STUDIES IN THE LORD'S PRAYER
Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2002
STUDY TWO: IN HEAVEN
Again in this study we are looking at the God to whom Jesus tells us to pray. Not only is he 'our Father' - close, loving, caring, protecting, he is also 'in heaven'.
A. 'IN HEAVEN' - GOD IS NOT LIKE THE IDOLS
Take time one week to read the Old Testament through quickly from beginning to end. If you do you will become aware that there is an over-riding theme, almost monotonous and certainly powerfully impactive in its recurring presence. That pervasive theme is simply this: that God is the one true God, and that men, including the people of Israel, have substituted for him gods of their own making. Earthbound gods. Powerless gods.
When we address God as 'our Father in heaven' we are expressing the utter otherness, uniqueness and holiness of God. He is not a common god. He is not a fabrication of human hands or of human minds. He is over and above and beyond all other concepts of god, and he looks with anger and scorn on all the gods we might think to put in his place. He is called 'the God of gods' - Deuteronomy 10:17; Daniel 2:47, 11:36.
The gods of the earth (including wrong concepts man has of the true God)
The Bible makes repeated references to the false gods which supplant the one true god and incur his anger and derision.
Go to Worksheet 2.1 and fill in information about the gods of the earth; you might write things like 'made by men', 'can't respond to our calls for help', 'powerless', 'made like ... ' etc. As you read and record these verses note the contrast that is presented between these 'gods' and the one true God, and the attitude of God and his word to idols and those who worship them.
B. IN HEAVEN - NOT LIKE OCCULTISH POWERS
Although some people substitute physical and/or conceptual idols for the one, true God, others pray to and seek counsel from various psychic or occultish powers, putting these 'powers' in God's place. This has always been the case, and always will be the case where the one, true God is not known, or is very poorly known.
Go to Worksheet 2.2 to check out what the Bible says about this.
The God to whom we pray - our Father in heaven is not some psychic or occultish power: he is so far over and above these supposed powers that he can turn their 'counsel' into foolishness for his own purposes. Thus the Christian who knows the one, true God by knowing Jesus Christ has no need to pursue guidance from any of these sources, of which the modern expressions are such things as astrology, numerology, tarot cards, ouija boards, palmistry, clairvoyance, séances, mediums, past lives therapy, channelling, angel messages, dreams, spirit guides, and so on. In fact, as far as the Bible is concerned, to seek help from such sources is sin.
C. IN HEAVEN - GOD IS NOT LIKE US
Nor is God like us: limited, finite, largely ignorant, weak. He is, as we will see in a little while:
- Eternal: he exists outside of time.
- Omnipresent: present everywhere.
- Omnipotent: all powerful.
- Omniscient: all knowing.
Unlike us, he is also changeless, dependable and perfect.
D. IN HEAVEN - THAT IS HE IS TOTALLY SET APART: HOLY
This otherness, this uniqueness of God, which we have seen in the three points above, is what the Bible means by his holiness. 'Holy' means 'set apart'. It includes his moral perfection and purity, but it is much more than that. It is that quality of God that sets him apart from everything else that is - from his creation, from man, from occultish powers, and from idols. He is not 'common'. He is not ordinary. He is utterly unique. He is one of a kind. He cannot be put in a box, or stuck with a label. He cannot be likened to anything with any degree of accuracy because there is nothing like him.
CS Lewis, in one of the Narnia books, when describing Aslan (the allegorical character representing Christ) wrote: 'He is not a tame lion.' This is our God: he is not a 'tame' God - one we can manipulate and identify by our categories. As it is written a couple of times in the Bible: 'he does whatever pleases him' (Psalm 115:3; 135:6). This holiness, this uniqueness, is also included when we pray to our Father in heaven.
Go to Worksheet 2.3 to check out some of the Bible's teaching that God as holy.
E. IN HEAVEN - THE ALL-POWERFUL, MAJESTIC, SOVEREIGN KING OF ALL
The God to whom we pray is also powerful. Powerful beyond our imagining. He stands in authority over all that exists. No power can thwart his purposes. No authority can undermine his. It is only this truth that gives any significance to prayer; without it prayer is nothing more than singing in the dark, emotionally soothing and comforting for the moment perhaps, but ineffective. It is only he who is the Almighty Sovereign Lord of all who has any final power and authority to answer our prayers. (It is interesting that both Job, in trying to work out what God was doing, and his friends, assuming that they already knew what God was doing, in Job's suffering, all frequently use the title 'the Almighty' when speaking of God.)
