One day, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and among other things, Jesus taught them to pray to their heavenly Father, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Some may find it shocking that Jesus did not teach them how to pray to get into heaven. He instead taught them how to pray to get heaven into them.
Growing up I used to love watching the movie, “All Dogs Go to Heaven”. Like most movies as a kid, I probably watched it 50 times and could quote every line for you. There was laughter and friendship (Charlie, a cartoon German shepherd, voice by Bert Reynolds & his dog buddy, “Itchy”), there was love (Charlie & Anne-Marie, a sweet little orphan girl), and there was a battle between good and evil (Charlie vs. the evil Carface). And of course, the good guys win in the end, Charlie goes to heaven, Anne-Marie and Itchy are adopted, and Carface goes to hell! (Yes, this was a very vivid children’s movie that burned quite the image of the afterlife into my young mind.)
Though there were a lot of good lessons I learned from the movie, I was left with a boring image of what Heaven was like and an even worse theology of how to get there.
The Gospel is so much better than my childhood movie. There is love like none other, the only true “good guy” dies in our place and transforms us “bad guys” into “good guys”. So then, getting into Heaven is not by our doing good works (sorry Charlie), but only by faith in the good work Jesus did for us. And now, for us bad-guys-turned-good, getting into Heaven is less of the focus while we remain here on earth. Rather, we pray to the Father, as Jesus taught us to pray, not that He immediately take us up to heaven, but for heaven to come down in and through us!
Imagine what God could do if you prayed, “God, let your will be done here in my house, and in the lives of my family, just as it is in Heaven.”
Sometimes parenting can have you crying out, “Lord, take me now!”, but what if instead of praying for an escape to heaven, we prayed for heaven to come down and reside in our kids and in our homes? “Lord, thy will be done. Come into my home and have your way with my family.”
Consider what our marriages might look like if we prayed for God’s will for us as a spouse, and not just for our profession or career. We can be kind all day long to people we don’t even know, but then get home and speak to our spouse in ways we’d get fired for speaking to a customer. It’s a good thing our God turns “bad guys” into “good guys,” because that means there is hope if we would humble ourselves and pray, “Lord, your will be done in my marriage, as it is in heaven. Lord, help me be the husband and/or father, the wife and/or mother, that you would desire for me to be.”
Now, we could just stop here, and Lord knows, there would be a great healing and gospel power at work in our homes, but we would miss out on what Jesus wants to do in our workplaces and city, too.
God is not just the God over Christian families; He is the God over all the earth.
An old professor of mine from seminary once said, “God was the God of Adam before He was the God of Abraham.” In other words, our God is not just “Judeo-Christian,” He is the creator of the heavens and the earth, and every human being therein.
So, if Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come, then His hope is not simply for Revelation 21 to happen in the distant future, but right now. Jesus wants His people to pray that God would use His church throughout all the earth as a conduit of heaven, to transform in part now what He will one day accomplish in full.
If disciples of Jesus would pray like that today, then we would also have need to pray for our daily bread of strength, patience, and endurance.
We’d also need to pray for the Lord to lead us not into temptation that might derail us from our mission. And we could not go forth preaching a gospel of forgiveness without forgiving those who have sinned against us.
So, here’s my advice, if you want a vivid picture of the afterlife, no need to dust off that old VHS from your childhood. Instead, turn your Bible to Revelation chapter 21. It is the perfect ending to the Gospel. Good triumphs over evil. Death and Sin, are no more, neither is there crying or pain anymore. Our God rights every wrong, restores all that is broken, and best of all, He and all of heaven come to earth. And this future reality is available in part, now through His Church, by the power of the gospel, in our homes, marriages, workplaces, and city. If only Jesus’ disciples would begin to pray, not just to one day walk through the gates, but for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done, in and through us, on earth as it is in heaven. Oh, “Lord, teach us to pray…”