“This, then, is how you should pray…” – Matthew 6:9
Modern history – as in internet browser searches – will tell you how Father’s Day began as a 20th century holiday phenomenon with 19th century roots: how the daughter of a Civil War veteran, inspired by her father who raised six children as a single parent, thought dads should be honored with a special day just as mothers recently had been saluted.
You’ll discover the Christian influence in its creation and the roles four U.S. presidents (Wilson, Coolidge, Johnson, Nixon) played over seven decades to secure the annual calendar date as a national holiday.
LEARN MORE: Presidential Resolutions
You’ll learn about sales and kick around the best ways to honor your sire: a tie, food, a day off. You’ll enjoy bits of whimsy through memes and other internet postings, like this:
What search engines won’t tell you is the quandary this holiday, despite its Christian infused roots, has brought to modern day leaders of musical worship. The quandary is selecting appropriate songs to honor fathers during Services of Worship.
It’s not a dissimilar issue than exists for Mother’s Day. There aren’t a lot of role-specific church worship songs, and that’s all right. Celebrating Father’s Day in church isn’t one of the ordained feasts mandated by scripture. The pressure is, perhaps, self-imposed. After all, “father” is mentioned in the Bible over 400 times.
Is That All There Is?
It’s not that there AREN’T songs about fathers. In fact, one selection “Good, Good Father,” written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown in 2014, became a Billboard No. 1 hit when recorded by Chris Tomlin in 2016. Ironically, in musician circles there’s a sense that this and similar daddy-related recent tunes have been sung so often, they’ve crept into the realm of Christian cliché – like annually trotted out Christmas carols. Okay, more obligatory than cliché.
Nothing against the song, mind you, but the searchers keep asking, “Isn’t there something else?”
The answer is, “Yes.” An overlooked modern tune is at the end of this story. However, there is a more powerful contemporary song to be sung to honor fathers, and its lyrics are found in modern ancient text. Albert Hay Malotte, an Academy Award winning composer, found the lyrics and in 1935 created the quintessential fatherhood song, uttered not by a Christian, but Christ Himself.
Malotte called the song, “The Lord’s Prayer,” and introduced to the world the oft-recited words of scripture that best express two principles fundamental to Christian faith: prayer and accountability.
LEARN MORE: “The Christian Origins of Father’s Day”
Interestingly, while “The Lord’s Prayer” is a popular selection among recording artists, as film underscore, and at public ceremonies (often a solo), it’s surprising to discover how often people are unaware that the words come from the mouth of Jesus and not just song lyrics or a denominational prayer book. This is true event among many Christ-followers.
By the same token, taking a closer look at the circumstances surrounding the prayer, it’s fair to say that long before June was established as a calendar month, Jesus created Father’s Day.
On a Hill Far Away
Jesus introduced “Father’s Day” in the midst of his sermon on a mount. But this public premiere was the outgrowth of private preaching He’d conducted elsewhere with a small group of followers, as reported by the gospel historian Luke:
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”Luke 11:1 (New International Version)
In that teaching to a small group of men, Jesus continued emphasizing their responsibility to address the needs of neighbors and family even at the sacrifice of personal comfort. These earthly actions, He said, are an example of how “your Father in heaven” tends to our needs, especially those who are persistent and consistent in communication.
These two traits, persistence and consistency, were the essence of the prayer that He repeated to crowds elsewhere, much like a keynote speaker with a stump speech. The text, recorded in Matthew’s gospel, is less a sermon by our contemporary comprehension than a compilation. Maybe it ought be “The Mashup on the Mount.”
A Personal Relationship With…
In the sermon, Jesus frequently reiterates the phrase “your Father” to His audience. Jesus’ use of the third person noun could be interpreted as a philosophical reference, keeping God at a distance. This is especially true in our times, depending on the listener’s paternal relationship.
Student ministry pastors often lament that among their greatest barriers uplifting The LORD to teens is because their concept of “heavenly Father” is tainted by negative relationships with their earthly father.
To a child whose father is absent from the house, or a family residing in a tyrannical household, passages extolling God’s goodness and protection, such as Psalm 68:13 – “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” – and 38 similar promises, are empty rhetoric. Equally damaging spiritually are improper behaviors by father-figures, including clergy.
All the more reason Jesus not only taught the prayer as a mechanism to overcome weaknesses of the flesh, He preceded it with cautionary “sermonizing” about the perils of blind trust. Not only did Jesus tell the people what “Your Father” knows, He also gave them permission to speak directly to Him, then showed them how. In doing so, Third person philosophy became first-person access.
What’s In A Name?
For numerous reasons, introducing direct access to God was earth-shattering. One, going back to the burning bush, when Moses asked His name, addressing God had been formal and fearful.
“I AM” was subsequently spoken as The LORD, Yaweh, El-, and other titles that spoke about His character and attributes. Yet none of these was personal. Abraham was revered as the “father” of the Jewish nations, but Abraham was human and centuries deceased. And though Isaiah spoke of God in the First Person, Isaiah was a prophet and such references were not unusual. Prophets were supposed to talk to God. Besides, that was over 500 years earlier.
