The most important words in both the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 are the first few, four in the Lord’s Prayer and three in Psalm 23.
“Our Father who art . . .” In other words, “Our Father who is . . .”
The Twenty-third Psalm begins with basically the same grand truth: “The Lord is . . .”
God is. That is the greatest, most awesome, terrifying, healing, shocking, wonderful, thrilling truth ever encountered by humanity. God is. David emphasized this not once, but twice, stating categorically that “the fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1).
Once on the same day, in the same mail delivery, I received two anonymous deliveries, the senders of which obviously trusted in opposite views of what it means that God is. One was a letter, unsigned, of course, which was so vicious, so vituperative and bitter, that poison dripped from every word. The second was a beautiful new sport coat that was actually the right size and a color I particularly liked. It was also unsigned. Try as I might, I could not discover who sent it. I even called the store, whose manager told me he had been assured that particular customer would never buy from him again if he revealed the donor’s identity.
In the box with the coat was a simple note, typed so I could not identify the handwriting: “You are doing a wonderful job. Your ministry has blessed me and my entire family. Receive this and be blessed.”
The writer of the acidic attack note believed he was truly anonymous. The giver of the jacket knew that he wasn’t. He knew that the God who is sees and knows all we are, think, say, and do. If that is not sobering to you, you have lived a better life than I. Which of us is not discomfited by the reality that whatever anonymity in which we may drape ourselves outwardly, nothing is hidden from Him? He is. He is and He sees. Everything.
On the other hand, it is liberating, albeit painfully liberating, at the point of honesty and confession. Because there is no hope of hiding anything from Him, there is no need to even try. There is no depravity, no dark corner of my soul that I can shield from Him, so I do well to just say it, to simply lay it right out there in front of His holy eyes, because all I am doing is acknowledging the sin I cannot hide from Him anyway.
He is. Just that. He is. Despite all the absurd denials of all the poor, sad atheists, regardless of humanity’s ignorance, sin, and inhumanity, the greatest truth of all is that He is.
David’s first three words in Psalm 23, as magnificent as they are, lack one great truth that Jesus of Nazareth adds with one great word. That word is Father, and it changes everything.
Jesus: “Our Father who art [is] . . .”
Yes, the Lord is. Yes, God is. Yes, God exists and sees all and knows all and is not fooled by all our puny efforts at anonymity. Yes. Then Jesus makes it wonderful. Our Father . . .
God is and He is our Father. Nothing else in either prayer, or in any prayer or in all of life affords us much hope without that great word.
“Our Father . . .”
Roll it around in your mind. The God who is and who sees is not the cosmic cop waiting for you to step out of line. He is not the great hockey referee in the sky looking for an excuse to throw you in the penalty box, or worse, disqualify you eternally. The God who is, is our Father. If both the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 ended right there, this would actually be sufficient truth to heal us all.
Several times I preached at an inner-city evangelistic outreach called the Minneapolis Soul Fest. The platform was set up in a blocked-off street. The banks of speakers were the size of the pyramids, and we blasted music at several decibels above the level where all the birds died. I would preach from that same platform. When seekers came forward at the invitation, the workers would kneel on the edge of that huge platform and pray with them. One young woman came forward and laid her forehead on the platform edge so that her hair shielded her face.
No one seemed to see her, so I knelt there with her myself.
“Would you like me to pray with you?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, without lifting her head.
“I will lead you in the words,” I told her. “Just pray with me right out loud. Heavenly Father . . .” I began, but she said nothing.
“Miss, do you understand? I want you to just repeat what I say. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” was her answer, but still she covered her face.
I began again. “Our Father in heaven . . .”
When she still would not follow, I asked her, “Is there a problem, miss?”
At this she raised her head, and for the first time I saw her poor little face. Her left eye was swollen shut and bruises like thick purple fingers stretched across her cheekbone. It was obvious that her split lip needed stitches and just as obvious that it was not going to get them.
Tears streaming across her battered face, she said, “Look, mister, I’ve got all the father I can handle.”
When speaking of God as “Father,” Jesus is not summoning all our painful memories of the way-too-human weaknesses of our earthly fathers. He speaks instead of a divine Father whose attributes are our hope and joy. He is never too busy for us, never too tired to talk, never too limited in knowledge or wisdom to be of any help, and He is never absent. He will never desert us, never disappoint us, never die, and never get sick or old or senile. His resources are never depleted, His love knows no limits, His power is boundary-less, and His grace has no frontiers.
Jesus added “who art in heaven” to comfort us. This was not to say our Father is distant, aloof, and far beyond the skies. The statement “in heaven” is not about distance or geography but character. Our Father is heavenly, of heaven, like heaven, pure, holy, utterly without any of the earthly sins, faults, and failures that have so often stood between us and even the best of our dads.
“Our Father who [is] . . .” That truth alone is more than enough, and without that truth, everything else will never be enough. That our Father is heavenly is, well, heavenly indeed.
[Editor’s Note: This excerpt is taken from 21 Seconds to Change Your World: Finding God’s Healing and Abundance Through Prayer by Dr. Mark Rutland © 2016 by Dr. Mark Rutland. Used by permission of Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.]
Dr. Mark Rutland is a pastor, speaker, New York Times bestselling author, and columnist for Ministry Today magazine. He is president of both the National Institute of Christian Leadership and Global Servants. Dr. Rutland also serves on the preaching team at Jentzen Franklin’s Free Chapel. His radio program is the number one Christian teaching broadcast in Atlanta. Mark and his wife, Alison, live in Atlanta, Georgia.
Publication date: January 28, 2016