When Jesus teaches us how to pray, the first thing off of his lips in the model prayer is the word “Father.” When we pray, we get to call God, “Father”. The word for father here is “pater” which is a special term. It’s one of the first names a baby will learn to say with meaning. Many language groups tilt the things in the dads favor and we have words like “papa,” “da-da,” and in the Hebrew “ab” or “abba.” So in these languages the word is reduced to even the first syllables a child can pronounce.
We know from the very beginning that prayer is simple. We begin by calling on God like an infant learns to call on her daddy. She can’t say much, but she is thrilled to say it and her father is thrilled to hear it.
It’s popular these days to talk about “all of God’s Children,” assuming that we all belong to Him. But the bible is abundantly clear that you don’t become a child of God by just being born into the human race. You have to be born again! You have to be adopted. You have to be brought in. This is a personal title! Only those who belong to God have the right to call him father. It’s not a right afforded to those who do not know him. I know this sounds harsh, but It’s not my idea. Jesus makes the distinction. Check out what he says to the Pharisees in John 8:
John 8:42-44 ESV Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. (43) Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. (44) You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
By the way, this was a message delivered to the religious insiders. The Pharisees in this passage were far from God! They were putting on a mask, a façade. They had all the forms of godliness in their language, but they didn’t know God. Their deeds, their giving, even their prayers were for show. They didn’t love God, they loved themselves. They had taken worship that was meant to be given to God and made it a commodity to curry favor or prestige with others. Even while they were calling out to God with pomp and energy, their prayers did not reach Heaven, because they were not aimed at Heaven. Jesus repeatedly warns his audience that there will be many religious insiders on the outside of the kingdom and many outsiders will come in.
The problem is that we are too often like these Pharisees. We take good things and pervert them. We turn giving from an act of worship to a form of control. We turn the leadership aspects of church into a pride issue. We take a few verses about wives submitting to your husbands and use that to get our own way. We have all believed lies, even the most religious among us. We have all embraced a different father. The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 says that we were all by nature “sons of disobedience” and “Children of wrath.”
So who can call God father? Only those who come to him in childlike faith, get to call God, father. The apostle John tells us in the gospel of John:
John 1:12-14 ESV But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (13) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (14) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
From this we learn that Jesus was God’s son in a special way (ie he is the very essence and being of God) and those who belong to him by faith are adopted sons and daughters. The Apostle Paul states:
Galatians 4:4-6 ESV But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, (5) to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (6) And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
The first real question we have to ask ourselves when we go to God in prayer concerns our relationship to God. Have we embraced the gospel? Have we responded by faith to the work of Christ in our lives? Do we approach him simply as a child approaches her father?