesus says, “it shall be done for you.” [Mt. 18:19] And we shall, in due time, see the richness of the meaning of that saying, too. But we see then that there is a special presence. You will find that where God’s people gather together, it is so much easier to pray. Have you found out for yourself how much easier it is? It is not just, in any sense, that you are conscious of their presence, but that you find that their presence has, that is, the prayer there has a power that raises you somehow closer to God. Have you found that? When you pray with those who really love the Lord, there is a special presence. It is not surprising that many times it is in a gathering of the Lord’s people that there is an unusual outpouring of the Spirit, such as I shared with you the experience that we had - a unique experience for me, at any rate - where at that Easter conference, the Holy Spirit just poured down upon us and came down upon us with astonishing power. This kind of experience is something that is found, again and again, where God’s people meet together, seeking His presence, seeking His face.
Now so we see that prayer, we must know that God’s presence is with us. When we realize these three things, we know that God’s presence is with us. Even when we are alone, on those two points: that God is everywhere [and] that God dwells in us, that is sufficient. When you pray, you know that God is there, and you can talk with Him. And above all, if you find some difficulty in prayer, then look for some brother and sister who really loves the Lord, and say, “Can I pray with you? Can we have a time of fellowship and prayer together?” You will find that that is a time of tremendous blessing and help.
Our Concept of God Affects Our Prayer
But there is still a second problem in prayer, and this is our conception of God. You see, it is the question of understanding not only that God is there, but how does God relate to me? You see, it is very hard even when a stranger is there to talk to [him]. It is very hard to open your heart to a stranger. If a stranger is there, he is there, but he is a stranger. There are lots of things you would not say to a stranger. You would say them to your brother or sister, but you do not say those things to a stranger. With a stranger, you have to behave in a very special manner; you put on your best behavior; you put on your nicest smile; and so you talk to the stranger in a very certain way. But when you get home, you relax and then you forget about all the outward behavior. You forget about the way to put on the nice smile, because after all, that is your brother and sister. You live with them. You see them everyday. You can be yourself. Now this is a very interesting thing to observe: when many Christians come to God, they are no longer themselves; they put on the best behavior. And so, they put on the nice smile that is reserved for God. [They put on] the tone of voice that is reserved for God (like those Anglican bishops) where somehow God’s ear is used to a higher pitch of voice and so you have to present this higher pitch of voice for God to hear. That just shows you how utterly ridiculous is this situation when we lack a true concept of God and it really makes you very tired to listen to this [way of speaking of] one or two notes higher and [to see] the special kind of behavior and movement and so forth. When we pray to God, who are we talking to? Now if you are treating God as some kind of an archbishop or pope, or whatever it is, then presumably you have to behave in this sort of way. Or if you think of Him as some kind of a dictator, or tyrant, or king, or president, or whatever He is, then you have to behave in this sort of way.
Thus, we come to the heart of the message that the Lord Jesus gives us here in the Lord’s Prayer. What He is teaching us here in these words, “Our Father”, is a totally new concept of God. He is saying this: when you become a disciple, when you become a child of God, you have a totally new concept of God. We saw that the whole Sermon on the Mount deals with a new person and here He is saying, when you become a disciple, your whole concept of God becomes new. We saw that becoming a new creature is to have a new way of thinking, and here He is telling us what is our new way of thinking about God. The old ways of thinking about God must go.
Our Old Concepts of God Must Go!
[Maybe] you thought about God as some kind of a fierce schoolteacher, a nasty grandfather, or whatever it is you thought of Him, and are terrified. As I have shared with you sometimes, that in Catholic school we used to be issued with pictures, and God is pictured up there in the clouds as an old man with a very, very long beard that disappeared right down below the clouds. You kept wondering, how much further does it go down? Now, if you picture God like this - and after all, we children in Catholic school were issued with pictures of God like this - clearly you think of God in the sky with a long white beard, and you say, “Now, is He kind? Is He severe? Is He patient? Is He...?” Generally the feeling we got was that He was rather severe and you could not come too close to Him; you have got to go around the corners. You have to get to Mary because Mary is so kind and gentle. If you look at her statue, you see that she is very kind and gentle. Her hands are always [folded as in prayer]. Her face is that of a young girl of around 25, or maybe 24. I do not know how old that picture looks, but no statue of Mary ever shows her above the age of 30, that I have seen anyway. So she is young and tenderhearted and patient and kind. But this fierce-looking character - think of me at the age of 6 or 7 looking at this fierce person, with spread-out hands, with the long beard - a terrifying picture! So we go to Mary and say, “Would you like to talk to Grandpa?” After all, that is what He looked like to me and maybe He looked even more than grandpa! My grandpa did not even have a beard like that, [so He is] much more impressive than grandpa.
