Matthew Henry writes that every prayer is like a letter sent to heaven, and in this title ‘our Father’ we have the inscription. Many a letter has begun with ‘Dear Father’, and these two words describe a very precious relationship.
In calling on the Father, we should do so in a spirit that is aware of the riches of his grace. The doctrine that stands out in this phrase is the doctrine of adoption whereby believers 'are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow heirs with Christ in glory’ (Larger Catechism 74). We have become members of his family. So a believer can always speak to God as his Father. A Christian does not draw near to the throne of grace only as a servant, he also comes as a son. In his heart, there is the Spirit of adoption who enables him to cry out strongly, ‘Abba, Father.’
At the same time, he or she will come to the heavenly Father with great reverence. Although he is the Father, he is not to be treated with disrespect. He is an august King, and while we are his sons, we are also his subjects. If we do not respect him, he will chastise us, and that will not be a pleasant experience (Heb. 12:5-11).
Nevertheless, each believer can approach his Father God with a spirit of freedom, aware that he is able to speak to the Lord about whatever is on his heart. He can speak in his Father’s ear the concerns, burdens, fears, embarrassments, delights, pleasures, joys and anticipations that he has. In his hand, as he draws near to his heavenly Father, are all the great and precious promises given to him in the Bible.
Here are three of these promises. Luke 11:13: ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ Luke 12:30: ‘For all the nations of the world seek after these things [temporal needs], and your Father knows that you need them.’ Luke 12:32: ‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ Jesus here instructs his disciples to pray according to their privileges.
Further, Jesus tells his disciples to remember that they are coming to a covenant God. This is one meaning of the pronoun ‘our’. It is the plural equivalent of the pronoun ‘my’. When a person says to the Lord, ‘You are my Father,’ he is describing an eternal relationship. He belongs to the Father for ever, and nothing in all the universe will separate him from the Father’s embrace and hold. So, this is a prayer that stresses security and safety as well as delight.
The use of ‘our’ reminds us that in all true prayer, there is a corporate emphasis. The plural is not only used in the opening address to God, but it also appears in the various petitions that occur later in the prayer. Jesus wants his disciples to pray for the needs of others (our daily bread), for the forgiveness of others, and for the protection of other believers (lead us not into temptation). We cannot pray to God without this sense of brotherly interest and concern. There is a reminder here that answered prayer is given to those who can say ‘our’ Father. To refuse to pray for another Christian is the same as denying for ourselves answers to prayer. If we have ill-will towards another believer, we will not be heard by their Father.
Of course, when we pray for the spiritual and temporal needs of others, we discover reasons why we should pray for ourselves. Does my brother need to show more love, so do I. Does my brother need to spend more time in the Bible, so do I? Praying for others becomes a means for praying for myself.
Finally, praying to the Father creates expectancy because we are speaking to a great, compassionate forgiving God. He does not deal with us the way our sins deserve (Ps. 103:10), so we can look for lots of grace. He has almighty power, so he can give us all we need and he desires. He has limitless resources, and he will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly (Ps. 84:11).