Calling God Father

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 11:2

What difference does it make when we call God “Father”? We see ourselves as beloved children. That’s what Jesus is giving us, not just words to speak and a prayer but a share in his relationship with God.

Hello again, friends! I’ve been looking forward to this second opportunity to speak with you about prayer. Last week we looked at Jesus as our teacher. We saw how he prayed at the major milestones of his life and in his habitual practice. We saw how this expressed a communion with his heavenly Father in which Jesus first listened and then spoke. We saw how he prayed for others with great love, for his own needs but with utter surrender, how he prayed with total trust that he was being heard.

Then we noticed in the Book of Acts how the disciples finally caught on and began to pray as he did. He taught them by example, by word, and by the power of his Spirit within them. Now we are coming to Jesus today with the same simple request they made, “Lord, teach us to pray.” We get the sense that he had been waiting for this invitation, almost saying, “I thought they’d never ask!” He was ready right then with his response.

Here is his first lesson the all-important one on which the others build. “Whenever you pray,” Jesus said, “say, ‘Father.'” Jesus begins with God, how to think about God, what to call God. He knows that our understanding of God, our belief about God, will shape the way we pray. We can say it as a basic principle, As we believe, so we pray. Say that with me . . . “As we believe, so we pray.”


Now listen to what Jesus said in this base passage we’re working with in Luke chapter 11. He was praying in a certain place and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples.” And Jesus said to them, “whenever you pray, say ‘Father.'”

Here it is, lesson one. In the world of the Bible, a name is more than sounds and syllables. It’s more than a title. A name says something about the person. Sometimes in the Old Testament, it may reflect the circumstances of one’s birth, or a personality trait. At the deepest level, a name describes character. When Abram, Jacob and Simon have life-transforming encounters with God, they each receive a new name. Each becomes a changed person.

God’s name in the Bible stands for his revealed character. It expresses the heart of what God makes known about himself. To call on God’s name is thus to call on him. In his name, he stands revealed. He opens his heart to us. As we believe, so we pray.


Let’s check that out. How does our view of God shape the way we pray? I remember when I used to teach a course in our seminary on the theology and practice of prayer, I would give the students an assignment to study some great thinker theologian of the past. They were to note his beliefs about God, and his beliefs about prayer and how the two are related. Well, every time the result was the same. The views of God shaped the perspective and practice of prayer in every instance.

Think about that in its radical extreme. What about prayer if we’re atheists? I mean if we’re serious atheists who are convinced that there is no God. Then, of course, there won’t be prayer at all because to such people, in the great house of the universe there’s no one home. No I-Thou meeting is possible. They agree with Emmanual Kant who would always have felt ashamed if anyone had found him on his knees, because there’s really no one out there to call on.

Or let’s say, we are determinists, believers in fate. We won’t really do much praying then because we’ll feel that it won’t have an affect, it won’t do any good. We’ll join the chorus in Sophocles’ play Antigone, “Oh pray not; prayers are idle. From the doom of fate, for mortals, refuge is there none.” In other words, don’t waste your breath. As we believe, so we pray.

Or suppose that God to us is less than kind? We won’t want to get very near to a God like that. And we won’t be very hopeful that prayers to him would do any good.

What if God to us is only concerned with “spiritual” things? Then we would pray about these lofty issues but never about something as practical as daily bread or finding the keys we lost. Because, as we believe, so we pray.


But what if God is the one Jesus called “Father”? What was Jesus’ view of God? He always addresses God as “Father.” Sometime I suggest you read in the Gospels all of Jesus’ recorded prayers. There are quite a number of them. In every one of those, Jesus always expressly invokes God as “Father.” All except one. And that was his prayer on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a quotation, of course, from Psalm 22.