But Jesus is saying that when you become a Christian, when you become a disciple, your whole concept of God must radically change. It must change utterly. These kinds of notions of God, in which we dare not approach Him [and] we have to look for Mary to come round the back and whisper some words in His ears - well, why else would you pray to Mary? You see, this is the teaching. The only reason you pray to Mary is because you dare not approach to God. God is too fearful to approach! And if Mary is unapproachable - she may be too busy - so you get a hold of the saints. I mean, it is better to have the saints than nothing, after all. They might have more time for you because so many people are praying to Mary, so you have got to get around to the saints. What kind of a notion is this? Have these dear people never seen the teaching of Jesus? What kind of travesty of the teaching of the Word of God is this?
Now we do not want to be severe with them because the Bible, we must remember, was a closed book for the Catholics, the Catholic brothers and sisters, for a very long time, and they are trying very hard to catch up now, so we must not be severe with them. But we must remember, too, that this concept of God is not only peculiar to the Catholics. I am sure that if you examine many Protestants, you will find that that is also the way they think of God, even if they would not have put it exactly in those words. So we see that we need a new concept, a new understanding of God.
So Jesus is teaching us that our concept of God must become new, not, on the one hand, to regard God as a dictator to be feared, or on the other hand, as a grandfather to be taken advantage of. As I was saying, when I was small, we think of grandfathers and grandmothers as being very patient and loving people. They seem to have no end of patience with their grandsons and granddaughters, whereas they seem to have taken a very different line with us. Just like my mother, you see - she is one who is always spotlessly clean. Oh, the house is spotless. The floor shines! The table shines! Everything must be spotless! If I ever dare to put my handprint on the glass table somewhere, dear me, I had really run into trouble. But when my daughter goes there and puts her fingerprints everywhere and knocks over this and throws over that, my mother has no end of patience! She says, “It does not matter! It does not matter!” And so we conceive of God, since He has such a long beard, He must be kinder even than a grandfather. After all, he has been around longer than the grandfather. Since grandfathers are so kind and grandmothers are so kind, then God must be like one of these sugar daddies that we can ask for sweets, ask for popcorn and ice-cream and whatever it is. Thus, we must avoid these two extremes of erroneous thinking about God.
Jesus Taught of God as Father
Now, Jesus taught of God as Father. Notice not grandfather, [but] Father. I mentioned just now that fathers can be severe. Let us remember that before we start beginning to get over-familiar. Fathers and mothers can be severe. My father was very severe with me. I got beaten almost every single day. In a way, I thank God that He is not quite like that. I got beaten everyday because, you see, I was an only son and my father wanted to make sure that his only son was not going to get spoiled. He wanted to make it so sure that he went somewhat to the other extreme. I got beaten for every small thing that I did wrong, at least that was until the age of 5 or 6. I must say that I began to get a very bad impression of fathers who seemed to me to have the only function in the family which was to beat up the son. I am grateful that after the war, i.e., when my father came back from the war, his whole attitude changed. He went again to the other extreme; he never once beat me again. He became to me a friend of friends and extremely kind and loving and patient. And so human beings are [like this].
Grandfathers are again different; they were severe with their sons, but very kind with their grandsons. Just like Helen’s father - [he] used to be such a person who never ever talked with her, never played with her. When our daughter came, Helen was amazed to see her father sitting on the floor playing with Evelyn! Helen had never seen anything like this. She just blinked her eyes in astonishment.
So, remember, the Lord Jesus says, “Father”, not grandfather. There is a big difference here. But first, let us notice that there is no teaching in the Lord’s teaching about some kind of vague notion of the universal fatherhood of God. Let us wipe that out straightaway. There is no teaching in the Scriptures about a universal fatherhood of God, in which God is father to everybody. There is no such teaching at all. There are some aspects, for example, the Unitarians, which is a sort of offshoot of Christianity, that has this false teaching, this erroneous teaching of God as universal father of everybody. God is no such father to everybody. But Jesus taught plainly that God is not a universal father, but that He can become “our Father”. Now that is exactly what the Gospel is about. It is the Good News that you and I, ordinary people that we are, can actually become God’s children. That is something really wonderful that we need to think about.
