With the invocation of the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father in heaven” – Jesus teaches us about both the nearness and distance of God. He is the God who has come near to us in the Person of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He invites us to address him as Father. At the same time, God is the One who rules over us; the One who is radically “other” than his creatures and untouched by sin or any imperfection.
To pray to our Father in heaven is to confess that he is a personal Being. God is not some sort of universal energy existing everywhere vaguely but ultimately nowhere personally. It is true that God is omnipresent, that is, present everywhere simultaneously throughout creation. However, God’s existence is not like gravity or heat or magnetism. God is Father, Son, and Spirit. He is ultimate Being; ultimate Personhood. So, God’s presence is a personal, conscious presence.
In the Bible, the word “heaven” and its derivatives are typically used to refer to the cosmos, the physical creation above the earth’s atmosphere. The word heaven also came to be used analogously to refer to the spiritual realm. It is in this spiritual sense that Jesus is using the word heaven in reference to God’s holy habitation. It is not a place that can be reached by satellites or seen by telescopes. The spiritual realm to which the prayer refers, however, is to be understood as a literal place where God is enthroned above all things (Revelation 4).
That our Father is “in heaven” means, among other things, that he rules. He is the Sovereign God. The word sovereign literally means “from above.” There is no person, nation, or circumstance which runs amok in his creation. So when we pray, we may be confident that not only does our Father hear us but our Father who is in heaven is actually able to act and do just exactly what needs doing. Because God is over us as the Sovereign of the universe, he is able to stand with us in a way that actually makes a difference. Because our God is over us he is uniquely able to comfort us. Whether it is deliverance from horrific circumstances or the strength to endure them, our Father in heaven is precisely where we need him to be.