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When our two boys were young they could change my day in an instant. They would come home from school and have a couple of hours or so with their mother. She’d have homemade cookies ready for them, they’d sit down and talk about the day, and then go off to play or do homework. (She really would have homemade cookies for them. But no, she did not wear June Cleaver pearls.)
I always felt like I was missing a little something by not being able to be home for the after-school routine. But that feeling faded away as soon as I walked in the door. “Daddy!” I’d hear. Sometimes in unison. “Let’s play!”
That’s all I needed. One word. “Daddy!” “Daddy, can you help?” “Of course I can!” “Daddy, can we ride bikes.” “Only if I get to come too.” “Daddy, why are you so funny?” “Looks aren’t everything.”
You used it as a child yourself. And, if you have children and are a father, you’ve heard it too. It’s the word children use for their father that they don’t use for anyone else: “Daddy.”
It’s the word Jesus used to teach us to pray. “Our Father…” This word is given to us in Greek, the word pater for the Greek speaking audiences for whom it was originally written. But most likely Jesus would have spoken in his native language of Aramaic and used the word “Abba.”
Often we are told that this word means “Daddy.” Statements in the Talmud and other Jewish documents tell us this is the word infants learn to say when they are weaned, like “dada” or “mama.” But by the time of Jesus “Abba” was a word even adults would use to refer to their father. It includes ideas of “simplicity and intimacy and security.”
It was common to refer to your father in this way, but it was not common to refer to God with this word. And yet, Jesus did. There are seventeen unique prayers of Jesus’ in the Gospels and each begin with “Father,” “Abba.” Jesus had a special relationship with God.
So do you. John, the one closest to Jesus, writes: “But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
Do you believe that Jesus is the son of God? Then you are a child of God too. Have you received Jesus? Then you have been given the right to be a child of God.
Paul is very clear about this in his writings. “For all those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:14-15).
Notice what he says. First, if you are led by God’s Spirit you are his child. Simply put, a child resembles his/her Father? Are you taking on his traits more and more? Do you follow the guidance he has given? I see traits of my father in me. When we were young Dad instilled in us a desire to conserve electricity. He was like the “electricity Meter Man.” If you left your room and did not plan on coming right back, you turned out your light. If you went out the back door in the summer, you made sure you shut it well so the cool air would not escape. I’m sure he had some sort of secret timer on the refrigerator door that would alert him if my brother and I kept it open too long looking for a snack. Guess who turns lights off in the house and watches the thermostat at our house? If the Father’s Spirit is leading you, you are his child.
Second, a child should not fear his/her father. Paul said we did not “receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” You have been adopted as one of his children. What a difference that makes! Because you are adopted, guess what you can call him? “Abba, Father!”
Simple words. Loving words. Words the Father wants to hear. Notice we do not have to approach prayer with high vocabulary. No, “Oh Great Avenger. Oh Master of the Universe. Oh Guardian of the Galaxy.” You wouldn’t hear my family addressing me with such pious words. Although when I obtained a Master’s degree I thought Karen might start addressing me as “Master.” (It didn’t happen).
No, we address the Father with the same tone we would our own fathers. “Abba.” “Dad.”
But he is unlike our fathers. He is the one “in heaven.” There is no one like him. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like me” God says through the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 46:9). The phrase “in heaven” guards against us seeing God as our friend, our buddy, our sidekick. Some have allowed themselves to think too small about God. The idea of the “heavens” in the first century was that area right around us and also all the way out into the expanse of the stars and moon and sun. The Father is close to us. But he is not small.
We don’t need a small God, do we? We find soon enough that our earthly fathers aren’t as big as we thought they were when we were little. They can’t fix everything. They can’t be with us everywhere. They are limited. My father stood a whopping 5’7” on a good day. As a preteen I remember hoping I’d be as tall as my dad. Around the 7th grade I started hoping I’d keep growing. Our fathers, as much as they may want to be everything for us, can fail us at times.
I did. Kris was in Cub Scouts and it was time for the pinewood derby. He had a willing father but not a woodworking father. We were given our kit that contained a block of wood, four wheels, and four nails. I didn’t have a large set of tools at the time so we borrowed what we needed and I helped guide the creation of the car.
I really did just help. When we got to the Derby it was evident other fathers did more than help. “Took over” would be more accurate. Our crudely crafted car could not stand up against the ones with modified wheels, axles, and blocks. One showed up all blue with the number 43 and I fully expected to see a miniature Richard Petty sitting behind the wheel. Kris needed a father that knew more about how the Derby really operated.
