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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Our Father in Heaven
Text:LD 46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Glory of the Father
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-04-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 123:1                                                                                             

Hy 1

Reading – Psalm 57; Galatians 3:26 - 4:7

Ps 57:1,2,3,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 46

Ps 103:4,5,6

Hy 85:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation, during the ministry of Jesus, his disciples asked him about how to pray. For they had surely noticed how often He spoke with his Father in heaven, and how openly and reverently. There was something about his prayers that made them so genuine. “Teach us,” they said, and Jesus did—He taught them the Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer is not an elaborate or lengthy prayer. It’s just six petitions, not more than seventy words in most English translations. When we pray, we’re often just getting started after seventy words! And yet this short pray of Jesus covers a wide and vital territory; it concentrates first on giving glory to God, and then it requests the daily necessities of life. Because all this gets expressed in so few words, we know that every word counts.

That is certainly true for the address of this prayer. Jesus teaches us to begin, “Our Father in heaven.” Just four words, but every word here is loaded with meaning. Because these words tell us what God is like, and they tell us how we should approach him. Is God distant or angry, is He weak or unreliable? If the God whom we approach is any of these things, then our prayers will most certainly fail.

But He is ours, and He is Father. And even though our God is gracious and merciful, we also have to speak to him rightly, with a proper respect and humility. Then we can enter by that blessed door which Christ has opened!

This is the wonderful thing about how we can begin our prayers. Jesus taught us words that say so much about who God is, about what we’ve become through Christ, and about how God will answer for his sake. I preach to you God’s Word summarized in Lord’s Day 46:

Offer your prayers to your Father in heaven:

  1. knowing heaven’s power
  2. trusting your Father’s goodness
  3. voicing your humility and faith

 

1) knowing heaven’s power: Jesus begins his lesson on prayer by telling the disciples that they have to look up. “This then, is how you should pray, “Our Father in heaven.” The idea of looking up to heaven when you pray isn’t that original. This is how the saints have so often prayed, looking up to heaven, because that’s where God is. But as with so much of our Lord’s teaching, there is something fresh here. There is a beautiful simplicity in beginning our conversations with God in this way: “Father in heaven.”

We might want to quickly zoom in on the first part of that address: “Our Father.” For it is a great miracle that we may call on our God and Maker, the same one we broke fellowship with by our sin. It’s a miracle that we may approach him, to say nothing of calling him Father! We should all be condemned, but Paul says, “You are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal 4:7).

Between God and us there can be a real closeness. We know that, because even a sinful father’s affection for his child can be so devoted and giving. This is the great wonder, that “God has become our Father through Christ!” (Q&A 120). When He was on earth, Jesus always called God his Father, spoke to him as his “Abba.” And through the Holy Spirit we are allowed to do the same: no longer slaves, but sons and daughters. It’s an amazing thing we’re allowed to do. And we’ll get to that in our second point.

But we begin with the latter part of prayer’s address, “Why is there added, in heaven?” (Q&A 121). If every word in this short prayer counts, then we must not overlook these two. And the Catechism begins its explanation of them on a negative note, “These words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty in an earthly manner” (Q&A 121).

This past week, I pondered that phrase for a little while: an “earthly manner.” What is an earthly manner? It’s a way of life typical of humans, a style of behaviour you’d expect from people like us. An earthly manner is how human beings do things. And it is surely one marked by weakness, by failing, by unreliability.

An “earthly manner” means that even if you have strength, yours is a limited strength. and if you have love for someone, it’s probably a conditional love. Or if you have committed yourself to some cause or project, it is likely that at some point your commitment will weaken and wane, even drop off altogether. And if you do something, or perform some good deed, it will always be an imperfect performance. That is the earthly manner.

So why does Lord’s Day 46 start its answer like this? “These words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty in an earthly manner.” Because the authors of the Catechism have good insight into human nature. They know that we so often see things from an earthly perspective, and that this quickly becomes our way of thinking about God.

In the end, we reckon that God is probably a lot like us. He might have good abilities, He could be very patient, He might mean what He says—but when it really comes down to it, God is still going to disappoint us. We figure that when something is really hard in our life, God won’t come through. Or that when we’ve broken his commands in an especially awful way, God will treat us badly, maybe cut us off—and who could blame him?

That’s the human way, the earthly manner, one shaped by our own experience. We might even think of our own earthly fathers, and we remember the times when they failed us or hurt us. They might’ve tried their best, but our earthly fathers often got it wrong. This makes it hard for us to grasp things like everlasting love, undeserved favour, perfect wisdom, and almighty power.

But Jesus says, “Look up. Your God is different. When you pray, you call on a Father who is in heaven.” God belongs in an entirely different category, and this address gives us a different vision. He is unlike anything here on earth: holy, set apart in the heavens!

