I like this piece from Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary. While agreeing completely with N.T. Wright’s stress on the earthly reality of our ultimate destination, he notes two differences in emphasis. One is that the “intermediate” state–life after death with Jesus, but before we are resurrected–is very much to be appreciated, not deprecated. The second is the reason for the first: our focus ought to be not simply our new sphere of activity in God’s new earth, but the real presence of the Lamb. To be with Jesus, whether in the in-between or in the Kingdom, is devoutly to be desired.
Posts Tagged ‘kingdom of God’
The Function of Miracles—Part 4
“Healing is part of the normal Christian life. God put it in His book; He illustrated it in the life of Jesus. He told us to emulate what Jesus did. So why is it so easy for us to be fully convinced when we pray for someone to be saved that our prayer will work, and yet when we pray for healing we find it difficult to believe they will be healed? Because salvation, as it pertains to a born-again experience, has been embraced and taught continuously by the Church for centuries, while the revelation of healing has not been widely embraced, and has even been fought. … Disease is considered a gift from God to make people better Christians! Think about how badly the Church has backslidden, to believe such lies! We have tolerated the deception that accuses God of doing evil, which is why today healing remains so controversial, little-practiced and little understood.” [829, The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind, by Bill Johnson.]
Johnson goes on to speculate on what the Church would look like if healing had been embraced as “an essential part of the Great Commission. Normal Christians would see deformities and say, ‘No problem.’ Cancer, ‘No problem.’ Missing limbs, ‘No problem.’ We would pray in power without one iota of doubt.”
Johnson neglected to add, “Death, ‘No problem.’”
I am going to go out on a limb and say there has never been a time or place in human history where people said, “Missing limbs, ‘No problem.’” As Philip Yancey has noted, Lourdes displays discarded crutches and wheelchairs, but there are no glass eyes, no artificial limbs.
Why do Christians pray for salvation with confidence, but for healing with less confidence? Johnson is right that the church teaches them that. But I don’t think it’s because of backsliding. I think the church teaches that because it deals with reality. Many prayers for healing are not answered. And everybody dies.
That is not how it is in heaven. But we’re not there yet.
That’s why, in our prayers, the sovereignty of God is so important. Every single day we pray and hope for God to act “on earth as it is in heaven.” And he often does. Most diseases are healed. Personally, I have been sick many times and God has healed me every single time.
But today I am going to see a dear friend who is in the final stages of Parkinson’s disease. I have watched him slowly decline to the point where he can no longer walk and hardly can talk. It’s painful to see, and I know it’s not the way God means life to be lived. When heaven comes to earth, we won’t.
To tell you the truth, though, I’ve stopped praying that Tom will be healed. I am pretty sure he is dying, and I have no indication that God intends to stop that process. If God wants me to pray for Tom’s healing, he needs to tell me clearly. Otherwise I will pray for signs of grace as Tom succumbs to the power of death. I believe that Tom will be resurrected on the other side.
If Jesus was right and he inaugurated the Kingdom of God, we need to live that way. You can make a biblical case, as Johnson does, that it’s all available to us now, if only we believe.
You can also make a biblical case that we are only part-way there. We await the fullness of the Kingdom, when Jesus returns and heaven comes to earth “like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Revelation 21: 2) We expect that in the hope and frustration of “already, but not yet.”
A few years ago I read Darrell Johnson’s Fifty-Seven Words that Change the World: A Journey through the Lord’s Prayer. It was one of those rare books that didn’t just change the way I think, it changed the way I act. Johnson convinced me to use the Lord’s Prayer as a template for my personal prayers. I’ve been doing so ever since, mostly at night when I’m lying awake.
When you repeatedly pray through the Lord’s Prayer in a meditative way, each phrase becomes a familiar base to work from. You move through them like—what? Bases in the baseball diamond? Properties in Monopoly? Stations of the cross? To engage each phrase takes a little mental work each time, so that the words don’t slip meaninglessly through your brain. But their well-worn faces re- orient you. Repetition reminds you of what truly matters, the same yesterday, today and forever.
One of those phrases, however, is consistently a bump in the road for me: “your kingdom come.”
Everything else in the prayer makes sense of the world in which I live. “Our Father in heaven” challenges me to see the world I live in as our Father’s world, with a father’s love at the root of everything. “Our” inevitably must include people whom I am not sure I want in my family—but the love of “our” Father embraces them all. Those opening words challenge me to see the love of God in the midst of all the trials and joys of my life. But it’s still my life.
The next phrase, “your name be made holy” also affects my world. For it is in that world that God’s reputation must grow. I am asking him to increase the reverence with which he is held, everywhere. Naturally I must be part of the answer to my own prayer, in setting God’s name above every name in my thoughts, words and deeds. But the prayer is bigger than me—it envisions the whole world making praise to God. Washington. Paris. Kandahar. “Your name be holied” calls for a loving Father to make the world echo with his praise. That’s mindbending. It would transform the world. But it’s still the same world, isn’t it?
“Your kingdom come,” however, breaks with the world I know. True, God’s kingdom must grow in this world, but as Jesus told Pilate, it is not from this world.
If I am comfortable imagining the transformation of my world, this phrase uncomfortably reminds me that a new regime is in the offing. My reputation and my welfare in this world are not so very important. They will be swept off their feet as a new world is being born.
Every time I pray this I find it comes as a little shock. It is as though I were to ask for my own house to be knocked down and replaced with a better one. That is not a comfortable thing to pray—at least, not for us comfortable people.
The prayer ends up with this same theme: Yours are the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Yours, not mine.