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The Lord’s Prayer in Reformed Worship, Pt. 2

The Lord’s Prayer may be divided into three sections (cf. LC 188).

It begins with an invocation, “Our Father in heaven.” The middle section consists of six petitions. It ends with a doxology, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”[1]

The word invocation comes from the Latin word invocare, which means to call upon, to appeal to or to invoke in prayer. An invocation is when one calls on the name of the Lord.

This is one of the most basic acts of worship. The very act of calling on God’s name is itself worship.

At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD (Gen. 4:26b).

[Abraham] built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD (Gen. 12:8b).

You call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God (1 Kings 18:24a).

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! (Psalm 105:1)

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (Psalm 145:18).

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:12–13).

Prayer begins with an invocation. An invocation names the God to whom the prayer is addressed, and it claims God as our God.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1a)

Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! (Psalm 104:1a)

Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD! Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised! (Psalm 113:1–3)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3).

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth…” (Matt. 11:25a).

Jesus often invoked God as Father (Abba, Pater), which is a short nickname children had for their fathers (cf. John 17.1, 11, 25Mk. 14.36).

According to the New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias,

Abba was an everyday word, a homely family-word, a secular word, the tender address of the child to its father: ‘Dear father.’ No Jew would have dared to address God in this manner. Jesus did it always, in all his prayers which are handed down to us…. Jesus spoke with God as a child speaks with his father, simply intimately, securely, childlike in manner.[2]

Jesus invoked God as Father and teaches us to follow his example. This implies intimacy and affection for God. Prayer is an “intimate conversation,” says Calvin (familiare colloquium).[3]

The point is our prayers are being made from within the intimate fellowship of the household of God.

God is our Father by adoption and regeneration. Moreover, it is through faith in Christ that we become his children (cf. Eph. 1.5; Jn. 1.12–13; Gal. 3.26).

Thus, the Lord’s Prayer is for believers only. Only believers can call God “Father.” Faith is the foundation and necessary condition of prayer (Heb. 11.6Gal. 4.4–6Rom. 8.15).

We can invoke God as our Father only in virtue of our faith-union to Christ.

To invoke God as our Father is to pray in the name of Christ. Calvin said,

Since we call God our Father, it is certain that we understand beneath it the name of Christ also. Certainly, as there is no man in the world worthy to introduce himself to God and appear in his sight, this good heavenly Father … has given us his Son Jesus to be our mediator and advocate toward him, by whose leading we may boldly approach God, having good confidence that, thanks to this intercessor, nothing which we will ask in his name shall be denied us, since the Father cannot refuse him anything.[4]

In prayer, we approach God as children approach their father, with a childlike trust, with confidence in his fatherly goodness, with confident faith and boldness.

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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 11:11–3)

As Martin Luther remarked,

God lovingly invites us, in this little preface, truly to believe in him, that he is our true Father, and that we are truly his children, so that full of confidence we may more boldly call upon his name, even as we see children with a kind of confidence ask anything of their parents.[5]

Likewise, in answer to the question, “Why is God called our Father, rather than some other name,” Calvin writes,

Since it is essential that our consciences have a steadfast assurance, when we pray, our God gives himself a name, which suggests only gentleness and kindness, in order to take away from us all doubt and anxiety, and to give us boldness in coming to him personally. Shall we then dare to go to God familiarly, as a child to his father? Yes, in fact with greater assurance of obtaining what we ask. For if we, being evil, cannot refuse our children bread and meat, when they ask, how much less will our heavenly Father, who is not only good, but sovereign goodness itself?[6]

In like manner, the Heidelberg Catechism says that Christ commanded us to address God as our Father so that

at the very beginning of our prayer, he may awaken in us the childlike reverence and trust toward God which should be the motivation of our prayer, which is that God has become our Father through Christ and will much less deny us what we ask him in faith than our human fathers will refuse us earthly things (HC 120).

The first part of the invocation—“Our Father”—emphasizes God’s paternal goodness; the second part—“in heaven”—emphasizes his transcendent majesty. The first part evokes intimacy and confidence; the second part, reverent fear.

The transcendence of God does not make intimacy impossible. Wonderment and intimacy are combined in prayer.[7]

In prayer, we should have a heavenward disposition and direction. Jesus lifted up his eyes toward heaven in prayer.

And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all (Mar 6:41a).

And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me (John 11:41b).

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us (Psalm 123:1–2).

When we address the LORD as God in heaven, it is the same as if we were calling him exalted, mighty and incomprehensible, so that

when we call upon him, we may learn to lift up our thoughts on high, and not to have any carnal or earthly thoughts of him, not to measure him by our apprehension, nor to subject him to our will, but to adore his glorious Majesty in humility. It teaches us also to have more reliance on him, since he is Governor and Master of all.[8]

So that’s the significance of the invocation in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven.”

In our next post, we will look at the first petition.


[1] Some Greek manuscripts do not contain the doxology, but for reasons which we will explain later, we think it should be included in the Lord’s Prayer.

[2] Joachim Jeremias, The Lord’s Prayer (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1964) 19–20.

[3] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, tr. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960) 1:2:1.

[4] John Calvin, Instruction in Faith (1537), ed. and tr. Paul T. Fuhrmann (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992) 59.

[5] Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism (Philadelphia, PA: Lutheran Publication Society, 1893) 275.

[6] From Calvin’s 1545 Catechism (260 and 261); see James T. Dennison Jr., ed. Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: Volume II, 1552-1566 (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).

[7] Hughes Oliphant Old, Praying with the Bible (Philadelphia, PA: Geneva Press, 1980) 23.

[8] Calvin’s Catechism (1545), 265, in Dennison (2010).


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