Principles of Prayer
by Francis Foulkes ©


3. God as Father

"I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name)."
(Eph.3:14-15 Phillips)
`The Lord --- tells us the first is the highest lesson; we must learn to say well, "Abba, Father!" "Our Father which art in heaven." He that can say this, has the key to all prayer.'
(Andrew Murray)

The Bible, especially the New Testament, speaks of God as Father. In recent years many people have challenged the reference to God as Father, or have been hesitant to us the term. It has been taken to express that God is male and the upholder of all the regrettable consequences of patriarchy in our world. From a biblical standpoint we must stress rather that God is Creator of male and female, and there is no suggestion that God is male rather than female. Feminine as well as masculine images are used of God in Scripture. Fatherhood in the Bible expresses relationship not gender. It expresses the reality that God is personal and not just a great impersonal force behind the universe. As Mark Gibbard puts it, `if God has brought into existence personal beings like ourselves, then he himself cannot be less complex, less wonderful, than we his creatures are; that is, he cannot be impersonal, less than personal; in fact, we may be led eventually to think of him of him as super-personal.' We mean at least by speaking of God as personal `that he can build up truly personal relationships with us.' (5) God in his compassion gives the assurance that he hears in particular the cry of the needy. In Exodus 22:23 he says in relation to widows and orphans who are oppressed, "I will certainly hear their cry." Hosea (14:3) makes prayer to a gracious God on the basis of the fact that in him "the orphan finds mercy".

God is personal, and we are brought into personal relationship with him. This is at the heart of the Christian gospel. By sin we have been alienated from God. With his forgiveness, made possible through the sacrificial death of Christ, and as we accept that forgiveness in faith, we are restored to a right relationship. "To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (Jn.1:12). And the Holy Spirit gives us the inner assurance that we are indeed children of God as the apostle Paul puts it in Romans 8:15-16, "When we cry, `Abba! Father!' it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (compare Gal.4:6-7).

The Fatherhood of God expresses relationship - and with that the care and provision of God. The appeal of those who pray in Isaiah 63:16 is "You are our father ---; you, O Lord, are our father; our Redeemer from of old is your name." The whole concept of human parenthood comes from God (Eph.3:15), and in God's provision and care for us we see a model for human parenting. Those who have only known bad fatherhood in their own experience, rather than rejecting the concept of the Fatherhood of God, should realise that there is good fatherhood, and whatever is good in the attitude of human parents to their children can be taken to be true to an infinitely greater degree of God in his attitude to us. So, by Jesus himself, we are taught to come in prayer and say, "Our Father" (Matt.6:9). We come to him as the one who knows perfectly and cares supremely for us in our needs (Matt.6:6 and 8).

God as our heavenly Father is the Giver of good gifts. We have the great words of Jesus in Matthew 7:11 (paralleled in Luke 11:13), "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" As the Old Testament puts it, "The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him" (Lam.3:25). The goodness of God also means his faithfulness. Such faithfulness can be relied on in all the changing circumstances of our human lives, even the experience of suffering. 1 Peter 4:19 urges even those who suffer to realise that they can "entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good." Prayer to God as Father is thus turning in dependence to the One who cares, provides, guides, and can be relied on utterly, but God as Father also disciplines us so that we may come to mature and responsible people in our relationship with him and in the world in which we live (Heb.12:5-11).

Prayer is God's appointed way of our experiencing the fullness of life that he intends for us. If we ask why we should pray, especially why our receiving God's gifts should be linked with our asking for them, we should realise that God wants us to express our relationship with him and our dependence on him. Hearing God's word and praying to God involves the exchange of love between the heavenly Father and his earthly children.

In all our thought about prayer then, and about our relationship with God, we can be assured that though God is utterly beyond us, transcendent, he is also with us, immanent. We can speak of him in human language, using anthropomorphisms, but also realise that he is beyond our understanding. His ways are not our ways. There is mystery about his dealings with us , including his answers to our prayers, but at the same time there is an understanding of God that is open to us, and it comes to us above all from the Scriptures and supremely through the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. As children coming to a Father we ask God's blessing on our lives and on all the work of human hands (e.g. Deut.33:11). God is the transcendent One, but he is accessible to us as Father. Leroy T. Howe expresses it, `The foundational paradox which all Christian prayer must express is the encounter of the believer with a God who retains his transcendent holiness in and through his becoming accessible to human designs.' (6) Accessible our eternal God is indeed, and above all offering us a relationship with him. So Tom Wright puts it that `if, as the people of the living creator God, we respond to the call to be his sons and daughters; if we take the risk of calling him Father; then we are called to be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God.' (7)