The Biblical teaching of the Sovereignty of God, which at first seems to make prayer redundant and beside the point, is the only valid basis for genuine, expectant prayer. [For more on prayer and the sovereignty watch for Studies on Prayer coming to this website soon.]
Go to Worksheet 2.4 and return to the Psalms; in the Psalms mentioned, identify references to this awesome, majestic, sovereign authority of God. In addition to references to God's awesome splendour and majesty, and his sovereign authority as King of all, you will also find a related table where you will search for references to his power. Not only is he in the position of authority, he has the mighty power to back that authority up. He authority packs a punch; it is not in role, position or word only. He also holds legal authority in that he is the Judge of all the earth.
We could add to the above references the Psalms that mention the righteousness of God, which is part and parcel of his justice.
F. IN HEAVEN - THE ONE WHO KNOWS ALL THINGS, WHO SEES THE END FROM THE BEGINNING
As our Father in heaven God has no limitation of wisdom and knowledge: he is omniscient (he sees, hears and knows all things). He knows everything. This is related to his timelessness (his eternity) and his omnipresence (his being everywhere). Along with his sovereign authority and power this characteristic of God makes prayer relevant and valid. It is no use praying to a god who doesn't know, or who has limited knowledge. Nor is it any use praying to a god who is not wise. In Worksheet 2.5 we turn to the Psalms to identify the infinite knowledge and wisdom of the 'Father in heaven' to whom we pray.
Go to Worksheet 2.5.
G. EXAMPLES OF ANSWERED PRAYER IN THE SCRIPTURE, IN WHICH THE POWER OF GOD IS SEEN
In Worksheet 2.6 you will find some references to God's powerful answers to prayer in four categories - nature, life and death, the nations, and circumstances and people; there is space for you to add other examples from the Scripture of God's powerful answers to prayer in these categories.
Go to Worksheet 2.6.
As we progress through these studies on prayer we will be reminded again and again of the power and majesty of God, of his uniqueness - his holiness. Don't lose sight of these facts or hold lightly to them, for prayer is only significant and valid if it is prayer to the one true God. As mentioned above, an overwhelming, over-riding theme of the Old Testament is this: that God alone is God - there is no other; and to put in his place alternate concepts of god - whether they be physical idols, conceptual idols or psychic, occultish powers - is the sin above all sins.
By a 'conceptual idol' I mean an idea or concept of 'god' which we hold in our heads which is different from what God actually is. It is our idea of 'god' - and most of us have to constantly discard our incorrect notions about 'god' and let the Word of God change our ideas to make them conform to what the Bible says about God. This is part of what the Bible calls 'repentance' - both initially at conversion, and on-going throughout our Christian lives as the Spirit of God teaches us.
It was to re-establish a right concept of God - apart from which there can be no salvation - that Jesus came and lived among us. He revealed God [Colossians 2:2-3; Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:14-18]. He is the Light [John 8:12]. He is the truth [John 14:6]. To see him is to see God. To know him is to know God [John 12:44-46; 14:6-10]. He and the Father are one [John 10:30]. He is the one, true God - God over all [Romans 9:5; 1 John 5:20-21]. Apart from him we cannot know God and we cannot see God [Matthew 11:25-27], nor can we approach God [John 8:24; 14:6].
PERSONAL CHALLENGE BASED ON STUDIES ONE AND TWO:
To which God do you pray? Think about this question when you pray. Is he your strong, dependable, loving, caring Father? Is he also the Almighty, glorious, powerful, sovereign Lord of all? Do you come into his presence confident of his love and acceptance and willingness to listen? Do you come also, confident of his awesome ability and authority to respond to your request in the best way possible? Do you also come acknowledging who he is?
' The Lord placed his throne in heaven; he is king over all' [Psalm 103:19].
'There is no one like the Lord our God. He lives in the heights above' [Psalm 113:5].
'O Lord God of our ancestors, you rule in heaven over all the nations of the world. You are powerful and mighty, and no one can oppose you' [2 Chronicles 20.6].