But whenever Jesus prayed in his own words, he always called God “Father” and he used a special word, “Abba.” Not the ordinary Hebrew word “Abh” but the diminutive form “Abba.” We find no other instance of this name being used in prayer in Jewish literature, either in the Old Testament or during the Inter-testamental period. Nobody ever addressed God as “Abba.” Why not? Because it was unknown, unfamiliar? No, too familiar! If you go to Tel Aviv on a nice day, you’ll probably hear little voices piping up here and there saying, “Abba, Abba!” You see, it’s a family name. The mother is “Imma.” The father is “Abba.” And that’s the way children called on their parents. And what this expresses with Jesus is not simply a new word but a new relationship. This is a child running to the arms of loving parents. It expresses freedom. It expresses joy, affection, and most of all confidence.


What will earthly parents do for their children? Quite a lot! I remember when I was a boy about six years old. I had a mastoid operation. I got a blood disease afterwards and became critically ill on an Easter Sunday morning. I was wheeled out of my room screaming and resisting because I was afraid I was going to have more surgery. But they brought me down to a room where there were two beds. Lying on the one next to the one I would occupy was my Dad. He was going to give me a blood transfusion. Back in those days, it was the old fashioned way, arm to arm. So there was my Dad on that bed, and I on the other one. On Easter Sunday morning he gave me his blood and I’m told that’s the moment that I began to rally. That always expressed for me my Dad’s willingness to do anything on my behalf. That’s what good earthly parents will do.

And Jesus is always saying, “How much more will your heavenly Father do?” Jesus described God the “Father” as someone who knows the hairs of our heads. “You are of more value,” he said, “than many sparrows. It’s your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He delights to give good gifts. He’s the welcoming Father in that matchless parable of the prodigal son, running to meet his returning boy. In the mind and heart of Jesus, that’s the one to whom we pray.


Now we face some difficulties in calling God “Father.” There’s the gender issue. We have to remember that Abba with Jesus gathers up the care of both parents and all that they bring of tenderness and authority. With some of us, it’s a problem with our own fathers. Maybe yours was someone who didn’t care, someone who was absent, someone even cruel and abusive. I know orphans who never had much love, but found it later in father figures who could provide something of the caring, interest and personal support that a father might have. I have a dear friend who found that in a coach after he had missed love in his childhood. When he later became a believer, he could relate his experience with that coach to Abba.

The evil and suffering in the world make it difficult for some people to call God Abba. They say: “God, a loving Father when cancer strikes? When dreams fade? When there are no jobs? When children starve? When hatreds are venomous in the world?” And there’s no easy answer to that. Those things haunt me too. No reasoned argument, and no church authority could put such questions to rest.

We can best see God, you see, not only in “father figures” as my friend did, not only in the biblical witness, in the pictures that Jesus painted for us. It’s in Jesus himself that we see what God is really like. Suppose the parable of the prodigal son was told by someone else. Would it have the effect it does? I don’t think so. Jesus makes the Father known, not only by word but by life. How do I know that God seeks after lost ones? He came to us. How do I know he cares? He fed, he healed, he invited, he ministered. He met rampant evil head-on, threw his very life into the struggle, carried our sins and sorrows. He lived out here, on this planet, a love that would otherwise have been incredible. And he said, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” In Jesus we see God’s face, God’s heart. In Jesus we know God’s amazing love. God is our wonderfully generous, caring Father. Alleluia!


What difference does it make when we call God “Father”? We see ourselves as beloved children. That’s what Jesus is giving us, not simply words to speak in a prayer but a share in his relationship with God. So we pray with freedom, with joy, with affection and confidence. I think of that verse in Psalm 62:8, “Pour out your heart before him.” It’s not a burden. It’s not a bore praying to this God. It’s the high point of every day when you pour out your heart before him.

How can we better pray as followers of Jesus? Not usually by being urged to pray more, by being scolded because we don’t, especially if we have a shriveled, distorted view of what God is like. We pray best as followers of Jesus when God to us is who God is to Jesus. We pray with new confidence, hope and gladness, when we trust God as the Father revealed in Jesus. We see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.