“Our Father in heaven…” Maybe the word “heaven” makes us think of the fluffy white clouds up above. Or we think of a place like Mars, millions of kilometers away, an orange dot in the night sky. But is that what heaven is?

We turn to Scripture. And there the most frequent description of heaven is that it is the place where God dwells. It’s the high and holy place from where God regards the earth. In the words of Psalm 14:2, “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.”

There is more to say, however. Heaven is more than simply God’s dwelling. It is much more dynamic than that! Compare it to how the President of the United States lives in the White House in Washington. On one level, the White House is just his dwelling, the place where he lays down his weary head at night—but being the president’s home, the White House is also a centre of influence, a place of power and decision-making. “What will the White House say?” people ask, or “Maybe the White House can help us.” In the same way, as God’s dwelling, heaven is a great reservoir of might and source of provision. Heaven is the seat of God’s great rule and dominion.

We see this in how David speaks about God in Psalm 57. The title of this Psalm describes how David was fleeing from Saul. He was in deep trouble, for he says that his soul was among the lions. David was bowed down and defeated.

And we don’t have to be persecuted to feel the same way. We don’t have to be on death’s doorstep to relate to David’s words. In our lives there can be a very real desperation, a sense of hopelessness, a notion we’re sinking under these troubles of health or family or work.

But then David looks up. In verse 2 he says, “I will cry out to God Most High, to God who performs all things for me.” He directs his gaze past every human help or earthly solution, and he searches out God “Most High.” He looks to the God who resides in the heavens. Not the middle-of-road God, not the average God, but God Most High!

David meditates on the majesty of the LORD in verse 5: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be above all the earth.” It’s striking how right in the middle of his terrible circumstances on earth, David will pause to think about how great God is in the heavens. He will hallow God’s Name and keep praising his majesty. For even in our trials, prayer shouldn’t only be about us—it’s about the God we love, and about the God who loves us. Our LORD is exalted and glorious: above the heavens, over all the earth.

The blessed consequence is that this God is much bigger than any problem David faces! He is bigger than Saul. Bigger than death. Bigger than David’s own sin and weakness. This is the confession David makes in verse 3, “He shall send from heaven and save me.” Seated on his throne, with the earth as his footstool, our God has unlimited resources and infinite abilities. He has myriads of angels to command, all creation at his disposal. As Maker of all, He is never bound by earthly restrictions or human expectations.

When we start our prayer, we can make the same confession: “Father in heaven,” we may say in faith, “You are bigger than all this. Bigger than these worries. Bigger than these temptations. Bigger than this depression. Bigger than the devil and anything he might try. You have everything in your hand, everything under your control.” There’s nothing God Most High cannot do, but He can “send from heaven and save.”

Isn’t this good to know? When we begin our prayer in the way Jesus taught us, we get a built-in reminder that our God is up above. God is Father, yet He is heavenly in his ability and strength. This is also what the Psalmist confesses at the end of Psalm 73. After he too, has poured out his heart, he finds rest in God Most High, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (v 25). In heaven, and on earth, we have all that we need when we know the LORD.

So after telling us how not to think of God—“in an earthly manner”—the Catechism gets more positive, and exhorts us “to expect from his almighty power all things we need for body and soul” (Q&A 121). He has the power, and He will use it, for the sake of his children in Christ.

 

2) trusting your Father’s goodness: It is one thing to know about a great source of wealth, it’s quite another to trust in that source. The bank, for example, has access to all the material resources we could ever need. But banks can fail; money can devalue; we can get a bad credit rating, and we can be shut out.

So what about God in heaven? He has limitless power, infinite ability—but can we trust him? Isn’t heaven too far away to connect with? Even the Bible sometimes speaks of the great distance between heaven and earth, like Ecclesiastes 5:2, “God is in heaven and you are on earth, therefore let your words be few.” And it is true that God’s heavenly majesty should instill in us a humility, a sense of lowliness.

But there is more to our heavenly God. Without the least contradiction in himself, God is not only perfectly holy, He’s also perfectly gracious. He’s not only infinitely powerful, He’s also infinitely generous. Our Father in heaven will give us good things on earth.

We can think here of a previous lesson of the Catechism, back in Lord’s Day 9. There the question was asked about the providence of God the Father, and a most comforting answer was given: “In him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this life of sorrow.” And then comes the heart of the matter, “He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father” (Q&A 26). Able and willing!

This reveals God the Father as the source of every blessing we have! Consider what James writes in 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” God in heaven is the overflowing fountain.

