We pray in this way to our Father in heaven — we call upon the Name of the Lord with such bold confidence and intimacy — because our Lord Jesus has so taught us and commanded us to pray, and He has promised that His own God and Father hears and answers such prayers in His Name.
As the Lord your God has created you for life with Himself forever, for fellowship and communion with Himself — as He has brought you into being and sustains your body and life by and through and with His Word — and as He reveals and gives Himself to you by His Word and Holy Spirit — so does He invite you to pray and call upon His Name in accordance with His Word, by echoing back to Him what He has said to you, and by confessing and actively relying on His promises.
To pray is part and parcel of the life for which the Lord your God has created you. But to pray to God as your Father does not come naturally to you as a poor, miserable sinner. Indeed, your sins hinder and prevent you from praying, and they undermine whatever you do attempt to pray. If God did not act to rectify your situation by atoning for your sins, forgiving your transgressions, and reconciling you to Himself, then you would neither know how nor be able to pray rightly and call upon His Name, and He would neither listen to nor heed your prayers, petitions, and requests.
The fact that you are able to pray, and that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does hear and answer your prayers, is entirely by His divine grace and blessing. Not only has He created you by His Word, but He also speaks to you His sweet Word of the Gospel. And through that Gospel He daily and richly forgives you all your sins and thereby reconciles you to Himself. He calls and welcomes you to Himself, and He tenderly invites you to call upon His Name for all that you need.
All of this He has done for you and given to you in the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, your Savior and Redeemer. That very Son of God who took your frail flesh and blood to be His own, who bore all your sins and sorrows in His Body to the Cross, has thus become your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God. He is the all-sufficient Sacrifice for all your sins. He is the Mercy Seat, the Ark of the Covenant, through whom you come to God in confidence and peace.
It is in and through Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Anointed, that God the Father gives to you His Holy Spirit. And though you do not know how to pray as you should, the Holy Spirit helps you in your weakness. He teaches you how to pray through the Word of God in Christ. And what is more, He prays with you, He prays in you, and He prays and intercedes for you, even when you cannot.
It is by Christ, by His Word and Holy Spirit, that you are brought to His God and Father as your own dear God and Father in Him. Not as a supplicant before your Sovereign, nor as a slave before your Master, in fear of punishment, but as a beloved son or daughter coming to your own Dad.
Like a little boy or girl, you are invited to climb up into His lap, to sit upon His knee, to throw your arms around His neck, to hide yourself in His strong embrace, and there to find safety and peace.
All of this, again, is in and through Christ Jesus, the Son of God. It is in Him, and for His sake, that God is your Father and you are His dear child. For you are a son of God in Christ by virtue of your Baptism in His Name, by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.
In the waters of your Holy Baptism, all of your sins have been washed away, and you have been united with Christ Jesus, bound to Him in such a way that the wicked foe and all his horde cannot separate you from the Lord who loves you and gave Himself for you. It is in Christ Jesus that the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon you generously by the grace of God through His Gospel, as He has named you with His Name and adopted you as His beloved and well-pleasing child by the washing of water with His Word. Thus are you able to call upon Him as your Father, for so He is.
To pray, then, as one of the baptized into Christ Jesus, you pray also as a member of His Body, the Church. It is not possible to be a Christian, nor to pray to God, apart from that fellowship of the Body of Christ. Even when you hide yourself in your closet to pray, you nevertheless pray with Christ and with all those who belong to Christ. And when you are gathered together with His Church, you pray together with His Church of all times and places, in heaven and on earth, because you are all one Body in one Lord Jesus Christ. You are brothers and sisters, because you have one and the same Father in Christ. You belong to one another, because you are fellow members of the one household and family of God. So you are bound to each other, whether you like it or not.
When you pray, “Our Father,” and “Forgive us our trespasses,” you pray for all the children of your dear Father in heaven, wherever they might be. So, too, wherever in the world the children of God are praying this Prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us, they are all praying for you.
I can attest from experience that even on the other side of the globe there are faithful Christians who daily pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.” I know that Deaconess Rhein can testify to that same fact, even as her work on hymnal projects for the Church around the world has served and supported Christian prayer in various orders of service, in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
The Our Father has been translated into numerous languages; it is prayed and confessed in a vast variety of tongues. But from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down, from east to west and shore to shore, it remains one and the same Prayer, voiced in one Spirit. For there is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; there is one God and Father of all who are baptized into Christ Jesus.
The sun never sets upon the Church of our one Lord Jesus Christ, for all around the world His Christians are praying every day as He has taught them to pray. And by their praying they solicit the Father through His Son, our merciful and great High Priest, to guard and protect His people in body and soul, to forgive the sins of all believers, to call those who do not believe to repentance, faith, and Holy Baptism, and finally to raise the children of God from death to Life everlasting.
Because you pray in Christ Jesus, who has died for the forgiveness of your sins, and not for your sins only but for the sins of the entire world — and because you pray in communion with all of your brothers and sisters in Christ — the forgiveness of sins is of vital importance. Indeed, the forgiveness that you need, and your forgiveness of those who sin against you, is fundamental to your faith and life in Christ, and fundamental to all your prayers and petitions. Your relationship with your God and Father in Christ is closely connected to your relationship with others, especially your fellow Christians; and that entire family fellowship depends upon the forgiveness of sins.
