Last time we noted that in The Forgotten Father, Thomas Smail urges us not to succumb to a man-centered, need-dominated distortion of the gospel. The life of Jesus “was not dominated by the claims of men, but [rather was] surrendered to the claim of God,” and that the chief aim of humanity is not the self-centered goal of having our soul saved or body healed, but to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Jesus use of “Abba” is not only deeply personal, but can also be liturgical.
The first request Jesus taught us to pray in Luke 11 is, “Your Name be hallowed.” Some might think of this more as a declaration of praise than a petition, but we can join with Jesus in asking that we and others learn to give glory to and rejoice over the holy name of God that has been shown to be our heavenly Father.
Smail reminds us the early Church considered it a privilege to pray this prayer that was not known to those outside the worship of the believers. Only Christians had been given to know God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It took Holy Spirit boldness to dare to say Our Father. That is reflected in the… formula used in the liturgy of St John Chrysostom [c. 349-407] by the Orthodox to this day, “And make us worthy that we joyously and without presumption may be made bold to invoke Thee, the heavenly God and to say Our Father” (p. 162).Even today most do not know God as the Father of our Lord Jesus—and are not aware of the sending of the Spirit, or the ongoing Priesthood of our living Lord. And if we do know it, the words can become just so much church jargon. So glorifying and proclaiming God’s name as Father has both a negative and a positive.
God’s name has been uniquely revealed to be Father and in our worship the character of his fatherhood is to be glorified and proclaimed… [and] is to be guarded from all misuses and desecration… God is not to be turned into an indulgent heavenly Daddy whose main function is to gratify our wishes…. [But in some circles] there is a pious taking of God’s name in vain by people who give the impression that the heavenly Father is so busy giving them infallible messages about every detail of their lives, that….[it generates into] a form of words without much meaning, especially when the content of the alleged divine communication is so often entirely banal.Smail reminds us we are to avoid a man-centered type of worship that will
Those who through Christ and in the power of the Spirit know his name will indeed have the freedom to rejoice in it and the fellowship it opens, but they need also the reticence, discrimination and godly fear to keep it holy (pp. 162-163).
begin and end with confession and petition, with our own sins and needs in the center. But where the center ceases to be ‘Lord bless me’ and has become ‘Bless the Lord,’ when we begin to praise God for his grace, power and love as Father….then the name of the Father is being hallowed by being made first and central….[For us to] begin with intercession is to end with depression, but to begin with praise is to come to the point where we can ask in hope (p. 164).Speaking of the prayers of Jesus, Smail quotes theologian and Near Eastern scholar Joachim Jeremias,
It is characteristic of this new mode of prayer that it is dominated by thanksgiving…. There is a profound reason for this…. A fine saying from Tannaitic times [from Rabbinic sages around 70-200 CE] runs, ‘In the world to come all sacrifices will cease, but the thank-offering will remain for ever: likewise all confession will cease, but the confession of thanks will remain for ever.’ Thanksgiving is one of the foremost characteristics of the new age. So when Jesus gives thanks, he is not just following custom….he is actualizing God’s reign here and now.Similarly at the beginning and ending of letters from Paul we find the formula, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cr. 1:3; 11:31, Eph. 1:3). So when Christ is at work in our worship, there’s a priority on thanks and praise (Eph. 5:19-20).
Jesus first petition that invites us to bless, thank and praise the Father is preparation for the second petition, “Your kingdom come,” which we’ll examine in the next post. As always, your comments are most welcome.