We all know that, but it’s necessary for us to acknowledge it again and again. So often we take that human view of our circumstances. “I work hard at my job every day, and earn my salary—that’s why there’s food in the pantry, and a roof over our heads, and nice things to enjoy.” “I eat well, and I exercise, and I get enough sleep—that’s why I’m healthy.” “I studied and studied, and that’s why I got a good mark.” The human view is always that we did it, we took care of things.

But the earthly perspective is wrong. It’s wrong because it’s proud. It deprives our Father of the praise that is due him. In times of need, we can always go to God the Father. But also in times of prosperity and blessing, we need to go to him.

We can go to him, because He is like a Father in his goodness: “God has become our Father through Christ and will much less deny us what we ask of him in faith than our fathers would refuse us earthly things” (Q&A 120). He will provide!

This is something children learn quickly—they learn who provides. They know that Mom can whip together a snack when they get home from school, hungry and cranky. They know Dad will protect them if anything threatens. Children know who will take care of them, and so if they’re in need, they know exactly where to go. And in the simple way that a child looks up, full of trust, so we can look to our God.

Think again of David, fleeing from King Saul. God was in heaven, but that didn’t mean He was far away or out of touch. You can sense the holy nearness that radiates from David’s prayer. David is speaking to God like God is right beside him—because God is right beside him! “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in you; and in the shadow of your wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities have passed by” (v 1).

David is looking up to God, leaning on God’s mercy, finding a place of refuge in the shadow of God’s wings. Like Jesus would have taught him, David is beginning in the right place: he is addressing his faithful covenant God. That’s where we can begin too. Every day: we can begin with God. “Be merciful to me, O God,” we pray, “for my soul trusts in you.”

Sometimes the Father brings us down difficult paths, roads we would never have chosen for ourselves. But don’t doubt that this God is on our side, that He knows and accomplishes what is for our good. Our Father is always working for the salvation of our souls, bringing glory to his name through us.

We learn this from experience—we learn it from a whole lifetime of walking with the Lord. But this is also what the Word tells us, again and again. That God is good, all the time! That his steadfast love endures forever! This God is better and stronger and more faithful than any earthly father. For the sake of his Son Jesus Christ, God loves us more fiercely, understands us more deeply, and delights in us more fully.

 

3) voicing our humility and faith: Trust is a hard thing to describe. Sometimes it’s also a hard thing to have. This is why we talk about earning someone’s trust, or maybe losing someone’s trust. Trust is a precious commodity, something that you gain over time, through many dealings with a person, as you come see that they’re dependable.

But when we pray, Christ teaches us have a believing spirit, right from the start. This is behind the address, “Our Father in heaven.” Explains the Catechism, this address is meant “to awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence and trust toward God which should be basic to our prayer” (Q&A 120).

Again, we see it in David’s prayer in Psalm 57. He was in trouble, but he voiced his trust in the LORD. He turned to God, and such was his confidence that he praises God at the same time: “I will praise you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to you among the nations. For your mercy reaches unto the heavens, and your truth unto the clouds” (vv 9-10).

Notice how David is still speaking of God in terms of being a heavenly God: God has mercy that ascends up to the heavens, truth that goes right into the clouds. Instead of being overwhelmed by his sufferings, David is almost overwhelmed by the big-ness of this God. The LORD has a mercy that reaches to the sky, He has a truth that far surpasses our gaze. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be above all the earth,” he says (v 11). For this is a great God in whom we can trust!

Not too far away to care, for in Christ, God does care. Not too holy to accept us, for in Christ, God makes us holy again. Not too angry to welcome us back, for in Christ, God forgives all we have done against his name.

God is our living and breathing Father. Unlike the gods of the nations, our Father in heaven has ears to hear when we call in our trouble. Our Father has eyes to see when we need help. Our Father has hands to guide us in our confusion; hands to discipline us when we need correction. Our Father in heaven even has a mouth to speak words of comfort to our heart.

Too often in this life, we turn to human solutions and earthly answers. We only know “the earthly manner.” For we rely on the wisdom of mankind, the values of the worldly, and we trust in whatever resources we can scrape together ourselves. But God alone is perfect in power, in love, and in wisdom.

And so whenever we pray “Our Father,” the Catechism says we can do this with a faith that is firm and unshakable. “Father, I look to you. Father, I depend on you alone. Father, you have all the many resources of heaven at your disposal, and you’re willing to use them for me, according to your will.”

As you lay your life before God, and as you commit to him your worries and thanksgivings, your sins and sorrows, your petitions and needs, you may know that this God is a faithful Father.

Our Father in heaven is very near, and He is strong to save.

The holy Father wants to hear our prayers, however small or simple they are.

Our gracious Father will never ignore us when we call—when we call on him in Jesus’s name.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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