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Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX

Abba and the New Year

Harry Emerson Fosdick was once asked to speak to a Boston worship service. Before the sermon a prominent minister in the area gave the invocation. When the service was done someone asked Fosdick what he thought of the prayer. He said, “It was the most eloquent prayer ever addressed to a Boston audience.”

Jesus opens the Model Prayer by telling us more about the One to whom we pray than any other verse of Scripture can teach. As we begin learning how to pray and live in Jesus’ will for us, let’s start with his first petition: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).

These words were truly revolutionary. You see, Jesus was without question the first Jew to address God as Abba, “Daddy.” The first words a Jewish child learned were “abba” (daddy) and “imma” (mommy). No Jew would have thought to address the Creator of the Universe in this way. But Jesus spoke to him in this extremely intimate way. In the Garden he called him Father; on the cross he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus continually saw God as Father. Now he invites us to see him the same way.

We can call God our Father only if Jesus is our Savior. Paul taught us, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). The Bible says that “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

We can call God our Father, even if our own fathers are not anything like him. Freud was right: our first picture of God comes from our father, whether good or bad. This is why Martin Luther had such a hard time praying this prayer—his father was domineering and critical, so that he struggled to see God as a gracious Father in heaven. But if we don’t have a loving earthly father, we most of all need this Father.

This word makes clear all our relationships. God is our Father, not a genie in a bottle or means to our end. Other people are our brothers and sisters, for we pray to “our” Father, not “a” Father, “the” Father, or “my” Father. We are people of worth, for the God of the universe is “our Father.” We are valued, not because of our performance, possessions, or popularity, but because we are the children of God.

To pray and live in God’s will this year, first make the Lord of the universe your Father. Ask his Son to forgive your mistakes and failures, and turn your life over to him as your Lord. If you are not certain that you’ve made such a commitment, I invite you to offer this prayer to God. These are the words I prayed on September 9, 1973 when I became the child of God. They are not magical, or the only words one can pray to become a Christian, but they express the commitment God seeks from each of us. If you mean them as you pray them to him, he will answer your prayer and make you his child.

Here is the prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for loving me. Thank you that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and failures. I admit to you that I am a sinner, that I need you to save me. I ask you to forgive me for my sins. I turn from them now. I invite Jesus into my life as my Savior and Lord. I turn my life over to him. I will live for him as long as I live. Thank you for giving me eternal life and making me the child of God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you just prayed this prayer for the first time, please tell someone about your decision. Christianity cannot be lived alone. A coal by itself goes out—it needs the heat of other coals. Share your new faith with someone you trust, and with a church where you can grow in your commitment to Christ.

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