We know very few of the Aramaic sounds actually formed on the lips of our Savior during His time on earth: "talitha cumi," "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani"-and one other: "Abba."
How did only these trickle down to us intact? In the case of Abba, might it not be that the apostles were so startled by their Master's intimate manner of address to God that a buzz about it made its way finally to Paul (Romans 8:15)? No one in history had ever talked to Yahweh like that.
Abba is not only familiar, it is childlike. I was married long enough to a Korean to detect which of three levels of address he was employing in conversation. There was one you reserved for your elders and betters, one for your peers, and one for your children or servants. Jesus came to God as a child to a father. "Abba" is like "Papa."
In a subtle signal to His disciples that their relationship with God had now changed for all times, Jesus told Mary Magdalene after His resurrection: "Go to My brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God'" (John 20:17). They would not have missed the import of this redundancy.
Though it was unthinkable to any sane Israelite, Jesus' greeting was permission to imitate Him in coming to Yahweh as His child. And sonship has its privileges. Jesus Himself had always shown a marked preference for the company of childlike people, and it was they who got most access. The apostles' common denominator seems to have been absence of guile: "Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, 'Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit'" (John 1:47). (Nathanael had shortly before blurted out his true opinion of Nazarenes.)
Coming to God like a child means having very little mind-mouth barrier. A child blurts out; he comes to his father with real concerns, not faux issues. Let us notice the places our mind wanders off to in prayer-and follow it. Break down the firewall between presentable and unpresentable matters and bring Him to your secret gardens of fantasy, pain, and fear.
Coming to God like a child means asking God for a lot of things. If we have stopped asking God for a lot of things, that is a bad sign, not a good sign. It may be not so much that we are mature as that we are unbelieving. Jesus asked the blind beggars, "What do you want Me to do for you?" (Matthew 20:32, Mark 10:51). "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:14). "How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him" (Luke 11:13). Ask Me for gold refined in the fire (Revelation 3:18). Ask Me!
Jesus, though a grown man, did and said nothing on His own but only what He heard from the Father (John 5:19,30; 6:38; 8:28-29). You can trace this trait through the Gospel of John. By this we learn that childlike father-son intimacy can exist alongside clear lines of authority.
Sixty students were in my third-grade class, six rows of 10 8-year-olds. You could hear a pin drop. About 15 years ago, my husband's Korean nephew lived with us for a few months. When Young would call him, he came running, no matter where in the house he was. His uncle never troubled himself to raise his voice. This required Jang Wook to be in constant vigilance for even the suspicion of a summons. Jesus bids us develop an ear for the Spirit's leading. As it was for Jang, so for us practice makes perfect.
A child is lowly, and "the Lord . . . regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar" (Psalm 138:6). I want to be regarded by the Lord, so I cock my ear for His call and come running. His Word is my delight, so I press in to obey, like any child who wants her father's smile. He says, "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). I say, "Very well, then, Abba, I come as a child. Receive me as a child and hold my hand."