Friendship, Listening, and Empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Draw near: Names for God in prayer

Lynne Baab • Wednesday February 15 2023

Draw near: Names for God in prayer

Until I was nine, my father was an air force pilot. I got my love of maps from him because he always showed me where he had flown. Apart from that, I had little relationship with him because he always seemed tired and unavailable when he was at home. I could understand being tired after flying a plane, so I wasn’t mad about it. After he quit flying, he stayed in the air force another six years, and then he was a banker. He was still mostly unavailable when at home, which was a bit baffling and even upsetting because he wasn’t flying any more.

When I became a committed Christian at 19, I found that I never prayed to God as Father. I used “Lord” or “Loving God.” Then I learned the ancient Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and I loved changing the second and fourth lines using creative names for Jesus. “Lord Jesus Christ, Light of the World, have mercy on me, light up my darkness.” Or “Prince of Peace” or “Bright Morning Star” or “Bread of Life.” (For more examples, look here.)

These names convey rich joy. Sure, I pray the Lord’s prayer in church settings, but otherwise, “Father” does not appear in my prayers. When I have told this story to friends, some have suggested I need to learn how God is a good and generous Father so I can use “Father” in prayer. I have never understood why this is necessary when so many other wonderful names for God can be found in the Bible.

My dad died in 2005, and the next year my mother told me he had never wanted children. She got pregnant with me by accident. She thought all children should have siblings, so she went off birth control without telling my father in order to conceive my brother. I was stunned by this story on several levels. I had no idea I had been an unwanted child in the eyes of one parent, and I realized even more profoundly why I don’t pray to God as father. My own father didn’t want children! I knew my mother was often controlling and insensitive, but deciding unilaterally to have a second child revealed an astonishing level of manipulation.

Twenty or thirty years ago, Christians started writing, preaching, and teaching about the feminine, motherly pictures of God in the Bible. I am thrilled about highlighting these pictures of God because they help women see ourselves as made in God’s image. For those of us who don’t pray to God as Father, we often get the advice to consider praying to God as Mother. You can understand why I wouldn’t want to do that.

Recently I was reading a book on healing from abuse, and the author recommended that women who were raped need to rediscover a healthy view of God as Father. Again I ask, why is that necessary? Maybe for some women who have been abused by men, growing to appreciate God as Father will help them feel more comfortable with men or will assist them in their healing in some other way. I don’t want to criticize anyone’s journey of healing, but neither do I think we should recommend that the best or only path to healing involves focusing on God as Father. God is so good. We can draw on many diverse word pictures for our good God as we pray. Many of those beautiful words for God come from the Bible, and some come from poems, hymns, praise songs, and other tributes to God written over the centuries of the church.

The other day, I asked my husband Dave to help me, and in about ten minutes we made a list of 42 names for the Triune God or one person of the Trinity that we like. I’ll list them here, along with others I thought of afterwards. Some of these are used in the Bible in reference to one or two persons of the Trinity, and in this list I have not differentiated which person of the Trinity these names apply to. I’ll begin with the ones found in the Bible.

King (1 Timothy 1:17)
King of Kings (1 Timothy 6:15)
King of the nations (Revelation 15:3)
King of glory (Psalm 24:7)
Lord (Revelation 11:15)
Lord of Lords (1 Timothy 6:15)
Lord of Hosts (Haggai 2:6)
Messiah (Revelation 11:15)
Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23)
Friend (John 15:13-15)
Friend of sinners (Luke 7:34)
Brother (Hebrews 2:11)
Lamb (Revelation 17:14)
Lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:9)
Lamb of God (John 1:29)
Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5)
Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9)
Immortal One (1 Timothy 1:17)
Mighty Warrior (Judges 6:12)
Shepherd (Psalm 23)
Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18)
Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13 - 53:9)
Advocate (John 14:16)
One who comes alongside (John 14:16)
Comforter (John 14:16)
Helper (John 14:16)
Intercessor (Romans 8:26, 34)
Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)
Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
Creator (Isaiah 40:28)
Savior (Luke 1:47)
Redeemer (Job 19:25)
Giver of Life (Job 33:4)
Teacher (Matthew 19:16)
The Word (John 1:1)
Light of the World (John 8:12)
Bread of Life (John 6:35)
The Way (John 14:6)
The Truth (John 14:6)
The Life (John 14:6)
Rock (Psalm 18:2)
Fortress (Psalm 18:2)
Deliverer (Psalm 18:2)
Refuge (Psalm 46:1)
Strength (Psalm 46:1)
High Priest (Hebrews 2:17)
Bright morning star (Revelation 22:16)
Healer (so many stories in the Gospels)
Miracle worker (so many stories in the gospels)
Listener (so many stories in the gospels)
Forgiver (so many stories in the gospels)
Compassionate One (so many stories in the gospels)
Beautiful Savior
Lord of the Dance
God only wise
Great Spirit

Making this list and finding the Bible references was a huge highlight. I could feel my heart swell with love for God. Hopefully one or more of these names will stimulate your prayers. Hopefully the length of list – and the deep love conveyed in so many of the names for God – will lift your heart. Maybe you’ll think of names I left off the list! May the God described in this list feel near to you today.

(Next week: praying about being as relationship. Illustration by Dave Baab: Jesus among the lampstands, based on Revelation 1:12-20. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

Lent begins on February 22 this year. I want to recommend two options for Lenten devotionals:

1. Draw Near, a Lenten devotional I wrote several years ago (with illustrations by the talented Dave Baab). For each day of Lent I chose a psalm, including all the psalms quoted in the New Testament, and I wrote reflection questions for each day. You can download it directly as a pdf here (no cost), or read about how the devotional came to be, and how Dave's illustrations were added to it, and then download it here

2. "Creation Care as a Hopeful Spiritual Practice in Lent," an online devotional I co-wrote (also with illustrations by Dave). Janette Plunkett, my co-author, has been a climate change advocate at the national level of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We present ways to pray about creation care and experiment with various strategies of engagement. 

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