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Praying Like Jesus: Father

June 20, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 11:2-4 (NRSV)

“Father, hallowed be your name.
+++Your kingdom come.
+++Give us each day our daily bread.
+++And forgive us our sins,
++++++for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
+++And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Focus

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches his followers to pray to God as Father. This simple address was unprecedented in the time of Jesus. Yet Jesus knew God so deeply that he called God Father. Amazingly, he taught us to do the same, thus inviting us into a truly intimate and humbly respectful relationship with God who is also our Father. When we pray to God as Father, we open our heart to a God who loves more than we could ever imagine.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

If you were an ordinary person in the Greco-Roman world of the first-century A.D. and you wanted help from a god, you had to be sure to address that god in the right way. An exaggerated example of this requirement appears in the second-century Latin novel Metamorphoses by Apuleius. The novel’s protagonist, Lucius, is in a difficult spot, so he decides to pray to the goddess. Not wanting to address her incorrectly, Lucius covers his bases generously, praying: “O queen of heaven—whether you are bountiful Ceres, the primal mother of crops, who in joy at the recovery of your daughter took away from men their primeval animal fodder of acorns and showed them gentler nourishment, and now dwell in the land of Eleusis; or heavenly Venus, . . . ; or Phoebus’ sister . . . ; or dreaded Proserpina of the nocturnal howls . . . – by whatever name, with whatever rite, in whatever image it is meet to invoke you: defend me now in the uttermost extremes of tribulation . . . .” (Metamorphoses 11.2).

The contrast between the opening of this prayer and that of Jesus in Luke 11 couldn’t be more striking. When asked by one of his disciples to teach them to pray, Jesus began with a simple address: “Father” (Luke 11:2). In Matthew’s Gospel, we find a more detailed address, “Our Father in Heaven.” But even this is modest compared to what we saw in Metamorphoses.

It’s likely that Jesus was speaking Aramaic when he prayed the prayer in Luke 11:2-4. The Aramaic word Jesus used to address God was abba. A transliteration of this word actually shows up in a prayer of Jesus in Mark 14:34, strengthening the case for Jesus’s use of the Aramaic abba in Luke 11.

What did abba mean? Several decades ago, some biblical scholars claimed that abba was the word small children used for their fathers, rather like the English words “Papa” or “Daddy.” Many Christians jumped on board, addressing God as “Daddy.” The problem with this understanding and practice is that it neglects the broader use of abba among speakers of Aramaic in the time of Jesus. Yes, young children used abba, but so did grown children, speaking of their fathers with grown-up respect. Thus, the use of abba conveys both intimacy and respect.

Praying to God as Father had some precedent in Judaism, though no rabbi or spiritual writer in the time of Jesus addressed God so directly, simply, and personally as Jesus did when he prayed “Father.” How did Jesus come up with such an unusual practice? No doubt, Jesus’s understanding of God as Father was nurtured by his Jewish upbringing. In the Old Testament, God is seen as the Father of Israel (for example, Isaiah 63:16). But there is no example in ancient Jewish writings of someone addressing God simply as “Father.” That was unique to Jesus.

Jesus’s unique use of “Father” surely reflects his unique relationship with God the Father as God’s unique Son. Jesus experienced unprecedented intimacy with his Heavenly Father. Moreover, he understood that he was uniquely positioned as the Son of God to reveal the Father to others. We see this dramatically in a passage in Luke that comes a few paragraphs before Jesus’s prayer in Luke 11. There Jesus said: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (10:21-22).

Thus, Jesus is uniquely able to reveal to us who God is as our Father. But his freedom to speak to God as Father is not unique to Jesus. Rather, Jesus teaches his disciples – including us – to address God in the same way he did, as Father. By doing this, Jesus is inviting us into his experience of intimacy with God. Yet, at the same time, his use of “Father” encourages us to communicate with God in a truly respectful way. Plus, by teaching us to say Father, Jesus sets us free from any notion that we have to get the words right when we pray. Also, he keeps us from falling into the first-century pagan trap, trying to impress the gods with many lofty words.

By teaching us to pray to God as Father, Jesus summons us into a transformative experience with the God who loves us as a father loves his children (see 1 John 3:1). That’s surely a wonderful thing. But, in my pastoral experience, I knew people who struggled with the notion of God as Father. Because their personal experience of their own father was so abusive, they had a difficult time thinking of or speaking to God as Father.

What these dear folks needed was the healing that comes when we come to know God as the kind of Father Jesus revealed him to be. Jumping ahead in the Gospel of Luke, we find Jesus’s stunning picture of God as Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (15:11-32). In that story, when a son utterly dishonors his father and abandons his family, the father waits for his son to return. When the son comes home, the father doesn’t rebuke or reject him. And he certainly doesn’t abuse him. Rather, the father runs to embrace his son, forgiving him and restoring him into the family.

When we pray to God as Father, therefore, we’re praying in the way of Jesus to the Father Jesus knew and revealed to us. We’re praying to a Father who yearns to have a relationship with us, who forgives us when we stray, and who loves us with a love that will never let us go.

Reflect

In your prayer life, do you tend to address God as Father? If so, why? If not, why not?

Do you think your experience of your own father colors in any way your feelings about God? If so, how?

When you imagine God as Father, what comes to mind? What images or ideas or questions?

How might your prayers be different if you addressed them to God as Father?

Act

This week, try speaking to God as Father when you pray. See how this affects your communication with God.

Pray

“Father, hallowed be your name.
+++Your kingdom come.
+++Give us each day our daily bread.
+++And forgive us our sins,
++++++for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
+++And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Calling God “Abba, Father”


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