My brother and sister-in-law just had their first baby girl (and, man, is she cute!). They love their little newborn daughter so dearly and care for her so well. It’s going to be so much fun to watch all her “firsts”—from her first giggles to her first crawl to her first walk.
Her first words might be the “first” that makes my brother and sister-in-law most excited. They’ll be listening for any hint of a “Mama” or “Dada” from their baby. Every little babble is a step toward that goal of speaking.
Here’s a historic name for “Daddy”—Abba. The Aramaic word literally translates to “Father,” commonly used in the days the New Testament was written to express both affection and trust. It covers both sides of the coin in terms of a father’s responsibility to his children. Not only is he easy for his children to love; they have faith in him wholeheartedly as an advisor and protector.
We look to Him as a provider, so we are able to ask Him to do what seems impossible while ultimately admitting we are powerless apart from Him and desire His will to be done.
The term appears three times in the New Testament. Jesus first used this word for His Father in Mark 14:36. Paul used it in Romans 8:15 and again in Galatians 4:6 relating to those who have been given the Holy Spirit and can call God “Father,” too.
Jesus Cried “Abba”
As Jesus sat in the Garden of Gethsemane bearing the weight of the world, He turned to His Father. After calling Him Abba, He immediately noted, “All things are possible for You.” Before even asking anything, He recognized God’s power, an attribute that shows He is worthy of all trust.
He then asked, “Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” This perfect picture of submission is an example for how we should address God. We look to Him as a provider, so we are able to ask Him to do what seems impossible while ultimately admitting we are powerless apart from Him and desire His will to be done. That’s the true mark of trust.
We Cry “Abba”
Romans 8 is one of my personal favorite chapters in all of Scripture. Right in the middle of it Paul wrote, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (v. 15). The two-sided coin appears again: a focus on trust and affection. Since God did not give us a spirit of bondage to fear, we know we can trust Him as a good and gracious provider. Because He has given us the Spirit of adoption, we know we can love Him for His perfect gift of the Holy Spirit.
We don’t have to burden ourselves with needless responsibilities when God allows us the luxury of living like a child: carefree, untethered to anxiety and insecurity.
The final use of the name “Abba” comes in Galatians 4:6: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” Here we find the Father to be worthy of affection and trust through the same action: His sending the Spirit into our hearts as His children. In both of Paul’s references he used the name as an exclamation for us to cry out. It’s a natural reaction to the character of God. He is our safe place, our refuge where we find comfort. In Him we cry “Abba” because we know we’ll feel safe at home with Him.
The Father You’ve Always Wanted
Many people just can’t relate to this image of a heavenly Father who cares so deeply for us and can be trusted wholeheartedly. So many have never had an example of a loving father. Maybe you’ve had a father who has disappointed you, betrayed you, neglected you, hurt you, or left you. Maybe you’ve never even met your father.
Such situations are exactly why God’s role as our Father is so important. He fulfills every role a father should fill, and He does so perfectly. He never fails us, stops loving us, nor leaves us. It’s this type of father that allows us to let our guard down and rest in peace.
The term Abba carries an essence of childlike dependence. Think of the way little children see their daddy. In their eyes he’s a superhero, able to solve all their problems and save the day. Yet all it might take to earn this status for the dad is to feed them, buy them a toy, or spend time playing with them—things that aren’t necessarily hard for them yet extremely important to children.
We should view God with this type of childlike amazement. We don’t have to burden ourselves with needless responsibilities when God allows us the luxury of living like a child: carefree, untethered to anxiety and insecurity.
Lessons of the Heavenly Father From My Father
My dad has always given me a good picture of our heavenly Abba Father. I could always depend on him to be there for me. A father’s presence is something that can be taken for granted as a kid, but as we grow older we realize how important it is. When I got off the bus every day after school, he was there for me. When I played in a decade worth of baseball games, he was there for me. When I needed help with homework, guidance for godly living, or just a friend to have fun with, he was there.
I learned a lifetime of truths about God from my dad, but it was through his examples that I could see those truths come to life. I realize now that his presence was a picture of God’s faithful presence in my life. I could always trust that my dad would be there for me, just as I can always trust my Abba Father to be there for me in all things. The Lord is my help, my joy, my love, and I have my dad to thank for showing me that.
As a pastor, my dad used the trust fall as an illustration for youth groups. You’ve seen this before, right? It’s when you cross your arms against your chest and fall straight back without bending your knees. The key is that someone waits behind you to catch you. The idea is to put 100% of your trust in the person behind you. When my dad taught me the trust fall when I was pretty young, I learned what it meant to truly let go of my fears and trust in the one who would catch me. (Eventually I started doing trust falls and expecting him to catch me when he was in a different room. I’m not sure if I was just messing with him or if I was so young that I genuinely didn’t realize it was physically impossible for him to catch me in time, but it was probably hilarious to watch me fall flat on my back for no apparent reason.)
We don’t have to bury any deep-seated feelings we’ve been longing to share; we can share all of ourselves with Him, unfiltered, because He can handle it.
That’s the level of trust our Abba Father deserves! It’s in His character to be full of love and trust, as His name reveals. We can give Him full control, even if it’s scary, because we know He’ll catch us and sustain us.
A Father’s Love with No Reservations
As their children grow older, many fathers develop a relationship with them that, though loving in intention, appears callous, stripped of any displays of affection. With our heavenly Father, we don’t have to hold anything back. We don’t have to bury any deep-seated feelings we’ve been longing to share; we can share all of ourselves with Him, unfiltered, because He can handle it. He knows our weaknesses, and He gives us grace for those weaknesses, as they reveal His glory (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Just as Paul said in Romans 8:15, we cry out, “Abba, Father” to God because we have been made His children through adoption. He does what no earthly father ever could, and His offer of adoption comes without strings attached. He only wants us to accept His offer and enjoy the benefits of being children of the King.
No matter what kind of dad raised you, as a believer you have the privilege of being able to call the God of the universe your Father. In Him you can find all you’ve ever wanted and needed, a Father who truly meets all your needs, a Father you can trust completely and who loves you unconditionally. We can cry “Abba, Father” to the Lord, our perfect, heavenly Father.
Happy Abba’s Day!