Imagine, then, what it may have been like to hear Jesus give this instruction:
“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven…hallowed be your name…’ “
For the disenfranchised listener, the statement is reassuring. It’s personal, yet maintains reverence.
The statement is also dangerous, for the another reason the prayer is earth-shattering is that it establishes a firm foundation on His road to the cross.
Jesus The Protestant
In both the prayer and it’s prelude, Jesus advocates appealing to Higher Authority than earthly leaders. His prelude to the prayer unflinchingly threatens the religious status quo, for in that introduction:
- Jesus busts the religious leaders for making public spectacles of prayer.
“Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”
- Jesus undercuts them as role models, diminishes their organized influence by eliminating the need for a priest as go-between.
“Do not be like them…for Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
- Jesus distinguishes between lengthy, generic, rituals and symbols of other beliefs, and brief, earnest, specific, bold requests.
“Do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
- Jesus empowers personal prayer for even public matters.
“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The battle between the role of Jesus and the influence of religious authority has continued since. It’s the battle Martin Luther fought that led to Protestant faiths (those that “protest” convention), and that exists today between those who define “evangelical” to share the gospel or be political. What’s more important is that then, as now, is not eliminate the role church leaders, just some perceptions. Simply, Jesus he invites – hypocrites and curious alike – to change actions and have the same personal relationship that He has with His Father.
Having laid the foundation, in eight simple yet challenging sentences, Jesus then gives the principles to cultivate that relationship: reverence, submission, confession, forgiveness, provision, mercy, grace, eternal life. Malotte, who also wrote scores to The Beatitudes and The 23rd Psalm, turned those poetic principles into lyrics that may also be considered Jesus’ Father’s Day Card.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, it is in heaven.”
Malotte adapted the King James Version, the primary Bible translation available in in 1935. Other translations have been published since then, all copiously maintaining the accuracy and integrity of original Hebrew and Greek texts as best possible. There has been minimal push-back. Recently, however, a revision of the prayer recited in Catholic masses caused a stir seemingly as radical as when Jesus first intonation of “Our Father.”
At Last, The Temptations & Christ
Reactionaries groused that the Pope was approving wholesale revisions in line with revisionist political correctness. That’s been a complaint of some translations adopting a gender-neutral tone.
Reading beneath the headlines reveals that only one line is being revised…for clarity.
“Lead us not into temptation,” the Pope says, may be spoken in public recitation, as, “let us not fall into temptation.” Reason? Bad English translation; bad theology, he said.
Though not Catholic, and as one who puts Christ’s teaching above the papacy, I appreciate this clarity. For a long time “lead us not into temptation” has been had to reconcile, event for years for those who regular study scripture. Imagine its confusion upon new Christians, especially in light of the later assertion by Jesus’ brother James:
Besides, the edit is more sensible, less stressful than the ever-confusing, on-the-spot choice between saying “debts” or “trespasses” when asking forgiveness in some denominations.
Can We Only Imagine?
For all its power and simplicity, however, this prayer has also fallen into the cliché, rote chasm. It’s often referred to as “The Our Father,” as if a mantra or magic incantation. It could even be said “The Lord’s Prayer” is a misnomer. A more apt title may be “The People’s Prayer.” Or, “The Siblings’ Prayer,” since the “Our Father” kinship with the Son of God. The actual Lord’s Prayer, some instructors says, were Jesus’s words after his last supper records in John 17. He prayed for unity among His followers.
Now that I think of it, looking at both, “The People’s Prayer” and “The Lord’s Prayer,” gives an interesting ideas to address the ills facing our world, especially our nation, this Father’s Day season.
Imagine if, in the context of Jesus’ prayer for unity, Christ’s followers employed His prayer template for self and leaders…not just church leaders but, say, legislators. Like:
- What if, rather than “national days of prayer,” street corner incantations, or convention center revivals, individual Christ-followers simply went into our prayer closets and applied the principles of revering God, seeking His will and provision, asked forgiveness and forgave others?
“Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
- What if, rather than reciting the “If my people…would pray” passage in 2 Chronicles, we followed Jesus’ guideline of confessing sins of greed, rudeness, and turned from our wicked ways of violence and blame?
“And let us not fall not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Might “The Lord’s Prayer” enacted “heal our land?” If so, imagine the sound of voices, bursting from prayer closets, a grand chorus singing in unison:
“For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory, for ever.
Would that be worthy of a Father’s Day playlist?
Songs for Father’s Day
As we did for Mother’s Day, here are a few songs about fathers that are standard and less well-known. The Marvin Gaye selection is bittersweet. A talented artist and troubled man, he was shot to death by his father. The sentiments here are, nevertheless, accurate and noteworthy as they are rooted in scripture. Thanks to Stephen A. Banks for this rare, bacon-fryin’ recording.
“God Is Love” (Album Version) — Marvin Gaye
“Daddy” (Inspired by Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”) — DJ LV
“Good, Good Father” — Chris Tomlin