‘Your will be done,’ stern and glorious, yet through an open doorway we catch a glimpse of what is yet to be, like a beautiful, sunlit conservatory or garden room, here is a glimpse of heaven. And beyond that heart-stirring glimpse lies heaven itself, the whole garden; a place of incredible beauty and peace; a place where we can walk at ease with our heavenly Father.
The Lord teaches us to pray that our heavenly Father’s will might be done here, on earth, as it is done in heaven. Here, we long to see God’s name honoured and yet so often see it trodden underfoot. Here, we long to see God’s kingdom come and yet see the fulfilment of our prayers so often frustrated or long delayed. We long to see eyes opened and hearts set on fire for God, and yet see them dulled and blinded by Satan or by preoccupation with wealth, pleasure and care. We long to see God’s will done and yet find a clash of wills, our own as well as the determined will of godless folk around us. Here, we pray, live and battle that the glory of heaven might be seen. There, it is seen in all its fullness.
For our strengthening and encouragement our Lord turns our eyes and thoughts heavenward where his name is honoured, where his kingdom is complete and where his will is done perfectly, willingly and with joy. He teaches us to pray, ‘Father, may it be like that on earth.’ He gives us hope. He gives us a note of praise. He lifts our eyes, in the middle of the prayer, to catch the wonder of heaven. This heavenly note is there to stir, to challenge and to refresh us as we pray. It is a moment of praise, a shaft of sunlight, a turning of our eyes away from the struggles of earth to the glory of heaven.
We are very much rooted and grounded in this present world. It is very hard to think of heaven, and yet the Bible, throughout, is very ‘heavenly minded’. It is constantly reminding us that our citizenship is not here, but in heaven.
Where, then, is heaven? When the first Soviet astronauts broke free from this earth’s atmosphere, they took the opportunity to score a point for atheism by declaring from space that there was neither God nor heaven to be seen. And yet, they really only destroyed a false picture. God, who inhabits eternity, is outside of time and space. We have not broken out of time and space by breaking free of this earth’s atmosphere. That is only a relatively small step. God is outside of the whole universe which is all part of time and space.
Another very basic question is: Who will be there? Matthew begins the prayer with the phrase, ‘Our Father in heaven.’ God, our heavenly Father, is there. He is there, says the apostle John, with the Lamb, the Lord Jesus. Around the throne are innumerable heavenly beings who do his will gladly, willingly and joyfully.
Destined to join them – and this is awesome – mere human beings like ourselves. This is our heavenly Father’s great purpose on earth. He is calling out men, women and young people from every nation and tribe to be his own people here and now and ultimately to be with him, where he is, in heaven.
Who will be there? Sadly, there are those who will not be there. For where God is, in his very presence, there will be nothing ungodly, unholy, or impure. In the light of that, who can stand accepted before God? The very disturbing fact is that not one of us has a natural ticket for heaven. Our only hope is in God our heavenly Father who of his mercy has made it possible for us to be made acceptable before him. Here lies the heart of the Christian message. It is God’s amnesty for fallen men and women, an acceptability before God that is not our own, not earned, but given to us – given to us at the price of the cross of the Lord from heaven.
It is those who respond to our Father’s mercy in the Lord Jesus who will be there in heaven. It will be those to whom he has given the right to be his sons and daughters. The mark, the guarantee of those who are citizens of heaven is the Holy Spirit of God at work in our lives; opening our eyes to see the kingdom of God, bringing us into that kingdom, enabling us to live for God and changing us little by little into Christ-like people.
In Charles Wesley’s words:
‘Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place’.
This process of being changed is the Holy Spirit’s marvellous work in the life of a disciple. A changed life, an increasingly godly life, is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work and is the seal of our citizenship of heaven. Of course, the opposite is also true. Religious interest or religious talk without changed habits of living, stand as a terrible warning sign.
