The Joy of Every Longing Heart
And in this city, we will finally realize the fullness of the joy we seek incessantly here and yet find so elusive: the end of the longing that makes us so restless now, the healing of the homesickness for that place we’ve not yet seen, and the coming true of the dreams we’ve never quite been able to fully describe. We will finally experience adoration of the triune God with our entire being, in unfiltered glory and in dimensions of spirit and truth that are unimaginable to us now. And we will wonder that we ever used the phrase “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8) during our years of dimmed, muted, sin-impoverishing, defective worship when at last our faith gives way to the sight of this:
In this city, New Jerusalem, God will dwell with us, we will see his face, we will live in his light, he will banish all that is accursed, and he will make all things new. This is what God wants us to set our hope fully upon. This is the inheritance Jesus is bringing to all who believe in him. This is what he longs for with all his heart (John 17:24). This is what Christians — real Christians — love, and what fuels their living: the appearing of Jesus (2 Timothy 4:8).
Hope That Makes No Earthly Sense
And this is what makes real Christianity fake-resistant. New Testament Christianity is something people can talk a lot about; they can study it, critique it, and write about it for a lifetime. But no one can live it very long if we don’t really believe it. Citizens of heaven live like refugees and sojourners on earth (Philippians 3:20); they live odd earthly lives — lives that make no sense unless Christianity is true (1 Corinthians 15:19).
As this year draws to a close, we find ourselves still peering into the dark glass (1 Corinthians 13:12), still experiencing tribulation (John 16:33), still hearing of “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6), still walking “by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Still we find that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
But it will not always be so. Just as the Messiah’s long-awaited first coming occurred, his long-awaited second coming will also occur. It will happen “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). And that moment may occur next year. This is the happiness all Christians desire.
Next Year in Jerusalem!
May it be, Lord! Finish the work and return! You promised, “Surely I am coming soon.” We all say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
And to you, my friend and fellow earth-weary exile: “Next year in Jerusalem!”
In the new year, you will make and keep lots of different appointments.
We all have appointments in our lives that we would never miss. It could be the doctor. It could be for our hair. It could be with our best friends. It could be for business. It could be for a parent or a child. Whoever it is for you, the desire runs so deep, or the consequences rise so high, that we will do whatever it takes to make sure we keep the appointment.
The people so important, we would never cancel. The circumstance so pressing, we cannot put it off. The need so urgent, we cannot afford to overlook it. The desire so great, it cannot be denied or postponed.
And yet, many of us far too quickly dismiss our daily appointment with the God of the universe as soon as life gets a little busy. The other appointments stack up, and our time to sit with the Savior who bled and died for us seems to fade away so quickly and easily.
Giving God Away Daily
This kind of habit allows us to slowly drift away from Christ, and often exposes twin sins in our hearts toward God: arrogance and apathy. Arrogance, because we don’t think we need God’s help and wisdom enough to consistently ask him for it (James 1:5). Apathy, because we’ve let other things drown out the call to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).
Could there be anything (practically) more foolish than neglecting to take advantage of going to the sovereign throne of grace where we find help and mercy (Hebrews 4:16), from the One “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11)? We far too easily set aside the greatest power and privilege any person has ever known.
How Much Should We Pray?
Paul knows our proneness to forsake prayer, and so exhorts us to keep our appointment with God.
As Paul closes his letter with an exhortation to “be strong” in the Lord’s strength (Ephesians 6:10), he knows that all of the armor we put on to be strong is useless apart from the strength of God. Therefore, he knows our greatest need is to go to God early and often for help as followers of Christ, especially because we live in a world so full of distractions and temptations.
How often should we pray? At all times. What kinds of prayers should we pray? All kinds. How much perseverance should we aim for in prayer? All perseverance. Who should we intercede for? All the saints. For Paul, every person and every circumstance requires prayer at all times because we really are that dependent on God.
Why Do We Pray?
Prayer is the most basic expression of faith. Faith in future grace purchased by Jesus says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” we need (Romans 8:32).
This is the most basic motivation for prayer.
We don’t pray because we’re “strong” Christians with spectacular spiritual disciplines. We pray because we are weak Christians who are spectacular sinners in need of supernatural strength, help, wisdom, and perseverance. Amazingly, we’re granted access to the very help we need because of the blood of Christ. We join Jesus in praying desperately to God, a Father who loves to give good gifts (Matthew 7:7–11), asking him for help in our time of need, always pleading for his will to be done, and not our own (Luke 22:42).
Start with God’s Word
This heart of leaning on God in prayer is fueled by hearing the word from God.
Vibrant prayer lives are fueled by fellowship with God, through Christ, by the Spirit, in the word of God. Paul says in Ephesians 6:17 that the word of God is the sword of the Spirit. If we’re going to pray in the Spirit at all times, we need to arm the Spirit with the weapon he uses to hack away at our sin (Romans 8:13), as well as the one he uses to conform us to Christ (2 Corinthians 3:16–18).
It is in the word of God that we see our limitations (Isaiah 55:9) and sinfulness (Jeremiah 17:9), as well as God’s limitlessness (Psalm 115:3) and holiness (Isaiah 6:1–8). It is in the word of God that we see our mission is great and urgent, and that our only hope is that Christ has all authority and never leaves us (Matthew 28:18–20). Give the Bible time each day to inspire feelings of your weakness and God’s greatness that drives you to your knees.
What Might God Do?
Amidst the busyness of life, decide now that your appointment with God’s word is your most important one. Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
So, make an appointment with God now that you plan to keep as your most important every single day. Go early and often to the throne of grace in 2017. What might God be pleased to do in us and through us if 2017 was the year of our deepest fellowship with him through the word and prayer? Certainly far more than we can think or imagine today.