Healing Line

Healing Line

Touching the Heart of Abba

by Judith MacNutt
Summer 2000

Years ago, when our daughter Rachel was an infant, I had an experience that revealed to me the depths of God's heart. One morning, Rachel woke up crying for her mid–morning feeding. Gathering her into my arms from out of her cozy crib, I settled comfortably into my favorite wicker rocker. Soon Rachel was happily satisfying her hunger and I was humming a lullaby to her.

As I gazed at her, I became aware of the overwhelming love I felt for her. Up to this moment nothing had ever stirred such a profound feeling of love within me. I began gently weeping for joy as she rested contentedly on my breast while she nursed. This beautiful, innocent child had done little to love me in return. She certainly hadn't accomplished great deeds or made her mark in the world... only in my heart. The unfathomable love that filled me was totally unearned; it was pure gift.

Then God used this moment to reveal His awesome love for me. As I gazed upon her face, I heard a tender voice within me say, "You love Rachel very much, don't you?"

I answered, "Oh yes, you know I do." To which God responded, "I love you more than you love Rachel." I had a hard time accepting that! "Oh no you don't; you couldn't!" You see, I knew how strong my love for Rachel was, but I had never really experienced the fullness of God's love for me. God gently answered, "Oh yes, I do love you more!" At that moment, God's gift of love was poured into my heart, and I began to weep for joy. ("God's love is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit" Romans 5:5).

I had never before experienced the Father's love at this depth. It was as though I had to have a child of my own to love beyond reason before I could feel and know the Father's love for me. A place in my heart was opened that day that still remains open — a turning point on my journey to knowing God in a more personal way.

As a child, I had always been told that God loved me. I knew those words; I believed them and repeated them to many others over the years. But I knew his love mostly in my head. That 18–inch journey from my head to my heart has been a long, arduous journey filled with countless disappointments, heartbreaks and failures. How I have longed to come home to the Father! Now, by his grace, the knowing is becoming a reality.

We need to honor our Father in Heaven and rediscover the message that God is our "Abba," as Jesus called Him. What does "Abba'' mean? What was Jesus trying to convey to us when He instructed us in the Lord's prayer to pray to "Our Father (Abba) in Heaven" (Mt. 6:9)?

Scripture scholars believe that Jesus used the Aramaic word "Abba," which means "Daddy," when He taught his disciples the "Our Father." I first sensed Jesus' meaning some 20 years ago when I lived in Jerusalem doing Christian mission work.

One summer evening, I was sitting on my balcony overlooking the many apartment dwellings in my Jewish neighborhood. The sun was setting, calling me to be still, as the day was coming to a close. I saw the city buses pulling up to our street corner unloading weary Jewish workers at the end of their day. Sn;iall children were waiting on the sidewalks for their fathers to climb down the steps from the buses. Joyfully, upon recognizing his or her father, each child went running with arms uplifted, calling out "Abba, Abba!" Then the fathers would reach down to lift their children and embrace them with tenderness and love, so happy to be reunited after a long day.

This moving scene, reenacted daily, almost always moved me to tears. Was this how my Abba in heaven wanted me to come to Him, in confidence and joy, with arms uplifted and a heart burning with news of the day?

Jesus said, "Unless you come to me as a little child you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven." How do I become a child again? How dare I call God, the Creator of the universe, Abba? Jesus addressed God as Daddy, and he enables us by the Holy Spirit to do the same. Galatians 4:6 tells us, "God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of His Son, which cries out, 'Abba!"'

This degree of familiarity with God still comes as a shock to us, if we are honest about it. One noted theologian said "in all the extensive literature of prayer — both liturgical and personal — in Judaism from ancient times up to the Middle Ages, there is not a single example of the use of Abba as a form of addressing God." When Jesus used the familiar term Abba, it must have sounded irreverent and offensively familiar. For Jesus (or for us), however, this term is no more lacking in respect than it is when I address my own father as "Dad." My familiarity does not exclude respect. Reverence still remains, but love and affection are the center of my relationship with my dad. "I no longer call you servants but friends," Jesus told His disciples (John 15:15).