A Child Has Access to the Father
What is it then that we can become God’s children? This is something truly precious. Last Friday, in our Bible study, we saw that becoming a Christian is not merely a matter of escaping from hell. That is not the point of becoming a Christian. The point of the Good News is not just that we can escape from hell, but that we can become God’s children. We saw how in the hierarchy of heaven there are many, many different ranks. There are spiritual beings. There are angels. There are archangels. There are these 4 mysterious creatures who do not even have a name; there is nothing by which they can be described, as we read about in Revelation and Ezekiel, these mysterious creatures who seem to be higher than even some of the angels, than even the archangels, because they are nearest to God. But the amazing thing about the Gospel is this: that God lifts us up from the lowest section of creation to the highest, and puts us above the whole hierarchy of God’s creation and makes us to be His children.
Now you have often heard that we are children of God, but did you know what it means? We are lifted up, right next to God. As Paul says, we are seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, right at God’s right hand. The children are right next to God. That is where He wants them to be: close to Himself. Oh, the privilege, the beauty of that. Just try and meditate! Don’t take spiritual truth, as I said earlier, in a superficial way, but meditate deeply into it until your heart overflows with thanksgiving, that God lifts us up to such a place. It is truly wonderful that we may be able to be seated in the heavenly places, not because of anything that we are. Let no Christian ever think that he is better than anybody else in the world. Most of us are much worse, much lower than most of the other people in the world, but God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the strong - the low things - and lifted them up high so that it might be seen that it is of His grace.
I have mentioned before that my father was an official of some rank in China. As a result, I sat in the high places beside the ministers of government; [beside] the generals; beside prime ministers. Who was I? Nobody! I was just a boy that nobody would have looked at twice, perhaps, in the streets of Shanghai or Nanking [now Nanjing] or anywhere else, but because of who my father was, I could enjoy these things: sit at the right hand of the Prime Minister. I remember sitting at the right hand of Wang Yang Wu 王雲五, who was at that time Vice Prime Minister. He was on my left side and his wife was on my right side. I was squeezed between the two of them, and between them they did a good job of destroying me, by which I mean that they kept piling the food into my bowl, one chopstick here and the other chopstick there and I was struggling to finish what was in my bowl. I do not know if you have heard of Wang Yang Wu 王雲五. He has written, i.e., he has compiled “Da Zidian 大字典”, the dictionary, which was a great [contribution]. It is the four-cornered system of dictionary 四角號碼字典. He was a man of very humble origin himself, but through hard work and great intelligence, he reached a very high [position]. Even now, I understand he might still be alive and in high position in Taiwan. But in any case, he was there, and as he was talking, he was piling this food into my bowl, not noticing that his wife, on the other side, was doing the same. I was fighting a losing battle with this food in the bowl. But there it was that at this table, in which there were not very many people, maybe 15 or 16 people at this round table, there was this nobody, who was me. What right did I have to be at this table of all these dignitaries? No right whatsoever, except that my father was who he was.
Thus, in the kingdom of God, too, we are nobody. But we are what we are due to the mercy of God, our Father, that He raises us up to sit, where? In the heavenly places, where? With Abraham and Isaac, with Archangel Michael and Gabriel, with these four mysterious beings, whoever they are, that we read about in Revelation, these mighty beings of the heavenly places. You think about it. A little you and a little me seated with these people, these spiritual beings, who would make all these dignitaries of the earth look like so many peanuts. Just think of it sometimes: the privilege that God has given us to be called the sons of God, in comparison to which the glories of this earth are simply utterly insignificant. He has raised us up like this. Do you know what it means to be called a son? When you walk into the kingdom of God - sons of God! Ah, let all those angels and heavenly beings look, wow! That is the son of God! That is him. What mercy! As Paul says, He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. God did not withhold anything from us. What kind of gratitude we must have to live a life in this world that pleases Him!