Our Lord Jesus Christ reiterates this point along with teaching us to pray, “Our Father in heaven.” If you forgive your brother his trespasses against you, so will your Father in heaven forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive your brother, so will your Father refuse to forgive your trespasses.
Absolutely everything depends upon the forgiveness of sins. For without the forgiveness of sins there is no Christian Church, and there is no life or salvation, not for you, and not for anyone else.
Dr. Luther has it exactly right when he teaches you in the Small Catechism that all of your other Petitions hinge and depend upon the Fifth Petition. For you are worthy of none of those things for which you pray, nor have you deserved them. God must give them all to you by His grace alone. For you daily sin much, and you surely deserve nothing else and nothing less than punishment. Yet, in His mercy, for the sake of His Son, your Father freely and fully forgives you all your sins. And so, for your part, for Jesus’ sake, you gladly forgive and do good to those who sin against you.
With the forgiveness of sins everything else is already answered. In Christ Jesus, your Savior from sin, God’s answer is always “Yes” and “Amen!” For He who did not spare His own dear Son but gave Him up for you, also gives you all good things in and with Him, both for this body and life and for the Life everlasting. His Resurrection from the dead is God’s Answer to all your prayers, His resounding “Yes and Amen” to all that you need and ask, and the Guarantee of all His mercies.
When you pray the Our Father, you pray with bold confidence because you know these Petitions are pleasing to your Father in heaven. They are already His good Word to you before they become your words and prayer to Him. They are the Words that open your lips to show forth His praise by praying to Him rightly and by confessing your faith in Him who is your Lord and your God.
It is not so much that you bring these Words to Him, as it is that He brings you to Himself by these Words. For it is by the Word of God in Christ Jesus — especially by His Word of the Gospel, by His Word of forgiveness — that the faith in your heart proceeds from your mouth in this Prayer. You pray that He would give you everything you need. That His Kingdom would come to you. That His Name would be hallowed in your body and life. That His will be done for you and your salvation, against the wicked will of the devil, the world, and your flesh. That your body be fed and clothed. That you and your family be sheltered and kept in peace. That your job and life in this world be secure. And when your life on earth must end, that you be taken to your dear Father in heaven, body and soul, forever and ever, in and with and through your Savior, Jesus Christ.
There is no need that is not covered by the Our Father. So you should never feel that you are at a loss for words when it comes to prayer. When your family and loved ones, neighbors and friends ask you to pray for them, you can pray with your own words from the heart, of course, as a son or daughter to your Dad. But do not neglect to pray this Prayer, which sets before God everything in heaven and on earth, all the needs of man, of His Church, and of all the people in your life.
In this Prayer the needs of your body as well as your soul are all covered. And in Christ Jesus, as I have said, God’s answer is always “Yes.” In fact, even before you call upon Him, He is already answering your prayer in Christ Jesus. He does all of these things according to His promise, even without your prayers. And yet, He invites you to pray, as well. He teaches you to pray, and He commands you to pray — not as a matter of the Law, as though He would not act without your prompting, but as a sure and certain promise of His grace and mercy toward you in Christ Jesus. To pray, therefore, is to honor His Word, to glorify His Name, and to exercise your faith in Him.
Solomon, in his youth, loved the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David. But he did not yet know how to pray; he did not yet know the wisdom of true and right worship according to the Word and promise of God. He did not yet know how to call on the Name of the Lord. But when he asked for wisdom and discernment, he went back to Jerusalem, where the Lord had promised that His Name and His Glory would dwell. And from that point forward, Solomon stood before the Altar of the Lord, before the Ark of the Covenant, and there he prayed in true wisdom.
So also, in the Words of the Our Father, you are brought to stand before the Lord your God in and with Christ Jesus, to pray to your Father in heaven in and with Christ Jesus. And for Christ Jesus’ sake, your prayer is answered, as surely as He is risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and ever lives to pray and intercede for you before the Throne of God as your merciful High Priest.
Now, in faith, in the freedom of the Gospel, you are certainly welcome to pour out your heart before your Father in heaven. You can climb up into His lap, as I said. You can simply pray that most basic prayer of faith, that cry for help, “Kyrie, eleison!” “Lord, have mercy!” You can open up your mouth and lay bare before the Lord who loves you all of your hurts and doubts and fears and sorrows, all of your needs, and all of your wants, trusting Him to care for you and provide for you in love. And He hears and answers those cries of your heart, those prayers, for Jesus’ sake.
But again, do not neglect this Prayer, the Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, which is one of the most precious gifts that your Lord has given you. For these Words of His teach your heart, your mind, your lips and tongue to pray. So that, even when your heart is not in it, when it is too distracted, too sad, or too burdened to pray as you should, the Word of God supports and sustains you. It is the Word of God that opens your lips, and He answers that Word of prayer with His Word of mercy in Christ, crucified and risen from the dead: “Amen, Amen!” That is, “Yes, Yes,” it shall be so!
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.