It nearly killed me, but it was worth it. Many years ago, when I visited the Grand Canyon, on a whim, I got the crazy idea to hike into it and back out in one day. And if not for the help of a very experienced German hiker, I might have come out of that canyon on a gurney rather than my own two feet.
But beyond learning the importance of carrying enough water in desert conditions, I learned that seeing the Grand Canyon from the top and actually seeing it all the way down are two very different things. As amazing as I found the view, it could not compare to the awe I felt as I walked through it. It was one of the most amazing days of my life. Now, why am I sharing that story?
Because the words we’re about to hear reminded me of that day at the Canyon. You see, when most folks say or read the Lord’s prayer, it’s a bit like looking at the Grand Canyon from the top. It can be impressive, but it can’t compare to the power you feel when you hike in, when you dig into the reality of what Jesus is actually saying. Now most of the time, none of us has the time to take that hike, so to speak but once you do, even once, it changes you. You never look at anything the same way again.
Too often, people who are seeking God don’t even really know what they are looking for. So it’s no wonder that they get disillusioned or cynical about the whole search. But in the words of this prayer, in one word in particular, Jesus shows us who God is.
And when you see that, it does far more than give you a nice memory. It changes your conception of yourself, of God, of everyone and everything for the rest of your life. How can you know who God is, who you are? In the words of this prayer, Jesus shows us the way. Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.
The world has many folks, including a fair number who may even be fairly religious, who don’t really get who God is. And because they don’t know that, they end up not really knowing who they are, or, in a way, who anyone else is either. But in these words, Jesus not only shows you who God is, but how knowing that changes everything.
Yet this key reality of who God is, can easily be missed, so much so that even folks who you think would know, the religious, don’t get it either. And that’s where Jesus goes first. He warns his followers about two religious mistakes. He tells them. First, don’t make your prayers a performance. And second, don’t make them a technique.
Now why is Jesus so concerned about the whole performance thing? Jesus knows. The real reality of any relationship almost always happens behind the scenes. The poet Kathleen Norris put it this way. “…..the mystery of faith”, she said “– it’s like a marriage, in that only the two parties involved really know what’s going on.” Do you see how true that is? How many times have you seen a couple you know, let’s call them Bob and Sue, and their kids at some event, and they look so happy, so put together? You think to yourself. Wow, what a great family! Then a few months pass, you’re talking to a mutual friend. And they mention it. “Did you hear about Bob and Sue? They’re getting a divorce” And, shocked, you say, “But they looked so great together!” Your friend replies, “Hey you never know.” On the other hand, you may know of other couples, who have been together for years, and you still can’t figure that out. Here’s the point. With any relationship in our lives, we can make it look very different on the outside than it is on the inside. We can all be great fakers. And in a relationship with God, it can be the same. You can attend worship regularly, give generously, pray publicly, carry your Bible wherever you go, but the true reality of your relationship can’t be found there. It can only be found, when it’s just you and God, where no one else can see, where no one else can hear. That’s where it gets real. And if you aren’t living it out there, then Jesus is saying, then all that other stuff doesn’t really matter.
On the other hand, you can be there in that one on one time, and even then, still not be getting it. When Jesus talks about the Gentiles and their many words, he is talking about just that. He is talking about folks who are trying through their words to manipulate God, to win God over. You know it can be a nice thing if someone you know gets you a gift or says some kind words about you. But if you begin to realize, that it isn’t real, that he or she is just trying to work you, to get on your good side. Well, that just can’t work long term. It sells both of you short. It sells your friend short, that you don’t value them enough to just like them for them not the words they say or the gifts they bring. And it sells you short, that you would be that shallow to begin with.
Yet folks can be exactly that way with God. If I pray hard enough or long enough, if I say just the right things, then God will finally see it my way. But it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way, because that’s not who God is.
And that’s why Jesus, when he talks about praying, gives a name to God, that totally changed the reality of who God is forever. And you’ve heard the name before. Heck, it’s even in the shorthand we use for the prayer. We call it the Our Father.
But the word that Jesus uses here for father isn’t just any word. It’s the word, Abba. And every language has a word like it. Why? It’s because no matter where you are, when a child first comes up with a word for their parents, it’s something like Abba. Those are the only vowels they can say. So it may be Dada or Mama or Papa, but it always has that aah aah sound. And Jesus uses that word to tell us something profoundly true in how God relates to us. God really does see you as his child, and not just any child but a small child, a child who can only say Abba.
You see, whatever folks call God, often they look to God more as a boss than as a parent. And the difference between those two images is huge. You may have an awesome boss. You may even be good friends with your boss, but here’s the reality. If you stop doing your job, no matter how awesome your boss is, no matter how deep your friendship, at some point, they’re going to have to let you go. In the end, your relationship is conditional.
But with a parent, it’s completely different. They care about your performance too, maybe more than your boss does. But if you screw up, do they fire you? If they’re good parents, they don’t. If they’re good parents, they don’t push you away. They draw even closer.
