I would bend down and untie my shoes. As I stood back up, I would slide the shoes off my feet, and Megan would raise her hands to me so that I would sweep her up in my arms. As I picked her up and hugged her, she would slide her arms around my neck and give me a big return hug. I would kiss her, and she would kiss me in return. What a welcome home!
Every time I hear the words, “Abba Father,” used to refer to God the Father, my heart returns to that image of Megan welcoming me home. She was glad to be with her daddy. She was glad when the shoes came off because she knew that I was home for the evening and was fully present to be with her. Plus, her joy at my coming home changed a hard day into a joyous homecoming. There were no pretenses; just joy. Here was a precious moment of pure intimacy, dependency, love, and delight! This daily welcome was a little girl rejoicing in her daddy and her daddy in her.
Jesus prayed to God as his “Abba Father.” Abba is the Aramaic and Hebrew word Jesus would have used for Joseph, his “step-daddy” when he was a small boy. When Jesus prayed, calling God his Father, it was revolutionary, bordering on scandalous. Jesus addressed the almighty God — Creator of the universe, LORD of Israel, the God of salvation, deliverance, faithful lovingkindness, and rich mercy — with a child’s tender word for father, abba!
Jesus used this term of tender dependency, love, familiarity, and respect for God at every stage of his ministry. His prayers — whether short breath prayers (Matthew 11:25), prayers for his disciples’ unity (John 17:1,11,20-21), or agonizing prayer wrestling with his impending death in the garden (Mark 14:36) — were addressed to God as “Abba Father”!
Even more shocking, when Jesus gave his disciples — that’s us, dear friend — the words we should use to pray, he taught us to address God as, "our Father" — our Abba (Matthew 6:6,9; Luke 11:2). Because of Jesus, we can pray boldly, yet tenderly, to the LORD God Almighty as our “Abba Father” (Hebrews 4:16). When we were baptized into Christ, he poured out the Holy Spirit into our hearts (Titus 3:3-7; Galatians 3:26-4:8) to live in us, dwell in us, and lead us as God’s children (Romans 8:9-14). Because of the Holy Spirit, we approach God as our “Abba Father,” our spirit joining with the Holy Spirit to speak to our Father in heaven (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:6).
God must still be reverenced in our prayers as LORD. Jesus made certain we remembered the importance of recognizing that the very name of God is reverenced and known as holy. Jesus reminded us that we are to pray, “[H]allowed be your name.” We are to seek first God’s way, his kingdom, and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33) as we pray, “[Y]our kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).
As we pray these words, we are recognizing the greatness, majesty, and might of God. We own in our hearts our dependence upon him and our commitment to live for him. We hold the very name of God as sacred, a treasure, and something to be guarded and prized as holy. Recognizing the greatness of God and the importance of our call to live for him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:29-30), only adds to the wonder of being able to address God as our “Abba Father”!
The creator of the universe welcomes each of us as his beloved, little child! We can approach our times of prayer with the same glee that Megan demonstrated as she welcomed me home at the end of the day. We bow at his feet in adoration that he would meet us. He stoops and bends low to sweep us up in his arms to show his affection and delight at our joy in being with him. He hugs and hears us. We don’t have to have fancy words to say because he knows our hearts and inclines his ears to hear what our words cannot even verbalize. God is our Abba, and he welcomes us with open arms and a ready heart so we can find our home, our security, and our future in him.
Making it Real: Special Thoughts and Spiritual Exercises for Each Day
with Doug Peters & Phil Ware
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” Augustine’s Confessions (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5).
Augustine prayed, “[O]ur heart is restless until it rests in you.” Augustine was right. Our hearts have a powerful longing for something more, something beyond ourselves. Intuitively, we realize that we need something to bind our broken hearts, mend our minds, and satisfy our spirits. But in a world where social media promises connection, we are still lonely. Augustine accurately concludes that the intimacy we crave is not found in money, sex, or power, not in instant connection or gratification, but only in the one who created us.
Too often we are like children on our birthday clamoring for presents, “I want it! Give it to me now!” And we miss out on the fact that our parents love to give us presents. Sure, they love to bless us with good things, but what they want even more is a loving relationship with us. The intimacy we crave from God is a relationship and not just an exchange of gifts.
If we really want to be close to God, we must be more enamored with the Giver than the Gifts!
But, how do we move deeper into this relationship with God we so desperately long to have? How do we settle our hearts in God? How do we focus on the giver and not just become greedy for his gifts?