You know, brothers and sisters, it sometimes sickens me, it makes my heart feel weak when somebody says, “Oh, I can’t do that for the Lord. I am too busy.” I think, “What did God not do for you?” What did God not do for you? Did He withhold any mercy from you and you are too busy for God? When God is too busy for you, brothers and sisters, then you really have had it. Then you will be in trouble. He withheld nothing and we want to withhold this. We feel we are giving God too much. Maybe our attitude only proves that we are not yet children of God, or if we are children, we do not know what it means. We do not even know what kind of blessing He has blessed us with. So we can see that becoming a child of God is the highest privilege. And the Lord Jesus is saying, “When you have become my disciple, you become a child. Do you know what that means? And when you pray, therefore, say, ‘Father’ - “Our Father which art in heaven.” [KJV]
Consider then what kind of access we have as a child, as a son. What access, what right did I have to walk past all the guards, all the soldiers, all the people [and their] the doors. I walked straight into my father’s office. Other people cannot come. No, no! Nobody can come. Only by special appointment they can come. But me - the nobody - nobody will challenge, nobody will question. I can walk into the office 20 times a day, anytime I like. Why? It is because I am a son! That is why. I am no dignitary. At that time, I had no education. I was only a boy. I had never been to university, I had no qualifications to produce, but I can walk into that office any number of times, and nobody - no matter how many guards there are, no matter how many commanders and officers there are - nobody can stop me. In the same way, we have access. This is the point. That is why I say that is the beauty of the arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer. When you pray, how do you pray? You pray as a child! You have access. Not all the spirit beings in the world can stop you, and say, “You can’t go into God’s presence.” Who said so? I am a son! It is by the grace of God. No, I did not earn it! Whoever earned being a son? What is there to boast about? But by the mercy of God, I am a son! Nobody can stop me; I am coming into His presence. What is your problem in prayer? Where is the problem? You can come into the innermost presence. As the book of Hebrews says, “We have access into the holiest, the innermost place.”
Our Conduct Is the Evidence of Our Being Children of God
Now we see then that the only way we become a child, as we saw earlier, is to be born anew. How do we become a child? By being born - that is how! And we ‘become born’ means that the Holy Spirit does the work of making us a child. It is not something that we can earn, but (here is another thing we must notice about a child) the Scriptural teaching is this: a child must prove worthy in his life and conduct. Our conduct is the evidence of our childhood. How do other people know that we are God’s children? In fact, how does anybody know that we are God’s children? The Lord Jesus, and God Himself, in the wisdom of the Scriptures, has given us one factor by which we can know that we are His children. We have not got a birth certificate that we can produce. We have not got, in fact, any other evidence that we are God’s children, in the wisdom of God’s teaching, except our conduct: that we look like God’s children.
Now, you see, when I go to see my father, the people knew that this is the son. But how did they know? There must be some means to know. I cannot just say, “Well, I am a son.” I cannot go to Mr. Trudeau’s office [Mr. Trudeau was the Prime Minister of Canada at that time] and say, “I want to see Mr. Trudeau because I am his son.” They will say, “What? You don’t look like it!” What am I going to do? There must be some way to establish this: either that my father confirms that I am his son, but also that there must be a certain evidence. And in this life, the only evidence that we have, that is given to us, is the evidence of our life and conduct - the likeness with God. We saw this earlier on in our teaching, when we saw in the Lord’s teaching in Mt. 5:45 that it says this. We read from v44: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may (become the) sons of your Father....” Now the Lord Jesus did not mean by that that we can, through doing this, earn our sonship, but only that by this we have the evidence of sonship, which is very different from earning it. We do not earn sonship, we do not earn eternal life, but what we must have is the evidence of that sonship in our lives. That is absolutely essential. And when there is evidence of that sonship, you will find that there is nowhere you cannot go. Now test it and see.
You try committing sin and you try praying, if you do not believe what I have said. You will find that you can go and claim all day long that you are God’s son, and see if your prayer gets through. See if God answers your prayer. See if that prayer goes unhindered. It does not work. That, you see, is the point which is not true in our analogy. Even if I have offended against my father, other people will still see me as his son. I still have access. But you will find that when you sin, it is not only that your sin comes, you will find that there is somehow an obstacle. Many people who have sinned have said that heaven becomes brass and earth as steel. Strange! What does that mean? Is it that God does not want to see you? He says, “If you will repent of your sins, you come to Me at anytime.” He did not say He does not want to see you. But somehow, suddenly, powers can intervene. Enemy powers could intervene. You have given them something to intervene with. It is the evidence of the sonship we must carry with us, if we are going to have access. This does not mean that if you sin, you cannot repent. Certainly we can repent of our sins. We can still come back to God. We can still ask the Lord to take away the hindrances, but the hindrances will certainly come. And that hindrance is not merely psychological. You will find that it is a very actual hindrance.
