The Significance of Our Father

God is always orientated as a Father toward us

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Tim Keller[1] says there are no more important words in the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray then the first two words, Our Father.[2] The importance of these words is underscored by the way we reference The Lord’s Prayer. We sometimes call it “the Our Father”.

Why are these words so important?

Tim Keller says that these words frame our orientation toward God. He suggests that people either have a transactional orientation toward God or a family orientation. Most of us operate on a transactional orientation toward God and others at times in our lives. Some of us live there. Beginning a prayer by calling God, “Our Father”, orientates us the right way.

A transactional orientation is focused on what we must do in order to have a relationship, a connection, with other people. A transactional orientation focuses on what people (and God) can do for us. A transactional orientation is characterized by offering consideration[3] in order to get something in return.

When we have a transactional orientation toward God, we approach Him completely differently than the way Jesus taught us to pray. We come to Him looking for something for ourselves. We are focused on what we need and want. We feel like we have to offer Him something in order to get what we are seeking. A transactional orientation toward God turns prayer into bargaining.

When we have a transactional orientation toward God, we are not seeking God. We are seeking something from God.

Jesus says, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”[4] He says “do not be like the hypocrites” who pray “to be seen by others”[5]; and don’t be like the pagans who “keep on babbling… think[ing] they will be heard because of their many words”.[6] Jesus says to approach God when you are alone, praying to your Father “who is unseen”[7], but who sees all.

Approaching God who, is our Father, means approaching God with a family orientation. Our relationship with God isn’t a show for others to see. It isn’t superstitious babbling, as if God was a divine slot machine in the sky.

A family orientation begins and ends with commitment. We are committed to God because He is our Father. God is committed to us because we are his children. We are family. The relationship is its own reward.

The relationship doesn’t depend on what others think of us. It isn’t characterized by what God can do for us or what we can obtain from Him. The relationship is a two way street, but not the two-way relationship of a material transaction; it is the two-way relationship of a spiritual kinship.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we may never ask God for things we want or need. Children ask their parents for things all the time, but a parent/child relationship reduced to a mere transactional interchange is something we would naturally recoil from. We don’t relate to our parents that way, and we would be horribly hurt, disappointed and vexed if our children treated us that way.

Most of us know our parents love us, not for what we can give to them, but for pure fact that we are their offspring. Those of us who have not experienced that kind of parental love know the way it should be. Most of us fall short in our relationships; we sometimes even reduce them to the transactional level, often without realizing it; but we know that isn’t right. It isn’t the way it should be.

God is always orientated as a Father toward us. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He loves us for no reason other than we are His spiritual children – if indeed we have entered into that relationship.

God came to the world that was made by Him and through Him. He came to us at our own level, in human form: He became flesh and lived among us.[8]

“He came to that which was His own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”[9]

As with our earthly parents, this is not of our own choosing. God initiated the relationship. We can only receive Him and enter in. Because He first loved us, we may love Him. Because He came to us, we can call Him “our Father”.


[1] Timothy J. Keller (born September 23, 1950) is an American pastor, theologian and Christian apologist. He is best known as the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York, and the author of The New York Times bestselling books The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (2008),[1] Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (2014),[2] and The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (2008).[3][4] The prequel for the latter is Making Sense of GOD: An Invitation to the Skeptical (2016).[5] (Per Wikipedia)

[2] Matthew 6:9-13

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”

[3] Consideration is a legal term that means giving something in exchange for getting something, quid pro quo, a tit for a tat.

[4] Matthew 6:8

[5] Matthew 6:5

[6] Matthew 6:7

[7] Matthew 6:6

[8] John 1:14 (“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”)

[9] John 1:11-13

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