Our Father in Heaven...
A sermon based on Matthew 7:9-11
Sunday, June 6, 2013
There once was a small town that had historically been a "dry" town. But one day a local businessman decided to build a tavern and see how he could do. The local church organized a prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. That very night lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, stated that "no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not."
This morning we begin a new sermon series on the Lord's Prayer. We'll learn how we should pray, what we should pray for, and how God answers prayer. This morning we begin with the first part of the Lord's prayer, called the address. Every day millions of Christians begin their prayers with the familiar words "Our Father Who Art in Heaven..." And what comforting words those are. God is our Father. He resides in heaven and he's eager to hear and answer our prayers. And he promises to answer them in a way that will bless us as our loving Father in heaven. Listen to Matthew 7:9-11, words that Jesus spoke in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said,
9"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Wow! That's a bit harsh isn't it? That Jesus calls us, his own children, evil? I mean, we're not perfect sure, but evil? Yes. Absolutely. Every one of us is evil. If you don't believe me, consider your prayer life.
George was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting in just a minute, but he couldn't find a parking place anywhere. At the next stop light he looked up into the sky and cried, "Lord, please, take pity on me. If you find me a parking place, I'll be nice to that neighbor I hate so much. I'll quite stealing his newspaper, and I'll go to church and Bible class every Sunday." Miraculously, a parking space appeared. George pulled in and looked up into the sky again and said, "Nevermind, Lord. I just found a spot."
Is that how you view prayer? Do you treat it like a spare tire? Something to be forgotten about until you're really in a bind. Then you pull it out, dust it off, and use it just long enough until everything's okay again so you can put it away until the next crisis? Imagine if the person who you loved most dearly in life never spoke a word to you. They gave you the silent treatment. If they did speak to you it was only if they really needed a favor and expected you to bail them out. How would you feel? Isn't that what we do to God sometimes?
Or imagine if Bill Gates were to give you a blank check and say, "Take how ever much you want." And you sat down to write out the check for $2. Or worse yet, you tear it up and throw it away, because you don't believe he'll make good on his promise.
Jesus' brother, James, wrote in James 1(:5-8), "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."
You see how your weak and feeble prayer life shows how evil you really are? If you were to tear up Bill Gate's blank check you could rightly expect him to withdraw his gracious offer to give you anything you asked and instead kick you out of his mansion never to contact you again. And for our rare prayers, for our selfish prayers looking only to have more of our wants met while others needs go unmet, for neglecting to pray for the spiritual blessings we need far more than any more physical stuff, we deserve to have God withdraw his offer to bless us or even let us communicate with him. We deserve to lose the privilege of prayer or to call him "Father." After all, we sure don't act like his children. We deserve to have him harm us with with stones and snakes, rather than bless us. We deserve hell.
And yet, in love for us, God still says, "You who are evil, call me Father. For that is what I am. Expect that I will continue to bless you." Why? How can he do this for us who are evil? Because of his grace. In his great love for us God gave us what we needed most. He didn't send a million dollars or that new mansion. Instead he sent a Savior, before you and I even knew we needed one.
In Isaiah 65(:1,17-19,24) he said, "I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.' ...Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more... [And] Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear."
Through Jesus and his perfect life in our place, and by his perfect sacrifice on the cross, you and I, who are by nature evil, are forgiven, sinless, and holy. We are made perfect by our baptisms and through the faith given us by the Spirit you and I are adopted into God's family! We are his dearly-loved children! He is our Father in heaven! John reminds us in 1 John 3:1, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"
As Jesus encourages us to pray to our heavenly Father, his point is pretty clear, isn't it? Dads, when your children say they're hungry, do you give them a rock? Of course not. You may not give the candy bar they ask for, and you may make them wait until dinner time, but you give them the food they need, when they need it, that their bodies might be nourished. And I'm guessing that most of you don't stop at just taking care of your kids needs. You give them many of their wants as well. Why do we do this? Because we love our kids. Now, if you and I who are inherently selfish take care of our children, how much more won't God, who is perfectly loving and selfless, take care of his children?! And does he ever take care of us! Much better than any earthly father ever could!
Where earthly fathers don't always know what their kids' real needs are, God is in heaven. He sees all things. He knows all things. He knows your needs and how best to provide for them. He's already provided for our greatest need by taking our sin, our neglect of his gifts of prayer, our rebellion against our heavenly Father and nailed it all to the cross. He's provided for our physical needs. None of us here are naked or starving. And who here can say he's given you none of your wants?
Where earthly fathers aren't always able to provide for their kids because they don't have the resources, our heavenly Father is in heaven. The whole world is his with everything in it. He has unlimited resources at his disposal. He can give you anything if he wants you to have it. Where earthly fathers can be selfish and unloving, our heavenly Father has a perfect love for us that will only give us what's best.
But just as an earthly father won't always give his child a bowl of ice cream for dinner because he knows it's not best for him—Instead he gives his child broccoli because he knows that will nourish his child and give him strength in days to come—so too your heavenly Father won't give you what you want when he knows it's not best for you. Like the four-year doesn't understand how broccoli instead of ice cream could possibly be in his best interest, you may not understand why the cancer, the loneliness, or the pain you have is in your best interest, God does. He knows that they give you spiritual nourishment and strength that will far outlast this life.
Knowing that this is how your heavenly Father answers our prayers, changes the way we look at prayer doesn't it? It's not a way to manipulate God into getting what we want. But it's having a heart to heart talk with our loving Father who wants only what's best for us. And so, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 3(:12), "In him" (that is, Jesus), "and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence." Or in the words of Martin Luther, "We can pray to him boldly and confidently as dear children ask their dear father."
Jesus promises that "your Father in heaven [will] give good gifts to those who ask him!" So here's my challenge to you: Ask him! Commit yourself to spend just 5 minutes each day with God in prayer for the next 28 days—through the end of this month. Just 5 minutes a day! Set a timer!
There is no problem too big to take to God in prayer. It's been said that if we prayed half as much as we worried, we'd have half as much to worry about. And no problem is too small to pray about as if you were bothering God. If it's big enough to concern you, it's big enough to concern him. In fact, the only way to bother God is to not pray at all.
Rejoice, dear friends, that though you and I are, by nature and by actions, evil, God in his great love for us has taken our sin away. He's adopted us as his dearly loved children and given us the priviledge to call him, "our Father." Rejoice that he's given us a direct line to heaven 24-7 in his gift of prayer. And make use of that gift! Try it! Pray for just 5 minutes a day for the next 28 days. And trust in his promise that "your Father in heaven [will] give good gifts to those who ask him!" In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.