We found this written piece about Teresa of Ávila helpful in pointing me to the practice of silence as one tool of dependency and intimacy with God as our “Abba” Father:
Mother Teresa is a profound example of someone who chose to follow Jesus’ example of love and concern by caring for the needs of people living in poverty in Calcutta, India. Mother Teresa’s birthday today reminds us of her profound efforts of love, mercy, and kindness during her many years of service among the poorest of the poor.
Where did Mother Teresa find the strength and the ability to continue to serve in such a life-giving way for so many years? How did she develop her heart and love for the poor? And where did her strength of character and passion for service come from?
Mother Teresa had a deeply intimate relationship with Jesus that was fostered by silence throughout her life. Her practice of silence created room for prayer and space for her relationship with God to grow. Silence fueled Mother Teresa’s social action, which manifested itself through her overwhelmingly powerful ministry with the poor.
For Mother Teresa, silence was a prerequisite to prayer and the ability to meet with God. Prayer, through the means of silence, took upon itself to form the deep intimacy with God and with Jesus. “And when the time comes and we can’t pray it is very simple: If Jesus is in my heart let Him pray, let me allow Him to pray in me, to talk to his Father in the silence of my heart,” she would say. “If I cannot speak, He will speak: If I cannot pray, He will pray.”
One of Mother Teresa’s most recognized prayers came to be known as her “business card:”
Many view these words as the secret to her success in ministry and care for the poor.
Through sacrifice and endurance, Mother Teresa reminds Christians and those of other faiths that God is the God of love. She is a profound example of how the love of Christ for all people compels us to respond to the deeply troubling needs of humanity and walk alongside the poor.
As you go about your daily life today, when so many things are vying for your attention, may you have the time and space to enter into silence. Silence is a gift waiting to be opened and explored. Mother Teresa reminds us, “In the silence, God speaks.” May the Lord meet you in the silence and touch your heart.
By Mae Elise Cannon, the senior director of advocacy and outreach at World Vision U.S., as well as an author and speaker. This blog post is adapted from her book Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action (IVP, 2013).
As we approach God in prayer each day this week, let’s remember that Jesus taught us to pray to God as our “Abba Father.” Let’s approach God as his little children (Matthew 18:1-4). When we are born into God’s family by the Spirit (John 3:3-7), we are given the power, the right, to approach God as his children because of our faith in Jesus (John 1:12-13). The Spirit guarantees our approach to God as his beloved child so that we have the freedom to speak to him as our “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 4:6-7).
But, how do we combine our intimacy, our familiarity, and our tenderness in approaching God as our Abba while still honoring his holiness and reverencing his name?
One way, a way we have found helpful is an ancient way practiced in the Old Testament and in the prayer life of Jesus and his early disciples. This way involves praying in different postures — bowing, kneeling, lying prostrate before God, reaching out and opening our hands to God, looking toward the heavens, raising our hands, and expressing our emotions openly before God. These postures of reverence and respect may have gone out of regular use in the lives of many today. Hopefully, however, the image of Megan and the welcome of her daddy home should remind us of what joyful and dependent love, with tenderness and respect, will lead a childlike heart to do!
As you pray to God each day this week, make one of your prayer times a time to wait in silence for God. Settle into an attitude of waiting and welcome. Whisper these words of Scripture as you wait on the LORD:
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken (Psalm 62:1-2 NRSV).
Then, let the Holy Spirit stir you, nudge you, move you, motivate you, to try one of the postures mentioned above as you settle into your prayer time in silence.
Don’t rush this time. Kneel in silence. Bow in reverent waiting. Lift your face and hands to the heavens in joyful anticipation. Lie prostrate and wait, settling your heart before the Almighty, and intercede for someone in need of healing, hope, or salvation. Become childlike, unashamed and unassuming, going to God as your “Abba Father” this week. Let your prayer involve all of you, heart, soul, mind, and body as you are both reverent and childlike. Settle into a time of holiness and tender familiarity. Most of all, know that your Abba is waiting for you to open the door and welcome him home to your heart as you pray!
Before pursuing the call to ministry, Doug graduated from Midwestern State University and worked in electrical engineering at Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. Sensing God’s leading to serve the church in a full-time capacity, Doug attended Abilene Christian University (BA, MS, M.Div and D.Min) and has been in ministry since 1989. Doug most recently held the Chair of Preaching and Ministry at Oklahoma Christian University. Doug and his wife Sheryl have two adult daughters, Lauren and Alani. He has served churches in Winters, Arlington, and Conroe (Houston area), Texas. He is also a resource support for Interim Ministry Partners and a dear friend of Heartlight.