One of my least favorite things in the world is soliciters calling on our phone. And I love that we now have caller ID so I don't have to answer if I see American Mortage or Northwest Auto Glass or something like that. But sometimes I answer without thinking. If there's a momentary delay and click, I hang up before the spiel starts. Other times, the person on the other end of the line mispronounces our last name, a dead give away that I need to get off the line! But if it's an actual human who calls me by my name, and sounds personable, I tend to believe they actually know me, and I respond. I can't help it--I automatically answer to my real name.
"This is how you should pray," Jesus said. "Our Father..." Stop for a moment. Do you know how radical those words sounded to His disciples? To call God Father was unheard of in that day. Yes, in the Old Testament, God is sometimes referred to as a father (see Psalm 68:5), but NEVER addressed in so familiar a fashion. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, Moses asked, "Who should I tell the people you are?"--what shall I call you?"--and God said, "I AM THAT I AM." Or YHWH in the Hebrew. The tetagrammaton (which simply means '4 letters'), those 4 Hebrew letters are called, and though Christians have turned that name into the word Yahweh, and use it easily, no Jew would dare pronounce those sounds, speak the Name of Almighty God. Once when my sister-in-law was in a hospital, he doctor was an orthodox Jew, and I asked Him about the tetragrammaton and though he had been eagerly talking with me about the Hebrew alphabet just seconds before, the moment I mentioned, "The Name of God," he visibly started and backed away. To him--to Jews throughout history--these four letters must not be spoken for fear of blasphemy. His Name is that Holy, that Other.
But when the disciples (all Jews by birth) asked Jesus how to pray, He said, "start like this, 'Our Father!'" He had already been calling God Father when He spoke of Him, but with this prayer, invited all of us into that relationship. Father and Son, Father and children. We don't have to approach Him fearfully, afraid of offending (by simply saying His Name), we can call Him Father.
WIth the Incarnation, our relationship with God is changed--that's what Jesus was saying here. In His words, "Father in Heaven," He was anticipating what He would do to draw us into that personal, intimate relationship. Anticipating the cross. Yes, God is Mighty God, Lord, Creator, but He is also everlasting Father. Father in Heaven becomes His preferred role in our lives. See how this changes everything? Paul takes Jesus' words a step farther in Romans 8:15 when he calls God, "Abba"--Daddy. Because of Jesus and His work, we have become part of the very family of God. We who were far off, only able to see His back side, if we were lucky, are now His children, and like the begotten Son, free to call Him Daddy. All because of the saving work of Jesus on the cross.
Our prayer life must begin with this. We must have our start and end and very being in our salvation in Jesus Christ. And, because of it, with the breathtaking knowledge that He is our Father in Heaven. There's a boldness to calling the God of creation, the King of Kings Father/Daddy. Almost a disrespect, if He hadn't told us we could. He's saying, "Yes, He is YHWH, but to you, His real name is 'Father.'" When we call Him this--when we get this close--we have to be ready to DO what He asks. We are His children, fellow-heirs with Jesus Himself. And we know His real name.