I’ve recently become a grandfather. Two years ago, my daughter and her husband presented to us, as in giving us a gift, a beautiful little girl.
I then sat back and waited to find out what title they would give me. The first grandchild in the family, so the first parents had the naming rights to the grandparents.
Would it be Granddad, Gogo (a family favorite), Grandfather, or something else?
They settled on ‘Poppa.’ I’m not sure where ‘Poppa’ has its etymological roots, but it’s close to Papa, and I am very excited by that. And Eliza, if you’re reading this sometime in the future, Poppa loves you and wants you to know that you’re held in a safe pair of hands.
‘Poppa’ rolls off the tongue easily, doesn’t it. Two syllables ease the connection.
You can tell a lot by the way people pray.
It is always interesting to me how people begin to pray. What words do they use to open the conversation?
- Almighty God
- Heavenly Father
What do you use to enter the dialogue?
Is it disrespectful in some way not to use a formal title for God?
How we refer to God in our prayer life speaks volumes, I believe, to the type of relationship we have with them.
I want my grandchildren to know the ‘Pop’ in Poppa, not the Grand in GrandFather, and I think my divine ‘let’s play in the sandpit of creation’ Papa, Spirit, Jesus wants that kind of intimacy too.
Sadly, some people get spooked by this level of intimacy. They like the formality, distance, authority, religious tradition, and a kind of liturgical class system that keeps God in their place and we in our place. It gets conditioned into the conversation.
Poppa’s go away sad that their little children think that way.
Enter the P.A.P.A. Prayer
‘The Papa Prayer: The Prayer You’ve Never Prayed’ invites us into a new way of praying.
P: Present yourself to God without pretense.
Be a real person in the relationship. Tell Him whatever is going on inside you that you can identify.
A: Attend to how you’re thinking of God.
Again, no pretending. Ask yourself, “How am I experiencing God right now?” Is He a vending machine, a frowning father, a distant, cold force? Or is He your gloriously strong but intimate Papa?
P: Purge yourself of anything blocking your relationship with God.
Put into words whatever makes you uncomfortable or embarrassed when you’re real in your relationship with Him. How are you thinking more about yourself and your satisfaction than about anyone else, including God and His pleasure?
A: Approach God as the “first thing” in your life, as your most valuable treasure, the Person you most want to know.
Admit that other people and things really do matter more to you right now, but you long to want God so much that every other good thing in your life becomes a “second-thing” desire.
Larry Crabb. The Papa Prayer
I have used this approach to prayer as a journaling prompt for my prayer life. It’s a way in which I think God uses to steady me and bring me back to a sense of being held in a safe pair of hands.
It can also be used as a prompt when listening and supporting others.
- How are they presenting themselves? – What’s going on under the surface? Where is the real struggle?
- What core beliefs about life, God, relationships need attending to?
- What is blocking the way to deeper wholeness and a knowing of Papa that needs to be purged and let go of?
- How can they approach God as the ‘first thing’ and let go of every second thing – health, wealth, popularity, control, safety etc.
It also starts to rub up against some of the ‘Sacred Cows’ of our understanding of what God is like.
Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburger
I’m not sure where the quote ‘Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburger’ comes from, but I like it.
So many people think that it’s disrespectful to use such intimate words to describe God. It’s a Sacred Cow – something considered immune from question or criticism.
People have criticized me for my supposed informality in addressing ‘Almighty God’ as ‘Daddy, Jesus, Spirit.’
I think Jesus felt the same sense of hurt when he saw little children being ‘shooed’ away. The sacred cow of ‘children are best seen and not heard’ strolled through the marketplace.
One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them.
The disciples shooed them off.
But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.”
After laying hands on them, he left. Matthew 19:13-15
Let’s be brave and enter into a deepening love relationship with a Poppa that runs, skips, dances, sings, and opens wide embracing arms to children that aren’t too sure about this thing called life.
There’s a safe pair of hands that wants to embrace the child within you—the P.A.P.A. prayer is the welcome.
Quotes to consider
- For a long time now, without even realizing it, you’ve seen God as an ally in your purposes. You’ve lost sight of the fact that He sees you as an ally in His. “God, give me the life I want” has been the theme of your prayers. But now you can hear the muffled cry coming from the center of your heart: “God, let me know You better.” And you know that’s a very different prayer. Larry Crabb. The Papa Prayer
- Nothing has relieved my confusion over unanswered prayer requests more than the realization that relational prayer must always come before petitionary prayer. Relate and then request. Enjoy God and then enjoy His provisions, whatever they are. Larry Crabb. The Papa Prayer
- Praying the PAPA prayer is not rubbing a magic lantern and making known three requests to a docile genie that pops out before our eyes. It’s simply a way to come to God and learn to wait, to listen with a little less wax in our spiritual ears, and, most of all, to be relentlessly real. Larry Crabb. The Papa Prayer
Written by Barry Pearman
Barry lives in Auckland, New Zealand, and writes about Mental Health and Spiritual Formation. Learn more about him on his website Turning the Page.