I have shared with some of you before, how, when I first told a brother of ours sinned, he found himself unable to pray through. Though he dearly wanted to get through, the door was closed; he could not get through. There was no way. It was not that he did not desire to pray. It was not that he did not desire to call on God, but the way was closed, that somehow forces outside of his control had shut the door. He had given Satan an opportunity, in other words. It is not God who shuts the door. It is not angels who shut the door, but it is Satan who now comes in and shuts the door. And we suddenly found that he has got the authority to do it, strangely enough. You gave him a chance. We will look into this more fully when we see the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.” You have got to be sure that there is no sin in your life if you want to pray, if you want to come to God as son. This shows the point that sonship in the Lord’s teaching is not something that can be abused. It cannot be taken for granted. That is the other point we must clearly understand. If you abuse it or take it for granted - it is not a question of dogma or argument; it is a matter of experience - you are going to find that you cannot get to God’s presence. And then you can only cry out in the distance and ask the Lord to take away your sin. I am now talking, of course, about more serious sins. I am not talking about smaller sins. I am talking about serious sins that can shut you out from God.
So, then, we see the great difference between a child of God in the world and a child of God in the kingdom of heaven. In the world, because you are a son, you think you can do anything you like and nobody can question you and can deal with you. This, unfortunately, was the kind of experience that we had in China. Being the son of a high official meant that you could do virtually anything you liked and nobody, but nobody, could challenge you. There were sons of high officials who did anything they liked and they did every manner of evil. They could kill, they could violate girls, and nobody could do anything about it. They could go into a shop and eat a meal and walk out without paying. Nobody dared to do anything about it because they feared the families of these people. The families of these higher grades were often issued with a special badge, which very few people had. You need only put that badge behind your lapel and you turn that lapel, and absolutely no one would dare to stop you anywhere. You could eat, you could go into a restaurant, you could sit on an airplane, ride on a train, sit in a tram and you never paid anything because nobody would dare to ask you for a penny. All you do is turn your lapel over and show the badge. There were only a very few of those special badges that were issued out.
So, you can see that in the world, you are still a son and you can misuse your privileges as a son - you can commit sin - and nobody dares to stop you. But that is where the analogy ends because in the kingdom of God your sonship is immediately tied up with the evidence of your conduct. The moment your conduct does not match up to your sonship - it does not follow you may not be a son, but you lose the privilege of a son. You may still be a son in fact, or only in name, either way, but all the privileges of the son are taken away. Until you have repented, you do not strut about as a son. You cannot go about thinking, “Well, I can sin and do what I like.” You simply cannot do that. This point I really want to emphasize because so many Christians do not see the relationship of conduct and prayer. Prayer and conduct are vitally related - I beg of you clearly to understand this - that if you live in sin, there is no way you can pray through. And you can say “Our Father” as long as you like, and nothing, but absolutely nothing, will happen to you until you have repented of sin. So please notice carefully this vital aspect of the Lord’s teaching.
We Become Children of God by Opening Our Life Totally to the Holy Spirit
Now, when we come to realize these things, you will see that it is only through being born again, as we said earlier, and that by the Spirit of God, that we can call God “Father”. It does not mean that you can call “Father” just because you happen to want to call God “Father” or just because you think, “Well, Jesus said, ‘Say, “Our Father”,’ so I say “Our Father”!” Jesus was talking to His disciples. I addressed God as “Father” simply because I was taught the Lord’s Prayer in a Catholic School, when I did not really have the right to say “Our Father” at all! I was not His son. We can only rightly call God “Our Father” when the Spirit of God comes into our life. That means, we become God’s children only when we open our lives completely and totally to the Holy Spirit. Have you opened your life totally to the Holy Spirit? And I mean, totally! God does nothing by parts. He either has the whole of your life or He does not have your life at all. This is a truth that I have been trying to make clear to people wherever I have been going to: God does nothing by parts; He does not accept a partial offering. There is no partial offering that He ever accepts. If you want to become a child of God and experience the benefits and privileges and responsibilities of a child, you have got to open your life totally to God. The reason why many Christians find it difficult to say “Our Father” in prayer and really understand that it comes right up from the heart is because they have never totally opened their life to God. There are simply Christians who are 50%, 80% and they never know the joy of sonship. If you want to know the joy of sonship, make sure that you ask yourself right now, “Am I totally open? Lord, am I honestly, totally open?” Otherwise, you can say “Our Father”; there is nobody to stop you. Everybody can say to Mr. Trudeau, “Hi, Father.” There is no law that will stop you and say you cannot do that. The only trouble is he will look at you, and say, “I’ve never seen you before. Who are you?”