A few years ago, I hit a rough spot in my life. I was having trouble at my job. I was struggling in my marriage. I had a few months where I was even living at La Quinta, if you get what I mean. But in those times, my mom and dad rallied to my side. They helped with hotel bills. They listened to my sad tales. They didn’t always like the way I had handled things, but they never walked away. Instead they came closer.
And Jesus is saying to his disciples, to you. That’s who God is. Don’t you get it? You’re not talking to your boss. You’re talking to your dad. And let me just interject a word here on this term father. Jesus isn’t talking here about the gender of God, as if God even has one. Jesus is talking about the nature of the relationship between God and you. So please don’t get hung up on that word. If you want to use another parental term, you’ll still be talking to God. But if you had a lousy father, so that word carries some baggage, still try to use it with God. You might say. “Well, I had such a terrible father; I don’t really have an image of what a good one is.” But is that true? You have to have an image somewhere of what a good father is. Otherwise, you wouldn’t know your own dad was such a lousy one. You have to be judging him on the basis of something. And in God, you have the ultimately good father, one infinitely better than even the best human ones. So, using that word for God could bring you healing, healing you very much need.
But whatever the term, the key truth remains. God doesn’t relate to you as a boss. God relates to you as a loving parent does with his or her child. And when you get that, when you really get that, it changes everything, not just about how you view God, but how you view yourself. You are God’s child. You are the one whom God loves like that.
During the Civil War, a certain soldier was injured during battle. But because of some bureaucratic snafu, he and his family weren’t receiving the benefits due them. So the soldier went to Washington to appeal his case. But he had no luck. Discouraged, he went to Lafayette Park across from the White House to think it through. As he sat there, he started crying. A young boy was playing in that park. He saw the soldier crying. He asked him. “What’s wrong?” The soldier was so discouraged, that he told the boy the whole story. After he finished, the boy looked at him. He said, “Come with me.” They crossed the street. They went to the White House entrance. The guards let them walk right through. They went down the hall to the President’s outer office. Everyone let them pass. They walked straight into the oval office. President Lincoln was meeting with his generals, but when they walked in, Lincoln told his advisors to be quiet. He knelt down and took the boy in his arms, and asked him. “What’s wrong, Tad?” And Tad, Lincoln’s beloved son, said “Daddy, this soldier needs your help.” Do you understand that you’re a Tad? You are God’s child. You are the One whom God loves like that.
And once you get that, really get that, do you see how it changes everything? Do you see how it even changes everything about this prayer? For example, when you pray, God’s will be done, you can know that whatever that will is, it will be for your best. Why? Because, God’s your dad.
Sometimes, in a busy parking lot, my son gets tired of holding my hand. I’m cramping his style. But I tell him. Little man, you gotta hold daddy’s hand. Why do I tell him that? Because I don’t want some big SUV to run him over and kill him. But, just because he can’t always see the truth of that, doesn’t make it less true.
And every good parent has to make calls like that every day, not because they hate their child, but they because they love her more than she’ll ever know. And here’s the humbling truth, with God, we’re those kids.
A while back, I read this article about the possibility that human beings might develop computers hundreds of time more intelligent than ourselves. And if that ever happens, well, it will be a huge blow to our self-esteem. Among human beings, our intelligence lies across a pretty narrow spectrum. The village idiot has an IQ of say 85, and Albert Einstein had one of 130. But what if you had a computer with an IQ of 12,000? We don’t even have a word for that. As one writer put it, superintelligence of that magnitude is not something we can remotely grasp, any more than a bumblebee can wrap its head around Keynesian Economics. And if that’s true of a computer, imagine what it means if you’re talking God, the highest intelligence in existence. Suffice it to say, God really does know better than you, as humbling as that may be.
But how do you know this is who God is, a God who loves you as only a father or mother could? Because Jesus not only told you, he showed you. In Jesus, God not only become the parent, God became the child. He became a human being, with all its painful limitations. He became so vulnerable, that like us, he had to pray too. And right before his awful end, in one final agonizing prayer, he prayed the words we’re about to pray. He said to God, your will be done, even if that will leads me to the cross, to that utter agony and death.
And God in Jesus went there for you, because God know only then could he bring you home, could he make the family whole. So in Jesus, God gave his life for you. Because his love went even there, you know you are loved no matter what. You can know you are forgiven, no matter what mess you’ve made of your life. Even to those nailing him to that cross, Jesus made that his prayer. “Father, forgive them.” And that means even as God has forgiven you, you can’t withhold it from others. Why? Whatever hurt they caused you, they’re family. If God’s your dad, your mom, then they’re your sisters and brothers. You are all in this together.
So as you pray this prayer, don’t just pray it, believe it Believe that you are God’s child, that God loves you like that, that God forgives you like that. And as you trust in that profound truth, it will change not only how you look at God. It will change how you look at yourself, how you look at everyone, how you look at everything.