In Mark 14:36, Jesus prays, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
This prayer shows us both Jesus’ relational intimacy with God (calling him “Abba,” which quite literally means something like “Father” or “Daddy”) and his submission to the Father’s authority and will. In this example we learn two things: prayer to the Father should always be respectful but need not be formal.
I grew up in a religious tradition where the prayers were very memorized, very ritualized and very formalized. And this trains us to think we have to jump through certain religious hoops to get our prayers heard.
God is a loving Father who loves to hear from his children. He welcomes our prayers. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
Our Father is sovereign and supreme, but he doesn’t treat us like a slaveholder does slaves nor like a master does dogs. And while disrespecting God is a sin, relating to God as our Father is our privilege and right as children adopted by him. You don’t have to be formal with your Dad, but you should be respectful.
Adults can learn a lot about prayer just hanging out with children. For example, at the age of 6 one of our five children wanted to go swimming. He didn’t approach me, saying, “Dearest Father, despite the horror of my sin and unworthy fallen nature I beseechest thou to swimmeth with me.” He just said, “Dad, will you swim with me?”
He didn’t have to hem and haw, he didn’t have to make a 15-minute speech, he didn’t have to be uptight. He knows that I love him and that he has the freedom to ask me for things. I love my son; he’s my boy! All he has to do is ask.
Some of us are just way too serious with our prayers. I don’t mean that prayer isn’t serious business. I just mean we think that if we pray in certain ways and with certain speech, God will be more inclined to hear us. But God is our Abba Father, our Daddy. He wants to hear us, to answer us and to help us. He doesn’t require any more formalized rituals than any other loving daddy would. We don’t have to be uptight about prayer.
This is why the Bible says in Hebrews 4:16 that we can approach the throne of grace boldly! Our Father loves us and wants to hear from us. Dad cares. He’s available; we just need to talk to him.
We also need to remember that prayer isn’t telling God something he doesn’t already know. We can’t surprise God!
In counseling people with various issues I always ask, “Have you talked to God about this?” And it’s remarkable how often some say, “Oh no, I could never talk to God about this!” There’s no information you know that God doesn’t know and that you telling him would put him in the know. You’re not going to shock God or catch him off guard.
My kids often tell me things I already know, but their telling me is about talking to me, about experiencing relational intimacy with me. It’s about the experience of me loving them, serving them, helping them, instructing them, caring for them. Conversation is key to all relationships.
When you have a problem or a concern, take it to God and talk about it with him, just as Jesus did.