Can you recall the awkward feeling when someone whom you addressed formally asked you to call them by their given name?
So instead of Dr. Smith or Mrs. Jones, you anxiously switched to, Bob, while Mrs. Jones became, Chrisy. In a way, this familiarity almost felt like disrespect, and in the case of an older person, or a work superior, it seemed as though you were elevating yourself unjustly to their level.
How does it make you feel that God prefers to be called, “Father?” While He goes by lots of monikers—Yahweh, Elohim, King of kings, Lord of lords, Savior, Jehovah—He asks that we call Him, Father.
Actually, what He wishes to be called is to the western mind even more familiar than “father.” The Spirit—whom He has given us—cries out within us and addresses God as, “Abba” (Gal. 4:6). Translated, this renders His name of preference to be something like, “daddy” or “papa.”
I wrote the book, Grace in Ungracious Places, a few years ago. The book has not sold well, and interestingly, as I have talked with people who did not like the book, they express discomfort with the fact that each chapter ends with a prayer that concludes, “Thanks, Papa.” Even though I attempt to put the reader at ease with this in the Introduction, this salutation is uncomfortable enough that the majority of readers have put the book down.
I was counseled to change my book and address God more formally. Of course, I want my book to do well, and for a time period this counsel held sway in my mind. But then I thought about what God wanted, and His preference seemed clear to me: He wishes to be called “Abba” and prefers “Father” to his more formal titles.
I wonder why it is that when we see in black and white what God desires we still hold to our preference? God doesn’t strike too many of us with lightning bolts over our recalcitrance, which speaks volumes about His self-restraint, but in the same vein, our reluctance speaks volumes regarding our limited belief.
From my experience, I feel most awkward with terms of familiarity when I’m talking with people whom I perceive to be superior to me in means, position, intelligence, or influence. As a sign of deference and honor, or in the worst case, subservience, I hold to my formal address.
I do not believe for a moment that God asks us to call Him “Father” to convey that we are His equal. But I do believe He wishes to convey that we are His family, that through Christ we are worthy to be in His presence, and that He is approachable. Jesus said we were to become like little children (Mk. 10:15), and God carries this theme forward with His preferred name, “Father.”
Charles Stanley pointed out recently that “Father” is used of God 15 times in the Old Testament, mostly referring to Him as the “Father of the Hebrew people.” But in the New Testament, “Father” is used about 245 times to address God. Just as the Scripture teaches, through the work of Jesus we have been brought near to God (Eph. 2:13), so near in fact, that He wishes us to call Him, “Abba! Father!”
Around those folks with whom I feel deference, I feel that if I were just a bit more successful, or a little older, then I would be worthy to address them personally. While that thinking may have social application, it is rotten theology! Jesus Christ paid a huge price to make me worthy to God. Who am I to dictate to God what I think He ought to be called?
How many times do we find satisfaction plumbing the depths of theology only to discover that the simple things of the Bible challenge our beliefs beyond our comfort level? Such is the case with how God wishes us to address Him.
I decided that I would not rewrite the prayer portions of, Grace in Ungracious Places. If “Father” is His wish, then His challenge stands. Lining my theology up in accordance with who He is, instead of who I feel I am, is a worthwhile summons.