As I reflect on the end of a year and the beginning of a new one, my heart is drawn toward the most familiar prayer known to man. This prayer leads us into the life we were meant to live.
If you lack a sense of purpose or meaning, this prayer connects us with God’s purpose for life. It fills life with meaning and adventure as it reaches into the next life.
Let the adventure begin
When Jesus taught His followers to pray, He told them to find a secret place and to pray to your Father who sees you there. Get alone with God and pray like this:
“Our Father in heaven, may Your name be honored. May Your kingdom come soon. May Your will be done on earth just as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9, N.L.T.)
Here we learn to keep first things first.
If we’re honest, we’ll admit how natural it is for us to focus prayer on ourselves. But before we are invited to pray: “give us,” “forgive us,” and “deliver us”—we need to be burdened with and intercede for higher concerns: God’s name, God’s kingdom and God’s will. Here is the highest purpose for life!
By following this approach to prayer, we acknowledge that certain things are needed (and missing) in the world. We acknowledge that:
- God’s name is not being honored.
- God’s rule on earth has not been fully established.
- God’s will is not being done.
But when I pray this way, I am doing more than simply admitting that the world is in rebellion against God. I am also committing my heart to something greater than myself. I am seeking:
- Universal honor for God’s name
- Total submission to His kingship
- Complete obedience to His will.
I am expressing my desire for the time when “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, cf. Isaiah 2:12, 17). In short, I am longing for heaven!
But don’t just stand there
I realize that the full answer to these prayers awaits the time when God breaks into history, but I must not stand gazing into the sky looking for His return. There is work to be done for the honor of God’s name, the advancement of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s will.
Consider that (in teaching us to pray this way), Jesus is telling us that the things which currently and completely characterize heaven can be advanced on earth. The name, kingdom and will of God must be honored now through the church. This is the highest calling of the believer and the Church.
Guard your hearts
But to remain focused on these concerns, we must guard our hearts against earth-bound passions and priorities. In Colossians 3:1-2 the apostle challenged the early Christians to, “…set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth.” (NLT).
In another place, he wrote: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17-18, NIV).
Heaven is our point of reference! How did Jesus teach us to pray? “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
I invite you to lift your focus to heaven; to view earth in light of eternity and to contemplate the wonder and glories of the dwelling place of God; to remember that our final home, our true citizenship, our ultimate dwelling place is in heaven—in our Father’s house, in the city whose architect and builder is God – the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
If we are going to be of any true profit to earth, we will need to be as heavenly minded as we can possibly be.
“The street-level problem is the old jibe about being ‘so heavenly minded that we are no earthly use.’ I say it’s an old jibe; I haven’t heard it so much recently, perhaps because these days many practicing Christians bend over backward in the other direction and are often so earthly minded, so concerned with practical details and nuts and bolts, that one wonders if they are any longer any heavenly use. However, that’s not the point. The jibe only works in a world where heaven and earth are assumed to be detached from each other, having nothing to do with each other. But in the Bible heaven and earth are made for each other. They are the twin interlocking spheres of God’s single created reality. You really understand earth only when you are equally familiar with heaven. You really know God and share his life only when you understand that he is the creator and lover of earth just as much as of heaven. And the point of Jesus’ resurrection, and the transformed body he now possesses, is that he is equally at home in earth and heaven and can pass appropriately between them, slipping through the thin curtain that separates us from God’s blinding reality” (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope).
The main desire of heaven
It’s significant to note that when the apostle directs us to “set our affections on the realities of heaven,” he specifically identifies it as the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.”
“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24).
What makes heaven so desirable is not the absence of anguish and suffering, nor the presence of angels and fellow believers. What makes heaven so desirable is that it is the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.” This is how the apostle Paul spoke about his death: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).
After Jesus finished His mission on earth by bearing our sins and being raised from the dead, He returned to heaven and took the seat of highest honor to appear before God “for us.” It is reassuring to know that in the highest court possible, those who know Christ as their Savior are well represented. Let these words settle deeply into our hearts: “Christ went into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us.”
In Colossians 3:3-4, the apostle reinforced his call to focus on heaven by writing:
“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”
“The Christian’s whole and only status before God is in Christ. True and wonderful though this is, however, the sphere of the Christian’s existence is still here on earth. He is still beset by temptations; he is hampered by weakness and frustrated by failings; he falls short of ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13); the perfection for which he longs is not yet. He needs a holiness not his own, made available to him by the Lamb of God who has made atonement for his sins and who now interposes himself as his representative in the heavenly sanctuary. And this is the representation which Christ fulfils as he appears in the presence of God for us.” (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 349)
For deeper meditation on Christ’s representation, see: Romans 8:33-34 Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:23-271 John 2:1-2. The apostle John said those who confess their sin (I John 1:9), have an “advocate” with the heavenly father (I John 2:2). The N.I.V. translates advocate as, “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” It pictures a legal setting with Christ as counsel for the defense. And His position as advocate is based on His redeeming work (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6).
“Our advocate doesn’t plead that we are innocent…He acknowledges our guilt and presents His vicarious work as the ground for our acquittal” (John R. W. Stott, I John, TNTC, pp. 81-82).
We must guard against misguided understandings of representation. We should not picture a dualistic situation where a well-pleasing son is trying to persuade a hostile father to look on us with favor. God was the one who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (II Corinthians 5:18-21). God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32; cf. 1 John 4:9-10).
“The intercession of the Son, then, is in no sense a pleading with the Father to change his attitude toward us. Nor does the Father have to be reminded of the full redemption that he himself has provided for us in his Son—the very thought is preposterous! The presence in heaven of the Lamb bearing the marks of his passion is itself the perpetual guarantee of our acceptance with God, who gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. In ourselves, however, though we have the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and though we are united to him in love and trust, we are unworthy because Christ has not yet been fully formed within us (cf. Gal. 4:19) and we still sinfully fall short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23). This consideration explains our continuing need of the advocacy and intercession of him who alone is accounted worthy before God (cf. Rev. 5:1-10). It is in his worthiness that even now we rejoice in the blessings of the divine favor, for by the grace of God his merit has been reckoned to us as our merit, his heaven has become our heaven, and his eternal glory our eternal glory” (Philip Hughes, Hebrews).
For those who think we need the assistance of saints or angels to get us to God, Hughes wrote, “To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for us is not only a delusion; it is to cast doubt on the perfect adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus to deprive ourselves of the fulness of the security which is available to us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come to the Father except by him (John 14:6) and that our requests to God are to be made in his name (John 14:13f.; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12) (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 353).
Christ alone is our mediator, advocate, intercessor, high priest, and way of access (Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 14:6). Let your heart dwell on these great words: “Christ went into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).
Heaven is our point of reference! How did Jesus teach us to pray? “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But don’t stand gazing into heaven because there is work to be done for the honor of God’s name, the advancement of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s will. We must pour out our hearts for these great concerns and let them become the motive for our words and works.