[This is a post in our ongoing series looking at the themes raised by David Crump in his book Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer. We began this series here.]
It is too easy for us to treat prayer as a skill to be learned when it is better thought of as the fruit of a relationship that is nurtured. It is something the children of God do with their heavenly Father. That is what is at the very forefront of Jesus’ most formal teaching on prayer which we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.
My (albeit simplistic) take on this prayer has always been that Jesus here, in modeling prayer for his disciples, also models for them the longing of the righteous heart. If these are the things for which we ought to pray, then these are the things fundamentally our hearts should be trained to long for.
First and foremost, this prayer trains our hearts to approach God as our father and our king. The image of God as father is for some very comforting and for others problematic. Jesus introduces the term here not to convey a simple paternal sensitivity (and Crump does a good job of disavowing us of any notion that Jesus encourages us to call God ‘Daddy’) but to present the Father in heaven as both creator and redeemer, as Lord and as king. He stands as the one who loves and the one who commands. We come before him with awe even as we come boldly. As Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father” he invites us to enter into a relationship with God not analogous with our own troubled father-child relationships, but analogous rather of the intimacy between Jesus and His Father. He invites us to enter into prayer as he experienced prayer.
We are to approach God not as we might approach our own fathers, which is quite hard for some of us, but we are to approach him as brothers and sisters of Christ. We are to approach God as Jesus approached God, as his father, as the one who loves him, and as one he loves, whose will he respects and keeps. We are to step away for a time from our own flawed and broken imagery of a father and come to God upon a foundation built of the revelation of Jesus’ relationship to the father. This can be freeing.
Often those who are good at something are not the best teachers. They can only tell us how they do something and cannot lead us through the painful steps of getting to where they are. But we can learn a lot by watching and listening to them. There is a man I know whose prayers lack sophistication and style. But I love to hear him pray and am comforted to hear him pray for me. That is because when he prays, he is clearly talking as a child to his father, and that seems to capture better than anything, the essence of prayer.
He learned that by listening to Jesus. I want to do the same.