Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Hungry for Heaven
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6NKJV
This morning we look at Westminster Larger Catechism Question 189, which asks, “What doth the preface of the Lord’s prayer teach us?” It gives the answer, “The preface of the Lord’s prayer (contained in these words, Our Father, which art in heaven,) teacheth us, when we pray, to draw near to God with confidence of his fatherly goodness, and our interest therein; with reverence, and all other child-like dispositions, heavenly affections, and due apprehensions of his sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension: as also, to pray with and for others.”
Having looked at what is in God that should draw us to Him in prayer, and what should be in us when we come to God in prayer, today we consider on what our affections should be focused when we pray. In other words what should our hearts lay hold of and long for as we approach God in prayer? The Catechism summarizes all of them with the phrase “heavenly affections.” Christians should have a desire for heaven and for all of the things in heaven. When Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father, who art in heaven,” He was teaching us about where we are to think of God as especially dwelling: heaven. Of course God is everywhere. Jesus knew that. Likewise, the Psalms teach us that we cannot escape from God’s omnipresence: “If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (Ps. 139:8-10). Thus, while God truly is everywhere, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that heaven is the particular place where God in a special way manifests His holy presence to those creatures, angels and men, who are blessed to dwell with Him in His home.
What is heaven like? In several places of Scripture we get some highly symbolic descriptions of the beauty and glory of heaven. These pictures are almost certainly not meant to be understood literally. Thus, John speaks of golden streets “like transparent glass,” and a “sea of glass, like crystal” before God’s throne. So also around the throne there was a rainbow “in appearance like an emerald.” As for the one seated upon the throne John says, “And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance” (Rev. 21:21; 4:6, 3). In these Scriptural quotes I have italicized the word “like” to call your attention to it. The word is really there in the inspired text but I want you to especially notice it. In using the word “like” repeatedly, John is calling our attention to the fact that he is not identifying precisely what he saw. He is searching for adequate words to describe what he is seeing. He wants us to understand that he is not seeing literal crystals, emeralds, and seas of glass, but what he is seeing is in some way like these things. What does it mean to see streets that look like “transparent” gold? Gold is not and cannot be transparent in our world! Or what is a living being on a throne who is in some sense “like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance”? We cannot grasp such images beyond the descriptions John gives. Using the word “like” John is letting us know, “I am seeing something more wonderful and beautiful than I have ever seen. Each thing is real, but I cannot tell you exactly what it is. I can only tell you what it is like, comparing the unknown things I am seeing for the first time with things that I have seen before, things that you too can imagine and recall.” When thinking of heaven we must remember Scripture’s clear teaching: “But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
Finally, by heavenly affections the Catechism is instructing us to not only desire heaven and the things in heaven, but also all of the things that will be ours in heaven. Thus, we should stir up our hearts to long for those real and priceless gifts that God has promised us, things like eternal life, final forgiveness of sins, perfect righteousness not only imputed to us but truly in our hearts and minds as we will be fully and finally without sin and in a state of perfect righteousness forever. But the greatest thing we should desire as we turn our hearts heavenward is the promised beatific vision, when we will look upon God face to face, not dimly or as in a mirror, but as he truly is – knowing God even as He knows us (1 Cor. 13:12)! May almighty God cause us to believe in and long for the true glories that will be ours in heaven.