“Lord, teach us to pray,” said the disciples. So Jesus provided a model prayer, saying: “After this manner therefore pray ye…Our Father, who art in heaven.” We would not believe this if Jesus Himself had not taught us to say this. Those of us who grew up listening to the centuries-old prayers of the Church must have wondered about those prayers. Many of these old prayers are not that long in themselves. What strikes us is how much time is spent on simply addressing God.
For example: “Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray and art accustomed to give more than either we desire or deserve…” Or: “Almighty and everlasting God, who of Thine infinite mercy hast made us Thy children by faith in Thy dear Son, and through Him hast begotten us again unto a lively hope, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us, we beseech Thee…” And then, and only then, the prayer gets around to the thing for which we are asking God.
It isn’t that the church fathers of centuries gone by were just long winded. The ancient fathers were men of prayer. Fellowship with God was the air they breathed. You sense in their calling out to God, in their addressing Him as the Father who sent His Son to redeem us and wash away our sins…you sense that for them, prayer was not so much about getting some specific thing they wanted.
It was about getting through to God, laying hold of God, boldly calling God “Father” by the merits of Jesus Christ their Savior. All else is secondary. The real prayer is already answered, the real need already met if I can just get through to this God who has become my Father in Christ Jesus.
There is a story from years ago about a young boy on a trip to the museum. He got his hand stuck in a priceless Chinese vase. Folks tried all the tricks in the book to get the crying kid’s hand out. Nothing worked. Finally, the sad curator of the museum had to solve the problem with a 79 cent hammer. The priceless vase lay in powdery pieces on the table. Then they saw why the kid couldn’t get his hand out. He had spied a penny at the bottom of the vase, was clutching it in his fist and wouldn’t let go.
So it often goes with our relationship with God. We cry for the paltry penny which we think we need. But then, getting the penny, we smash to pieces the most important thing – our relationship with the Father.
Our darker side may object: Father? Really? What kind of father would take away my child? What kind of father allows heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, accidents and the wars that send young men home in flag-draped coffins?
But He who taught us to pray this prayer, to fall into the arms of God and call Him “Father,” is no more happy with this broken world than you or I. He knows how deep are the sorrows sown by sin and Satan, disease and death. He picked it all up and made it His own.
It is true that our Father allows the dark powers to strut their brief hour upon the stage in seeming lordship. But this is still our Father’s world and He hitches these dark powers to the chariots of His divine purposes and drives them to do His bidding to our blessing.