By J.R. Miller
The words "Our Father" stand here as the golden 'gate' of prayer. This is the way we must enter, as we approach God. There is no other entrance. It was Christ himself who set up this gate. Not until he came, was this way consecrated and thrown open. There were many precious manifestations of God through the prophets--but the divine Fatherhood was not revealed, but in the dimmest way, in those ancient days. Only a few times in the whole Old Testament, is God spoken of as Father, and not once are men taught to pray to him by this name. But when Christ came--all things were made new. From the beginning he spoke of God as Father. Indeed Jesus scarcely ever called him by any other name. In the sermon on the mount alone, Jesus used the name seventeen times! All through the gospels we find it. Jesus wanted us to see God in the tenderest aspects of love. He wanted us also to understand his revealing of him, and no other name unlocks such a treasure of love-thoughts, as the name 'Father'.
This revelation never could have been made until Jesus came, for no man knew the Father, except the Son. And no other one could have made him known. Always men could pray, and God would hear them--the Old Testament has many examples of prayer, and many assurances that God hears prayer--but it was not until Christ had offered himself on the cross, that the way of access was fully opened. It was as he was dying, that the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom--a miracle-parable signifying that the way to God was now open to every weary one who would come. There was a reason, therefore, why this gate of prayer could not have been set up before Christ came and loved and taught and died. Through him we may call God our Father, and come as children--when we would pray.
The name we use for God in prayer--is very important. It is not the same whether we call him King, Creator, Judge, or Father. If we think of him only as our King, royalty is suggested to us--majesty, splendor, and power; but not tenderness, not ease of access, not love. If we call him only Creator, the name carries us back to the beginning, when all things came from the divine hand--and we think of strength, wisdom, goodness, beauty; but he is not brought near to our heart.
Some people begin their prayers by invoking God as the incomprehensible One, a God of majesty and holiness, the Lord Almighty. All these names of titles have their suggestions of attributes of qualities of the divine character, and each has its own comfort. But none of them present to us thoughts of God which make approach to him easy. When we speak to God, however, as our father--the vision which arises before us, assures us of welcome when we come to him.
In the midst of the splendors of royalty, when men of highest rank are admitted to the king's presence only at the king's pleasure, the children of the king's household always have free access! No court rules shut them away or prescribe any ceremonious manner in which they must approach the throne. The king is their father! To be a child of God, is to have assurance of access to him at all times. This golden gate of prayer, "Our Father," opens into the innermost sanctuary, into the very secret place of the Most High God--and it is shut neither day nor night, to any child of God!
The first word in this form of prayer is important. It is not "MY Father," but "OUR father." This does not mean that we should never present our own particular needs in prayer. In a sense, each one of us lives his life alone--apart from all others. We are to bring to God--our own needs, our own yearnings, our own infirmities and dangers, our own sorrows and trials; but in doing so, even when most engrossed with our own affairs--we must not fail to include others and to think of them.
"When you pray alone, shut your door--shut out as much as you can the sight and notice of others; but shut not out the interest and the good of others." We should never forget, even in the time when the stress of our own needs is greatest, that there are other children of our Father, who likewise have their needs, and that these should be remembered by us also, while we pray for ourselves. To live truly--is to love. If we love God--we will love our brethren also. Love puts others alongside ourselves, and we must think of them while we tell God of our own needs of troubles.
The word "our" takes in the whole family of God. None should be left out. It is not easy to use the words, our Father meaning all that is included in it. It is like the word "neighbor," which the Scriptures wrote in the commandment, "love your neighbor as yourself." The Jews had an easy way of defining this word. To begin with, they drew a circle which shut out all the world--but their own nation. Then among their own people--they regarded as neighbors only those of the sect, or the group to which they themselves belonged. But when Jesus came, with his larger definitions of the commandment, all these and other narrowing lines were swept away and "neighbor" appeared as including all the world.
So it is with this little word "our." We may wish to gather into the company for whom we would pray, only a small number, including at the most those in whom we are personally interested. There are a few people whom we would be quite willing to take with us--into the presence of God. We would take our own family with us. Then there are some dear friends, people we like because they are congenial, or because they are good to us, or because they are tied up with us in a social or religious way, whom we would be most willing to mention when we speak to God for ourselves.
But here again the lines of exclusion are swept away, every fence is torn down, and all the redeemed family are included. All who have a right to call God their Father, come in with us in the word "our". Thus all denominational lines in religion are obliterated; beside us kneel all who know, and worship, and love God. All national lines are swept away, and we recognize as our brothers, the Christians of all the world. All class and social distinctions fade out in the wide charity which is to fill our heart when we say, "Our Father." Here at the throne of grace there are no distinctions among men; none are to be left out in our intercessions. We cannot begin to pray at all, we cannot ask God for even the smallest things, without in heart and spirit including all others--people we do not love, those who are opposed to us, those who hate us.
It would be a great deal easier to say "MY Father" when we come to God, and not have to think about anyone but ourselves. It would save us a good deal of self-discipline, the schooling of ourselves into readiness to take the world in with us before God. But that is not the way it is in the prayer--it is not the way Jesus teaches us to pray. He demands that all exclusions shall be recalled and ruled out. Indeed the lesson is made still stronger in one of our Lord's special instructions concerning love, in which he says, "Pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you." If we have an enemy--he must have particular mention in our prayers. If we hear that anyone today has spoken bitterly of us or done us injury in any way--we are not only to take him with us when we enter the golden gate of prayer--but we are to make special supplication for him! We may never go into the presence of our Father--for ourselves alone, shutting out any other person. If we do, we shall miss the blessing.
When the Emperor of Rome was in the field with his army, it was forbidden that anyone should approach his tent at night. The penalty was instant death. One night a soldier was seen approaching the tent of the emperor, bearing a paper in his hand. He was promptly arrested and sentenced to die. The emperor, however within his tent, heard the commotion outside, and asked what it was about. He was told the cause, and gave the decree that if the petition with which the soldier had been approaching the emperor was for himself--that he must die; but that if it was for others--his life should be spared. It was learned that the petition was not for himself--but for three fellow-soldiers who had been found sleeping at their posts. He was coming to the emperor with the plea that their lives might be spared. So the emperor gave command that because of the nature of the petition the soldier should live, and also that his plea should be granted.
In a dim way, at least, this imperial command illustrates the law of prayer. When with our requests for ourselves, we bring also pleadings for God's other children, our prayers are heard. But when in our approaches to our Father, we ask only for what we want for ourselves, we find no acceptance. How the spirit of this prayer, brings our heart under discipline, to the law of Christian love! We can carry in before God no envyings, no jealousies, no resentments, no grudges, no contempt for anyone. We must be interested in every other, enough to pray for blessing upon him.
Thus it is not easy to say even the first word of this form of prayer! It searches our heart, and not only brings us low before God in reverent adoration--but cleanses us of all unlovingness and all uncharity. For it is not meant to be a barrier to shut us away form God; rather it is intended to be a school to prepare us for approaching God! Elsewhere Jesus gives this explicit instruction: "If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you--leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother--and then come and offer your gift."
Thus the gate of prayer--is a gate of love. Nothing unloving can enter it! Whatever other acceptable offerings we may bring to the golden gate of prayer, it will not open to us--until in our heart we bring love!