So, the point here is this: you have got to open yourself totally. That is what Paul says in Rom. 8:15: “It is the Spirit crying out from our heart, ‘Our Father’.” There is a difference between saying “Father” with your mouth and saying it with your heart - that is the point. When the Lord Jesus [said] in the Lord’s Prayer, “When you pray, say ‘Our Father’,” He did not mean to say, “Just say it with your mouth.” The question is: Can you say it with your heart? Think of it right now. Can you say, as you sit there, listening to the Lord’s Word, can you say from the depth of your heart, “Father”, [and it comes] right straight from the depths of your heart? If you can say it from your heart, it is because the Holy Spirit is working in your heart, enabling you to say so. Paul says this on two occasions to make sure that we have not missed the point, that is, in Rom. 8:15 and Gal. 4:6: “The Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God.” That is where true assurance comes from. True assurance - Biblical assurance, as we will see when we get to Romans Chapter 8 - is the assurance of God witnessing in us, the Holy Spirit witnessing with us, saying, “Yes, you are a child of God.” I have the certainty that I am a child of God; I am not guessing. I have the certainty that I am a child of God because I have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. It is not based on alleged, external promises because the question is whether you are entitled to claim those promises. How do you know whether you are entitled to claim those promises? You only know it when the Spirit witnesses with your spirit that you are a child of God and you may claim those promises.
I remember some years ago when I was in Hong Kong, there was Andrew See preaching at a meeting in which he illustrated this very truth in his words. He said that somebody came and was saying to him that she was not sure that she was a child of God, though she had committed her life a few days earlier to the Lord. So Andrew See said, “Well, what did you pray when you came to the Lord?” She said, “Well, I prayed like this: I said, ‘Father’.” He said, “Stop! That’s enough. I don’t want to hear the rest of the prayer.” Then she said, “Why did you ask me what I prayed?” “It is because I just wanted to hear the first word. When you said ‘Father’, did you say it from your heart?” She said, “Yes! I said it from my heart.” Then he said, “Praise the Lord! You are a child of God.” Why did he say this? He had grasped this truth that we have seen right here in Romans Chapter 8 and Gal. 4:6 that it is the Spirit of God who enables you to say from your heart, “Father.” That means you have really become a child of God. You have opened your life totally to Him. That is the secret of prayer.
Now the uniqueness of the Lord’s teaching in this we must really come to notice. The Lord Jesus is the only person who ever taught anyone to pray to God as Father. Did you know that? There is nowhere, in no religion in the world, not even in the OT, do you ever find God addressed in prayer as “Father”. Nowhere! Nobody has ever called God “Father”. Did you know that? And so, those of us who were brought up, as some of us were, in Christian schools, in Catholic schools, have missed the realization of this: the uniqueness of this teaching! The Lord’s teaching was absolutely unique. The Jews have never heard such a thing in their lives, that anybody can address God as “Father.” We have many prayers of the Jews today in which He is addressed as the Great King and title after title is piled up, but nowhere in the prayers of the Jews, or in the OT, is God addressed as “Father.” Nobody ever knew of such an expression for God. Nobody had ever had the privilege of calling God “Father”. Now think about that. That is why when we become new persons, our whole concept of God is renewed in this unique way that we are the only people on earth, through all generations of human history, who call God “Father” and have the right to call Him so because we, in God’s mercy, have become His children. It is only in Christ that we have this privilege to call God “Our Father,” and what is more, to address Him as “Abba! Father!”
What It Means to Call God “Abba! Father!”
