Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 30: “How We Should Pray-With Reverence!” 09.19.2018

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV) “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name …”

In 1785, John Adams was appointed to be the first American Ambassador to England. Arriving in London, this required him to visit King George the Third. Never having come into the presence of royalty, Adams found himself receiving instructions on exactly how that is done. He had to learn to bow in the King’s presence and to semi-curtsy three times as he approached him…not making eye contact until the King spoke. All of this was quite foreign to Adams and perhaps even slightly irritating. After all, the king was just a man. But, he obliged his hosts.

I sometimes wonder if modern Christians really understand what it means to come into the presence of God Almighty. I have no desire to be critical or unkind, but I have been troubled more than once by irreverent prayers and approaches to God. I have experienced the greatest possible personal intimacy with God for many years. But I shudder to hear someone open in prayer with “Good Morning Father!” As if they just ran into each other at the coffee pot. This seems to me to be a classic example of “anthropomorphizing” God … attributing to God merely human characteristics. Speaking of Him as if He is somehow a human being. It’s not that it is vulgar, it is simply inadequate and diminishing to His Holy character.

Yes, we are reminded that Jesus called the Father in Heaven “Abba.” Everyone “knows” that means “Daddy.” But does it? Not exactly. The preacher who explains with great passion that God wants us to relate to Him as “Daddy” is well-meaning but probably somewhat out-of-focus. I realize that these comments may disappoint some of my blog friends, but they are important. God wants us to rejoice in the intimacy of His love but the picture of us jumping on His Divine lap is not what Jesus had in mind. It’s not that we are to abandon sweet thoughts of father-child closeness. It’s just that Jesus was calling for a deeper intimacy that will yield greater blessings than spiritual snuggling.

In an essay in the Journal of Theological Studies (9 Vol. 39, 1988) New Testament scholar James Barr wrote an article titled “Abba Isn’t Daddy.” We read:
“It is fair to say that Abba in Jesus’ time belonged to a familiar or colloquial register of language, as distinct from more formal and ceremonious language. . . . But in any case it was not a childish expression comparable with ‘Daddy’: it was a more solemn, responsible, adult address to a Father. (p. 46)

Now, let me say that if this corrective is accurate (I think it definitely is) then we are left a little uneasy. We LIKE TO THINK OF GOD AS DADDY and I understand that. But the problem in our Christian age is the diminished understanding of God and his nature. As many have observed, we have eclipsed the “Weightiness” of God as we consider His Glory and exchanged it, at times, for a playground mentality where we are just “hangin’ out with God.”

This current trend of reducing God to our “cosmic buddy” effects the way we worship. Having presided over several thousand worship services, I learned to strive for joy and celebration in the context of dignity and respect for God. I failed miserably at times. But that was always the primary concern. I remember reading about a girls’ sports team that was invited to the White House to meet President George W. Bush. He greeted them warmly and graciously including the young lady who chose to wear flip-flops and jeans. The others were dressed carefully with respect. OK. Where am I going with this? My point is that God and His Holiness are totally OTHER than the world in which we live. Thus, what we do in worship… private or public … must be scrutinized thru the lenses of fear and trembling. Did I make that up? No. Consider the words of the writer of Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:28-29 (NIV) “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”
At this point, we may fairly ask “How did this happen? What explains this almost careless and fearless way of worshipping?” I think the answer is simply that it has been an over-reaction to what is called “dead orthodoxy.” Sitting in church where everything is done properly but without joy and life. I am not advocating for dead and cheerless worship but rather for inspiring worship characterized by “reverence and awe.”

Back to the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray, we are entering worship. Indeed, we may pray the Lord’s Prayer in a singular context. I’m sure that is acceptable to the Lord Jesus Christ.

“My Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…” We may pray that way with others or alone. The point is that He is near to us. Arguably, it should say “In the heavens…” which would be consistent with ancient Hebrew thinking about layers of heaven. The point being that God is all around His entire creation. (For an interesting treatment of this subject, I recommend the late theologian Dallas Willard and his fine book “The Divine Conspiracy.”)

What Jesus is saying to the disciples on the mountainside is this: “You need to understand something. It is the greatest possible privilege that you have as a human being to even approach the Maker of Heaven and Earth and use His Divine name! No other entity in the universe can do that. The stars and planets cannot, and the flowers cannot and the most awesome lion in the forest cannot! But you can. Therefore, be careful and filled with respect. His very name is hallowed.”

Hallowed. The Greek word “hagios” meaning Holy and pure and totally set apart. Like no other! As the Prophet Jeremiah said:

Jeremiah 10:7 (NIV) “Who should not revere you, O King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.”

How then shall we pray? First, about His desires and then about our own! Next: Praying for His Kingdom.

Peace. Pastor Alberta


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2 responses to “Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

  1. Lorene Mollenhour

    I cringe when someone opens a prayer with, “Daddy God………” I called my father Dad or Daddy all my life and I truly respected him, but he wasn’t my savior. He was the human I loved and respected most with all his human frailties. He wasn’t God.

    Now, don’t get me going on the appearance of a sanctuary and what is respectful and appropriate.


  2. Mark Edward Bumann

    Awesome Dearest Shepherd. I have read from men much more learned than I, that we tend to regard or relate to or think of God in terms that we associate with our earthly father. Some militaristic, some gentle and kind, some harsh and judgmental and some lenient and forgiving. Some others goofy and immature and others work aholics, detached and seemingly uncaring.
    When we are infused and empowered by the Holy Spirit, however, we learn the true nature and personality of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
    It is then and only then, when we are born again and begin to learn and understand the true nature and being of
    our Creator, that we can not only see and know Him for Who He really is but then can begin a journey of true relationship with someone Who is more than just ‘the man upstairs’ 🙏

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