Life can be exasperating can’t it? Every few months life seems to give us a pretty solid excuse to throw our arms up in the air and exclaim, ‘I give up!’
Sometimes it’s the loss of a loved one when those nearest and dearest to us finally lose a long fought battle and the bitter sting of tears remind us once more that this world is not our home. Other times it’s the collapse of our carefully made plans, an unexpected, out of our control change in circumstances that makes our stomach churn with anxiety and our heart longs for a life which is more certain and secure. Perhaps it’s a very real sense of loneliness that numbs us and leaves us wondering if closeness or connection can ever be known.
Whatever it is that causes us to feel that way, Jesus could relate. Jesus knew exactly how painful, disappointing and frustrating life could be. He lost loved ones, he was robbed of his autonomy and he suffered rejection. Yet, at no point did he throw his arms up in the air and declare defeat. In fact, when he taught his disciples how they should pray (a pretty good thing to do with arms raised up!) he provided a very different response to those very real disappointments.
Lord, come home
‘This then,’ he said, ‘is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6:8-10).
Note two things. Firstly, within these opening words of the Lord’s Prayer is the sense that life ‘down below’ is not what it ought to be. ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ You can’t pray that prayer if you’re satisfied with the way things are. It’s a prayer that speaks about change. This reassures me. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, it was with the expectation that life would be making them throw their arms up! Anyone who truly knows the heavenly Father through Christ the Son is supposed to look at our broken world and sigh deeply as they come to him.
However, I wonder whether we often miss the second point, the hopes and expectations that we’re supposed to have when everything around is not right. In this prayer it seems that the solution is the transformation of all that’s broken ‘down below’ whereas we often place our hope into escaping ‘up above.’
The Lord’s Prayer could have looked like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, take us up above – we’ve had enough of this mess!’ Yet, it doesn’t. It’s a prayer that is calling heaven down rather than seeking to be taken up. Or to put it another way, I fear far too often we pray, ‘Lord take me home,’ rather than, ‘Lord come home.’
The difference is huge. Do our yearnings lead us to simply cling on for grim life or look forward to a brighter future?
A new heaven and a new earth
The final scenes of the apostle John’s revelation are a glimpse into the Lord’s Prayer fulfilled. In Revelation chapter 21 we’re told of heaven descending to earth, of Christ’s glorious return and all that ought not to be being put right:
Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth’, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Rev. 21:1-4).
His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. It’s pretty magnificent isn’t it? When arms are flung up in those days, they’ll be lifted in thanksgiving and praise.
Moreover, this final scene isn’t out of the blue, is it? It’s what we’ve been praying for ever since Jesus taught us how. It’s the realisation of all those hopes and desires expressed in the writings of the prophets. It’s the culmination of the story of God dwelling gloriously amongst his people, started in Genesis and finally brought to fruition. It’s our hope. It’s our yearnings satisfied.
Shine in the darkness
What does it mean for us as we wait? When we are upset, frustrated and scared? I think it means that we’re supposed to get in the mood. With this glimpse of what is to come we can get excited and start to get ready. In the New Testament, believers are described as those who have been called out of the darkness and into the glorious light (1 Pet. 2:9). I can’t help but think more about that final vision in which we understand that there is, ‘No need for sun or moon to shine a light because the glory of God illuminates it – and its lamp is the Lamb of God’ (Rev. 21:23-24).
As darkness enshrouds us we’re called to shine the light of Christ around us. When we pray as Jesus directed, calling down God’s kingdom, as we anticipate his light filling our cosmos, we should be looking to dwell in that same light day by day and shine it in all the darkness that surrounds us.