Many years ago, I had the privilege of serving my home church as a brand-new, green, associate pastor fresh out of seminary. My granddad had retired from his role as senior pastor a number of years prior to my arrival, but by the time I joined the staff, he came out of retirement to serve as the senior-adults minister. Maybe he wanted to keep an eye on me. My dad was also on staff as the administrative pastor which gave him the challenging job of serving as my boss. So we had three generations serving on the same church staff, and it was wonderful, at least for us.
One of my cherished memories of those days was when my granddad would invite me to my grandmother’s and his apartment for weekly training. That’s right: weekly training. My seminary years and educational degrees just weren’t enough in his mind, and he was right. One-on-one mentoring gave me a whole new level of how to counsel people, study the Scripture, and pray. My granddad would share new insights he discovered from his own daily study time, which always amazed me, because I thought that at his age he surely had it all figured out.
He instilled in me a passion to study the Bible, to excavate the truths of God’s Word, and to mine the gems of life-changing application. Even this morning I came across a Scripture I had read many times before but never plumbed. In Galatians 4, we read that we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, `Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6). Notice what the text says. Because we are God’s children, He sent Jesus’s Spirit into our hearts. We have the Spirit of our resurrected Lord indwelling us—not just around us, going before us, watching our backs, but indwelling us. It is by the Spirit that Christ lives in our hearts. We are “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17). In fact, without the Spirit, no one can belong to Christ (Romans 8:9).
Did you notice what the Spirit does when He indwells us? He cries out, “Abba! Father!” Abba is the Aramaic word for the usual, intimate name called out by a child to his or her father. Jesus used this word when He cried out to His heavenly Father in Mark 14:36. So in Galatians 4:6 we have the SPIRIT of the SON crying out to the FATHER within US the most intimate name used in reference to a dad. Amazing.
When I reflected upon this Trinitarian expression of intimacy within us, I asked myself this question: Is MY spirit joining THE Spirit in crying out to Abba, Father? The Spirit does His work. He joins with the work of the Father. But we are not simply vessels emptied of our spirits passively watching the Holy Spirit cry out to Abba, Father. We are to enter in to that joyous intimacy as well! Our spirits are to engage fully in the activity of praise, celebration, and connection with the Spirit of the Son to the Father.
Indeed, we are works in progress. Just as emotional and spiritual intimacy in marriage takes time, so does the development of an intimate relationship with God. Later in Galatians 4, the Apostle Paul describes how he is “in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (verse 19). Christian spiritual formation is a process, but it begins with the simple truth that we are not on our own. We have the Spirit of Jesus already in our hearts crying out to our Abba, Father. Now it is time for us to join in. Let the Spirit of the Son teach us and be our guide in getting to know our heavenly Father not just as the Omnipotent One (which He is) but also as our Abba who has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).