We all want to be citizens of heaven. The other place, the alternative, is to be shut out from our Father’s presence and is at all costs to be avoided. It is described in the Bible only in the most terrible terms of God’s just anger and of suffering and loss, of ruin and endless regret. It is described in terms of men and women, loved and made in the image of God, and yet who have turned their back on God or lived in this world as if there were no God or as if they were not answerable to him. By doing so, we forfeit our true destiny and calling to be the sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, citizens of heaven.
How do the apostles speak of heaven?
‘I heard a voice from heaven,’ writes St. John, ‘saying to me, “Write this: From now on blessed, happy are those who die in the Lord.”‘ Those who die ‘in the Lord’, who die in true faith, are happy, are blessed. And we will never feel the force of that word ‘blessed’ until we say ‘how much to be envied’ are those who die in the Lord. They are most to be envied because they are God’s own people destined to be with him where he is.
As disciples we are children of earth, and yet our true citizenship is not here but in heaven. We pass our time here living for the Lord but as pilgrims. We are passing through. It is for this reason that we must not bind ourselves too closely with the things of this world. We are here about our Father’s business but our destiny is to be with our Father in heaven, to be with our Lord. The apostle Paul was torn as he wrote to the church at Philippi, he wanted to continue to encourage them and yet he longed also ‘to be with Christ which is far better.’
Once we have grasped such a picture of heaven, we will see why ‘to die in Christ’ is of all things most to be envied. When we truly see it, it will directly affect the way in which we live here and now. It will affect our living and it will affect our dying. It will affect the way in which we come to view the dying of our loved ones. It is always terribly hard to let them go. When a loved one dies we are shattered, torn apart. God has set us in families and among friends with bonds of love and companionship that are so strong that in grief we are left absolutely desolate. And yet, if we have really taken hold of the fact that it is so enviable, such joy, to be with Christ; that it is a journey completed, a race run, that our loved ones in Christ have now reached home, then, surely, there is no greater comfort for those of us who are left. It is right to weep, our loss is terrible, but not for them, for they are at home with the Lord, safely in his hands. The Lord has taken them to be with him.
Such a grasp of heaven will also affect our approach to our own last day. Of course, we are built, as human beings, to hold on strongly; to live. And yet if we really have, as the apostle Paul had, an understanding of heaven, a real longing to be with Christ, an assurance of a welcome home by the mercy of God, then there will come a time when we know that there is no longer need to cling on to this life; a time when it becomes right to put ourselves in his hands to take us home. We can look forward to being with the Lord.
Visiting Tom, a man in a Manchester hospital, the conversation turned to heaven. Tom was dying and he knew it. He was only expected to live a few days. Suddenly, Tom was praying, putting into his heavenly Father’s hands his own departure. It was very wonderful. Something of the glory and wonder of heaven shone through that prayer. It was unforgettable. Here was a man ready, prepared. He knew that to be with Christ was far better and he longed to be there. He, too, was torn with loved ones at hand and yet he knew that his time had come and that to be with the Lord was what he really wanted.
Heaven. Take hold of it strongly. To be with the Lord is far better. When it comes to the day of dying, those who die in the Lord are most to be envied.
The apostle John tells us that heaven is the place of freedom, freedom from oppression, freedom from suffering. We are mortal and we live in a fallen world where sickness and suffering form the backcloth of our human existence, particularly in our closing years. By God’s grace the science of medicine can help us marvellously. Given grace to accept our situation, we can rise above suffering with great courage and patience. Sometimes, by the goodness of God, there is physical healing here and now. But ultimately the victory, complete freedom, is not found here but in heaven.
Again, in this life the world presses hard, sometimes very hard indeed. We have fellow disciples even now hounded, threatened, persecuted and shut up in prisons and labour camps under oppressive, atheistic or fanatically religious regimes. There are many occasions in both Old and New Testaments which speak of godly people and how, on occasion, the ungodly will hate them and deliberately delight in pouring scorn on their faith and crushing them mentally and physically. We may be scorned and ill treated here but in heaven the world can no longer cause us to suffer, we will be free, there will be no more tears.
