At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen (Matt. 6:9-13).
So we are invited to pray to God our Father, and we have noted that this is a distinct shift in emphasis. The idea of God as Father comes front and center in the New Testament.
We now come to the next phrase, which is worthy of more meditation than we might want to give it. Of course God is in heaven. Isn’t that where God lives?
Well, yes and no. But the Lord wants us to pray this way for a reason, but before we get to that reason we have to remember two foundational truths about God. The first is that He dwells in eternity (Is. 57:15), and that this is “outside” even the highest heaven. The heavens, along with the rest of the material universe, are created, and God is “higher” than that, or “outside” of that, or “beneath” all of that. The second foundational truth is that God the Father is omnipresent throughout the entire created order. We can see this in the fact that Jesus invites us to pray (here, on earth) to our Father, who is in heaven. As we do this, there is no suggestion that we need to yell. This means that our God in heaven is also here with us, and knows what we need before we ask—as Jesus reminds us just a few verses later (v. 32). In this sense, He is “on earth” every bit as much as He is in heaven.
And yet, the Lord tells us to pray to our Father, who is in the heavens. I say heavens because the phrase is en tois ouranois, in the plural. When we pray to God our Father we are therefore not praying in the direction where He is located (for He is everywhere), but like the ancient Jews we are facing the place where He has determined to establish His throne, where He decided to settle His name.
“The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: But the earth hath he given to the children of men” (Psalm 115:16).
So when we think of God, He wants us to think “up.” When we pray to Him, we are called to think away from the subterranean caverns. This is not rendered ludicrous by the fact that Australians are praying in a different “direction.” That doesn’t matter. What matters is that we (and the Aussies) understand that God our Father must be given glory, as the Christmas angels did, “in the highest” (Luke 2:14).