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In responding to his followers’ request to teach them to pray, Jesus provided some guidelines as to how we might talk to God.

Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9-12)

These words are familiar. Even those who don’t attend church and who might not have a personal relationship with the living God are often familiar with these words. And it is their very familiarity that can end up leaving us unchanged in reflecting on the words. A previous post touched on the address “our Father.” We unpack a bit more as press forward, listening carefully.

“Our Father who is in heaven.” What comes to mind when you think of the God who is your Father “in heaven”?

For many people, heaven is almost conceived of as an imaginary place far, far away. A place we might go to sometime in the distant future. Removed in time and space for our daily life.

If that is how we think of heaven, what comes to mind when we speak of God as “our Father who is in heaven“? It’s hard to not feel distant and disconnected if we are thinking of God that way. But is there another way to think of heaven? Is that idea of a distant deity what Jesus intended to teach?

The word we translate “heaven” was used to refer to a variety of “spaces” in Jesus’ day. For example, when Jesus referred to the birds that flew nearby, he spoke of the birds “of heaven” (or, as some translations render it, the birds “of the sky” or the birds “of the air;” Matthew 6:26). In the account of his baptism, we are told that “the heavens” were opened–apparently some evidential something in the sky–and a voice spoke from “the heavens” (Matthew 3:16-17). In speaking about what was happening in and through his ministry, Jesus announced that the kingdom “of heaven” was at hand (using an expression that means “near by, close at hand;” Matthew 4:17).

Could such references mean that heaven is as close as the air we breath and in which the birds fly, as all-pervasive as the sky that fills our view, and as near as what our hands can reach out and touch? Could it be that heaven is not so far from us in time and space? Maybe, for Jesus, references to heaven are a way of speaking about a kind of life rather than a particular place.

This idea is even hinted at in the prayer Jesus taught. He speaks of heaven as the place where the God’s will is done (differently than it is done on earth). The distinction pictured in that language is not that earth is necessarily distant in space and time from heaven but that the way life is experienced on earth is different from it is in heaven.

Where does this leave me? I can hardly unpack all that is in that simple phrase, but I wonder if “our Father who is in heaven” is more a call to think of God as living a different kind of life (the kind of life we’d like to live!) rather than God living a far off and distant life. To address God this way actually draws me toward prayer. I get to talk with someone who is not far, far away from me in time and space. I don’t have to send out celestial text messages, hoping that they arrive at some divine email center light-years away. I get to talk with someone who is as close as the air I breath and who is no farther than arms distance, but who is experiencing and inviting us into a life so very different from the way life is typically lived out in our world.

I am not waiting for some “at some other time and some other place” kind of life. I am talking with the one who is living “heavenly” right here in our midst. And I get to talk with him about how we might more fully taste and experience that life here and now.

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3 Comments

  1. Awesome, Brian. For the kingdom of God is at hand. Amen. Carley

  2. PS – Shared on my FB profile/wall. Blessings!

  3. WOW! what a “call to prayer”! What a call to live.


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