Here on earth we are dogged with weakness and with great temptations. Paul, too, knew the weakness of the flesh. ‘The things I long to do, I fail to do and the things I long not to do, I find myself doing.’ That is the nature of this earthly life. But in heaven – freedom. And freedom, also, from the limitations of this earthly body, from the limitations of time and space. Here there are things that we long to do, but because of our personal limitations or circumstances just cannot do. There, we will be able to do his will with perfect freedom.
Then in heaven there will be rest. The apostle John writes, ‘They rest from their labours.’ John was almost certainly for a time a slave labourer in the mines of the prison island of Patmos. He knew about the sweat and toil of this earth. John encourages us to think of heaven, not in sentimental terms of floating about on clouds playing harps(!), but as our Lord taught us to think about it in this prayer. It is a state of freedom from pressure, a state of creative rest and exhilarating activity, where God’s will is done perfectly, gladly and joyfully. This is worship in the fullest sense. There will be singing, but not just singing. It will be singing coupled with service as we are freely about our Father’s business. His will done perfectly, in heaven.
Then there will be joy. ‘In your presence,’ says the Psalmist, ‘there is fullness of joy.’We will be ‘with the Lord’, and with those whom we have loved and lost awhile. We will understand then with new insight all that has passed. Here we wrestle in a fallen world with many hurts and hardships. There will be joy, fullness of joy, the joy of home.
Here, we run a race. Here, we fight a fight. There, in heaven, is laid up an inheritance, a reward, a joy, a homecoming and most to be desired, the prize, those crowning words of the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.’
So, in the battles of life, sing, from the heart, with John Newton,
‘Let the world deride or pity, (. . . for it will!)
I will glory in Thy name.
. . . Solid joys and lasting treasure,
None but Zion’s children know’.
‘Father, in our tears and battles, lift us, we pray, in hope and in praise to see the glory of heaven. Show us afresh that our citizenship, and the citizenship of all those on whom you have set your love, is not here but with yourself in heaven.’
- Citizenship in heaven – Philippians 3:20
- The throne of God and of the Lamb – Revelation 22:3
- ‘From every nation’ – Revelation 5:9&10
- ‘Blessed . . . are those who die in the Lord’ – Revelation 14:13
- ‘To be with Christ’ – Philippians 1:22&23
- Hated, ‘for my name’s sake’- Matthew 24:9, Matthew 5:10-12
- See also, Apocrypha, Wisdom of Solomon 2
- ‘The things I long to do’ – Romans 7:15
- ‘They rest from their labours’ – Revelation 14:13
- ‘Fullness of joy’ – Psalm 16:11
- ‘With the Lord’ – 1 Thessalonians 4:17 & Philippians 1:23
- A race, a fight and a crown – 2 Timothy 4:7&8
- ‘Enter into the joy of your Lord’ – Matthew 25:21&23
- Our heavenly Father’s will done on earth in the way in which it is done in heaven. To what extent does that thrill and inspire you?
- Does our culture, interest or position lead us to naturally assume that we have a ‘ticket for heaven’? Should we assume it?
- What is the trustworthy seal or guarantee of our citizenship of heaven?
- Should and does the picture of the loss and ruin and endless regret of men and women having missed their true destiny fill you with horror? Does it motivate you to action as it did so many of the great missionary pioneers?
- God’s own people are most to be envied. Why?
- How will a firm hold of the disciple’s citizenship of heaven affect our living, our dying and our reaction to the deaths of those we love?
- ‘Sickness and suffering form the backcloth of our human existence.’ Hard though such a statement is, does it help us to understand our world and our circumstances and help us to ask, ‘Why not me?’ rather than, ‘Why me?’
- Do we care as we should for those who suffer because they are disciples of Christ?
- We know so little about heaven, but do the New Testament references to homecoming, rest, joy, freedom and ‘well done’ encourage and strengthen us to face the battles of earth?