Now, “Abba” is very interesting - this word “Abba”. “Abba” is the Aramaic form of “Father”. We find this word used in the Bible exactly in the places I have just quoted in Romans Chapter 8 and Gal. 4:6. Paul says that by the Holy Spirit, we say, “Abba! Father!” What does that mean? Oh, the richness of this is really wonderful! It means, first of all, that by the grace of God we have come into a relationship with God that is on the level of that - think about it - of the Lord Jesus Himself. Is that something enough to make one be stunned? On the level of the Only Son Himself! The Lord Jesus Himself is the only One who addresses God as “Abba Father.” You see that in Mark Chapter 14. In that prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, He says, “Abba, Father, if it is Your will, if it is possible, take this cup away from Me.” [v36]
This word “Abba” is the kind of word that the Aramaic people use in relation to their own fathers. It was a familiar form of address, rather like, you might say, the Germans would say “Papa”, or the English would say “Daddy”, or in Chinese, we would say “Baba”, which is very close to “Abba”. The Shanghai dialect is even better. Maybe the Shanghai dialect belongs in the kingdom of God [because in] the Shanghai dialect, we say exactly, “Ah Ba! Ah Ba!” when we address our father in the familiar term. It is exactly the same as the Aramaic - think of that. Every Shanghai person knows the word “Ah Ba” very well. “Abba, Father!” Even with the right intonation, exactly as in the Aramaic: “Ah Ba, with the emphasis on the second syllable.
Think about it. God is not saying that we address “Our Father” simply as “Father”, in a very official tone, but we address Him as “Daddy”. Wow! The Jews are really perspiring by now, [and saying], “You address the Great King as ‘Daddy’? Wah!” How can you do a thing like this? But why not? We are His children! How would you address your father? I do not know how you address your father; I address my father as “Dad”. I do not come to him and say, “Father, sir, here I am.” Now, in old Chinese custom, some people did that: “fu qin da ren 父親大人”, you would say: the big man father, literal translation, [which is] a term of respect. But that is to put a lot of distance [in the relationship]. That was because in Chinese families, there was often a lot of distance between father and son. The relationship was very formal and very cold. But that was not so with the Aramaic people, and certainly not so with the Jews, who have a very close relationship between father and son. Anyone who have been in a Jewish family will know that. The relationship of fathers and sons and of the whole family is very, very close. And so the father was addressed as “Abba, Father.”
Thus, we find that the Lord Jesus is saying, “Now you are children. You come into God’s presence, and you say, ‘Daddy, Father I’m here.’ And you talk with Him.” Oh, what a privilege! And that was not used just with children. I mean when we grow up, we still say Dad, don’t we? I mean when I was small, I still said “Dad”. When I am big, I still said “Dad”. I did not change to some other term. The word “Dad”, in no way, connotes any kind of disrespect. I would like you to notice this. It is expressing a certain intimacy - the intimacy of father and child - [and] love of a certain affection as well as respect. I respected my father every bit as much as when I addressed him as “Dad”. I did not take any liberties with him. I always respected my father and I am sure you do, too. So, it does not matter that you address him as “Dad”. It does not mean that you do not respect him. The reason why I am emphasizing on this point is because I want to deal with a subsidiary question here.
Addressing God in the Familiar ‘You’ Does Not Mean Disrespect
Just for example, the fact that Luther, in translating the German Bible, did not use the polite form in addressing God, but used the familiar form, was he wrong? Certainly not! Why did he use the familiar form? It is because nobody addresses their father with a polite form in Germany. In German, you know that there is the word ‘sie’ and there is a word ‘du’. ‘Sie’ is polite form; ‘du’ is the familiar form. But no child addresses their father as ‘sie’. You do not address your friends as ‘sie’. You address no one in the family as ‘sie’. You always say ‘du’, that is, the familiar form of ‘you’. And so, if the logic about ‘thou’ as a respectable form was right, then Luther was wrong, which he simply was not. And then you find also in French, when the Christians pray, do they address God as ‘vous’, or as ‘tu’? I am sure that they do not address God as ‘vous’, the polite form, but as every child would address their father, as ‘tu’. By addressing their father with the familiar form ‘tu’, they are, of course, not disrespecting their father, but showing that this is my father, not a stranger, or somebody that I have to put on airs with or be polite with.
And so in the same way in Chinese, when we address God, we do not say ‘Nin 您’, in the polite form, we say ‘Ni 你’. I do not know if in Cantonese there is such a thing as ‘nin 您’, but in the Mandarin, [there is]. Is there ‘nin 您’ in Cantonese? No? Oh, the Cantonese have no problem! But in Mandarin, we have the ‘nin 您’ form, the polite form, and only people from very old families might have addressed their fathers as ‘nin您’. I do not know [any]. They must be well beyond my generation. But we always address God as ‘Ni 你’ and that truly expresses respect, an attitude of respect.