To address God as Abba, Father, is the boldest and simplest expression of our absolute trust in God's love for us. You may say "What does it matter what I call God as long as I pray and try to live my life as a good Christian?" It must have mattered to Jesus because he spent so much of his time teaching about what God is really like (as in the story of the Prodigal Son) and how to be in a relationship with Him.

What is your image of God? Jesus, the Son of God, shattered the image people held of God. This shattering is central to the theology of C.S. Lewis, who stated, "I don't want my idea [image] of God; I want God."

Does my image of God need to be shattered? God challenges us again and again to know Him as He really is. Out of fear we cling to a fearsome, archaic pre–Christian image of God, although it brings us little comfort or strength, especially during times of suffering. Many of God's children sit Sunday after Sunday in pews, passively attending without fully understanding. They come to the feast hungry and go away hungry. Jesus points the way to satisfying our hunger for God in an intimate, childlike relationship with God as our Abba.

Webster's defines "father" as a male human parent; a patriarch, an honored official. In contrast, it defines "daddy'' as an expression "used familiarly, as by children." "Father" refers to a role, while "daddy'' means relationship and intimacy. Jesus calls us into an intimate relationship with His own Abba and has made us part of His own family. This Abba relationship is birthed in love and is meant to grow with time. This level of intimacy with God is deeply personal and completely satisfying — a knowing in the deepest sense that takes us over the mountains as well as through the valleys. For centuries, this relationship has been referred to as a journey of the heart.

The tragedy is that so many Christians aren't even aware of the wonderfully close relationship God wants them to have with Him! So many are content with a somewhat distant, impersonal relationship: 'Tm happy to just try and keep the commandments and get to heaven without all that emotionalism." As Christians, we all believe that God is our Father. Nevertheless, many believe this and still never experience closeness and affection in our relationship with God. The answer to bridging that distance between our heads and our hearts is truly the Holy Spirit — the one who enables us to cry out "Abba!" and really mean it.

If you have experienced the power of the Spirit in your lives, you know that this is the answer; we cannot achieve this kind of family relationship with God on our own; it comes only as a gift. And that gift comes when we ask for it in prayer.

A woman who attended one of our conferences shared a powerful testimony. She sought to know God as Father. While she prayed, she sensed the Lord saying, "My child, don't be afraid ... I will bless you far beyond your wildest dreams. Look up to me, your God. I love you. You are my own."

As she continued to pray, she had a vision: "The ceiling in the room seemed to disappear, and rays of light came down from heaven. Jesus appeared, followed by a host of angels who came straight from the throne of God and filled the entire room. Some of the angels had blue sashes, but all were bright, white and beautiful. Angels were touching each person in the room.

"One angel gave me a scroll on which was written, 'Beverly, I have called you by name; come.' I believe God is calling me to be his daughter. Maybe now I can truly believe that God the Father cares for me. I feel so much closer to God. He is much more real to me, much more reachable. Never before have I had such an experience. Now I am sure He will always be with me."

Do I know God in such a close, familiar way that I feel as comfortable as a child does in the presence of a truly loving father? Can I address God with a term as familiar as "Daddy, " or does that still seem irreverent?

This intimate relationship with His Father is what Jesus promised us in His great prayer: "Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God" (John 17:3). This knowing is more than mere intellectual assent; it is an experiential knowledge. Jesus, praying to His Father, says, "You have loved them as you loved me" (John 17:23B). God loves you as He loves Jesus!

That's incredibly good news, almost too good to believe: God the Father loves you as He loves Jesus. Do you dare believe that?

Judith MacNutt Judith MacNutt is author, teacher, conference speaker and co–founder of CHM. Summer 2000 Issue