When you think of God, what comes to mind? Is he stern or tender? Intolerant or forgiving? Demanding or patient? Distant or close by?
The way we look at God has been shaped by different factors, including the kind of Dad we had and how we learned about God early in life. If we grew up in a church that liked to talk about God’s judgment but rarely his grace, we might view God as an unrelenting, impossible-to-please taskmaster. If our church environment emphasized his mercy but never his holiness, we may think of him more as a permissive, grandfather-like figure.
So which is he? Loving or demanding? Merciful or holy?
Well, yes, of course. He’s both.
At the beginning of his most famous prayer, Jesus shows us that a one-sided picture of God is incomplete. Here are the well-known words: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name (Matthew 6:9).
The word Jesus used to address God here was probably Abba, because we know he used this word to talk to God elsewhere (cf. Mark 14:36). Calling God Abba was unheard of in the first-century world because it was so intimate. God was too distant and holy for Jews to speak to him in such a familiar way. That word was reserved for the family—a little child used it to talk to his Daddy.
Paul would later remind us that as God’s adopted children we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). Don’t underestimate the significance of our being able to call our Creator our Abba Father.
But intimacy without awe is imperfect too, so Jesus balances Abba with these words: “in heaven, hallowed be your name.” God is also majestic and sovereign and perfectly unique.
God is right here beside us, so we speak to him intimately.
But he’s also our Father in heaven whose name is hallowed, so we address him reverently.
We might get off-center with either of these. Speaking to God flippantly and irreverently—or using his name profanely—means we don’t really understand who he is: a holy, sovereign, majestic God who reigns over the universe he created.
But speaking to God with language that suggests he is some distant Potentate who isn’t particularly interested in what we mere human beings might want means that we don’t really understand how accessible he is to us . . . how much he wants to commune with us. He doesn’t just rule the earth—he actually became one of us, something we don’t need to forget. The incarnation changed everything about how we talk to him.
So in your prayers today, talk to God frankly and openly. Like a Dad who listens to his child, God loves to hear your voice.
But speak to him with respect and awe. Isn’t it amazing that the One who spoke this world into existence and sustains it with his power truly cares about what you say?
It ought both to thrill and humble us to speak to our Abba, our Father, our Redeemer, our God.
Our Abba in heaven, hallowed be your name . . .