What Matters in Prayer: Knowing Who God Is and Who He Is in Relationship to Us
We can see that all this is essential to prayer. And at this point, we need to close. And the fourth point here is. Why it is essential to prayer is: we said right at the beginning in relation to the second point, that talking to the person, we must know who that person is, in relation to us. To talk to a stranger makes us feel very closed up, very inhibited. But when we speak to a person that we know, we feel very open. Now, in praying to God, we do not know, of course, what He looks like. Maybe some of you when you pray, you try to imagine, “What does God look like?” Maybe you try to see Him as a great spot of light there, shining in a distance, or you try to imagine Him. The trouble with our minds is we have to try to picture the person that we see. It is like talking on the telephone. Have you ever picked up the telephone and you tried to imagine what the voice looks like at the other end. You hear the voice and you are trying to picture: Is this person fat or thin or round, big or short, or blond? And we have seen before that this kind of exercise in imagination is generally exceedingly futile. You hear a rich, resonant voice and you picture a big man, tall and dark-haired, big 40-inch chest, talking down the telephone. What is your surprise when you see him to be a small man with a very small chest, but happens to have a very big voice, so that you find that what you imagine generally tends to be wrong. Or you listen to a voice on the radio and you listen and you are trying to imagine what this person looks like, and you can be sure that every time you are wrong.
Now the point is, in prayer, we try to imagine God. Have we not? We try to see Him. [We say,] “I cannot talk with somebody I cannot imagine,” so we try to imagine Him. But we seem to get on very well in everyday life. Those of you who work in an office, you pick up telephone calls and you speak to people you have never seen in your life, but you carry on very well. You get your business done without having to imagine what that person’s face looks like. The point is: what the person looks like is the least important point of all, as far as the spiritual matters are concerned. But we have all been bothered by this question, have we not? We have been sitting there or kneeling there, and wondering, “Now, what does God look like? If I could only imagine Him, I could pray a lot better.” If you want to think of the Lord Jesus, that is quite easy, I should think. He had a human body when He came into the world. He looked like a person. But I am not sure whether it helps a lot to know if He was blond or black-haired or blue-eyed or dark-eyed, or whatever [color] it was. But, you see, our minds are engaged with the superficial things and it becomes a great hindrance in prayer. The Lord Jesus said, “Say, ‘Our Father’.” That establishes not what He looks like. It does not matter anymore what He looks like, but who He is - that is what matters - and who He is in relation to me. That is what matters.
There was a sister that we had, for example, in Liverpool, who had not seen her brother for 17 years. He was a small tot when she left home, and 17 years later, she did not know what he even looked like. How tall was he and what does his face look like? She did not know! She had never seen him in person at all. And yet, one day, the brother phoned. It was a long distance call. She picked up the phone and she was talking to her brother. Well, what does it matter? She did not know what her brother looks like, but what does it matter? She knows that, “That’s my brother!” and that is what mattered. She knows who he is in relation to her.
Now we do not know and there is no use pretending we know what God looks like. One day, we are going to see Him. As we saw in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” [Mt. 5:8] We are going to see God, but in the meantime we live by faith, which means we do not see Him with our eyes but we live on the security of the relationship that we have with Him. We are His children! Just like this sister, that person was her brother. He was no more less her brother because she did not know what he looked like. Is he not her brother because she does not know what he looked like?
I did not see my father for years during the war. In the Japanese war, my father went, left Shanghai, straight to the enemy lines and went to fight in Chunking [now Chongqing], the war time capital. I did not see my father for over 5 years. I did not know what my father looked like. You know, it is very different when you see a person in a picture and when you see him in real life. It is very, very different. Have you noticed that? Now I have pictures of my father from 5 years ago. The funny thing is when he stood in front of me, I was not sure that he was my father. Now if I held up a picture beside him, I might have seen the resemblance. And yet, when I saw him, it was a totally different impression. But was he any less my father because I could not remember what he looked like, because I did not know what he looked like? He was still my father and everything was exactly the same. And so, in the same way, we do not right now know what Our Father looks like in terms of physical appearance, but we know who He is. He is Our Father. And in prayer, we must grasp firmly this point; otherwise, your prayer is going to go on the rocks with so many problems.
Thus, today, we have summed up from the Lord’s teaching the important fact concerning prayer: that if we grasp and grab hold of this fact, our prayer life is going to enter into a new phase because our whole concept of God is changed. We love Him and we respect Him. We can draw near to Him as we draw near to a dear father. We can talk to Him because we know He is present.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church