That’s why we need to remember “Our Father in heaven…” We teach the preschoolers a song that says, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty there’s nothing my God cannot do.” We put into simple words for a preschooler to sing what the scriptures proclaim:
The Lord reigns! He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, enveloped in strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Psalm 93:1
“Our Lord is great, vast in power; his understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5)
“For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3).
He is not only powerful, he is good. That’s important to remember. Can you imagine someone with bad character being given all power? We’ve seen it in earthly rulers and we’ve seen what corrupt power can do. This Father in the heavens is a good, good father.
You are good, Lord. (Ps. 25:7 NCV)
The Lord is good and upright. (Ps. 25:8 CSB)
You, Lord, are forgiving and good. (Ps. 86:5 NIV)
It makes a difference when you know your father is good. The summer I spent in Miami Florida one assignment was to work with some young boys in Little Havana. Can you picture that? Several 20-year-old, Caucasian, mostly Texan kids trying to teach some Cuban kids about God?!
We did the best we could. One day we talked to them about God and how he was a good father. Before long we could see they weren’t interested. So I asked them, “why doesn’t this idea of God as father connect with you?” One of the boys, Carlos, said, “we don’t ever see our fathers. Some of us don’t even know our fathers. In our culture, they go out a lot, sometimes with other women. They don’t care about our mothers. They don’t really care about us.”
We had to help them get a new idea of God as a good, good Father. You might need that too. Listen to the repeated cadence in Scripture that God is good, kind, and a Father of steadfast love. The word hesed is used 246 times in the Old Testament when speaking of God. His love for you never fails. It never ends. He is kind. He is loving. He is a good, good Father.
Because he is, his name is unlike any other. And so we pray, “Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.” You may have learned this as “Hallowed be your name.” To “hallow” something does not resonate with many of today. So we might do better by using the words “honor as holy.” We know what it means to honor someone. We hold them up on a pedestal. We revere them. We think they are the best.
Remember how, when you were young, you thought your father was the best? Upon my graduation from seminary with a Masters of Divinity degree, Taylor—who was eight years old at the time—drew a picture on a card for me. On it he wrote: “Sertificit of Honer for Rick Allen Brown from Taylor to the Best dad in the world…”
An eight-year-old had the right idea of what it means to “honor as holy.” He connected “honor” with “the best.” On a Father’s Day the boys gave me a trophy. To honor me it said “#1 Dad. Best Dad Ever.” It is essential to the well-being of children for them to have the confidence that their parents are the “best” in every aspect. When we pray “your name be honored as holy” that is what we want. We want to see God our Father in that way.
And we want others to see him in that way too. One of the most disheartening moments for a child is to see one of their parents dishonored or attacked in some way. This prayer intends to have us enter into the same alarm of the little child who comes across others who do not think their father or mother is the greatest. We want them to know God in the same way we do.
That’s why the prayer begins with “our.” This Father is one to be shared. We recognize that this Father is not ours only. This Father has many children.
“Our” reminds us that there is a way to live in the reality of this Father and his children. The reality is that although the Father is perfect in every way his children are imperfect. We need him to teach us how to live together.
A few years ago we had decided to not have any more pets. We wanted to be free to do something after work or travel and not be encumbered by the responsibility of a pet. We made it about five months when one day Karen shows me a picture of a dog on her iPad that needed a home.
I admitted it was cute but tried to dissuade her with some questions. “Well, what about feeding it?” I asked. “I’ll take care of that,” Karen replied.
“And what about cleaning up after it?” “We can share that task.”
“But what about the smell?” Karen said, “I got used to you. I imagine the dog will too.”
“Our” teaches us that we are not alone. In this world we have brothers and sisters because we have a Father. And because we have brothers and sisters, we need a Father to teach us how to live together.
We need a Father we can come to who can make our world right. We need him to make it right because our world is not right. Jesus wants us to learn to pray in such a way that we grasp how great is the One who is the source of this life and creation.
He wants us to grasp how good, really good this Father is.
We need a good Father that we can come to on the days we want to celebrate. We need a good Father on the days our world is not right and we need his help. He is our Father. In heaven. His name is like no other. He is good. And he really is the best.
 See Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (HarperSanFrancisco: HarperCollins, 1998) 259.