"This, then, is how you should pray:
"'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'" Matthew 6:9-13
"Our Father in Heaven."
Of all of the (many) places we are prone to misinterpret what Jesus intended in His directives on prayer, this is one of those spots where we are likely to end up in a ditch.
When it comes to our understanding of Heaven, most of us in the 21st century west envision Heaven as a place, somewhere else, perhaps even "up," in the sky, with the "big guy upstairs." Buried somewhere in the hyperbolic imagery that invades our minds (that we all think to be somewhat tongue in cheek), there is some semblance of a common belief that Heaven is far off. However, the Jewish concept of Heaven, the one Jesus was speaking from, is entirely different.
In the Jewish mind, Heaven is much closer. In fact, many Rabbi's taught that the first Heaven is the air just above your skin.
For Jesus and His Jewish contemporaries, Heaven wasn't as far away as you and I are prone to think. Heaven was more understood as the reach of God's dominion, which could be anywhere. This means that Heaven is an everywhere reality, one that we are able to access because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
This is why Jesus didn't come announcing "believe in me, and you will go far away from here when you die, off to heaven one day." He came announcing "repent (aka, turn, aka realize) the Kingdom of God is at hand." For Jesus, Heaven was more about the reach and reality of the presence, power and authority of God. This is not to say that Heaven is not a place, I believe it is, but it's crucial we understand Jesus's intent when He was communicating about Heaven. Rome was a place, but it was also a kingdom that reached far beyond the city located in Italy. Think of Heaven this way; it's God's Kingdom.
Ok, why is this important? It's important because when we pray "our Father in heaven," it's intended to orient our lives in the here and now under the present reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. This address at the start of the Lord's Prayer wasn't meant as some postage stamp we place on our prayer as it travels across eternity to reach its final destination in God's heavenly abode.
When Jesus invites us to pray to "our Father in heaven," He is inviting us to orient our entire lives rightly, with God the Father, and His heavenly reality as the starting point for the rest of life. It's an effort to get us to recognize, acknowledge and align with God's Kingdom reality in the here and now.
It's as though He wants us to get first thing's first as we pray. Jesus invites us to pray to a perfect father, in Heaven, which is a here, now reality.
This prayer very quickly aligns us theologically in a way that can truly set us free.
Jesus once said, "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)
The Lord's Prayer is a form of seeking the Kingdom first.
So today, as you pray, pray to your perfect Father, in Heaven, and as you do, realize that He's close. This is not a long-distance relationship we have with the almighty. We are invited to a close relationship with a perfect father (who happens to be the creator of the universe). When you pray, hear the invitation from Jesus to orient your life in the acknowledgment and constant awareness of God's presence.
There is perhaps nothing more powerful and no greater potential than this simple prayer. What would happen if we could keep God the Father front and center in our minds, hearts and actions throughout our day?
May you walk this day in the constant awareness of the presence of your Father in Heaven.
The Kingdom is closer than you think.