This wonderful Father of ours lives in Heaven, or literally ‘the Heavens’ – we tend to use the singular, but the Greek has the plural – those in Bible times would speak of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd heaven. Paul says he was caught up to the third heaven and saw amazing things which the language of this world would not do justice to!
Heaven is used in different ways: to refer to the atmosphere; to outer space – the realm of the stars and planets; and to the place where God dwells.
Earth is what is tangible to us, we can see it, touch it, work it, eat of it, run and play on it etc… but the heavens are not so, they are a spiritual dimension, we can’t physically see them, but no less real.
In biblical understanding it’s another dimension, if you like an alternate dimension and as real as any physical dimension. The Bible tells the story of Elijah and his servant being surrounded by the armies of Assyria, and his servant fretting over it – and not without reason! So Elijah prays, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” and it says, “The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.” (2 Kings 6:17). Wow! The armies of God were there! Relief!
There are many such stories in the Bible and down through church history, stories of another realm intercepting and impacting the earthly; of angels speaking to, guiding and protecting God’s people.
‘In the Heavens’ – we tend to think of Earth as being here and Heaven(s) as somewhere over there – usually a long way over there, far, far away… but this isn’t exactly how the Bible pictures it.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, where did he go? How did he go? It’s interesting that artists generally don’t know how to paint the ascension – yes he ascended and a cloud received him out of their sight, but did he just keep going up or did he ascend and move into another dimension? One things for sure he didn’t just keep going further into space, travelling across billion of miles of cosmos to get there, rather he ascended into the realm where God the Father is, he moved from one dimension to another, but with a physical body!
Jesus in teaching us to pray like this didn’t want us to understand that God was far away – that certainly wasn’t the experience of Jesus – actually as it says elsewhere “he is not far from any of us” (Acts 17:7) – speaking of all humanity. The materialists of today are the equivalent of those of a bygone era who held that the earth was flat, they want us to believe in a flat universe, a one-dimensional material universe that can be explored and explained, not so the Bible, which speaks of a multi-dimensional universe, consisting of the physical and the spiritual, the earth and the heavens, the seen and the unseen, the tangible and the intangible.
What does this mean for our praying? God isn’t far away! It means we don’t have to try and get across some vast gulf to get to him; we don’t have to shout just in case he can’t hear us over the distance, especially among the myriad of voices clamouring for his attention.
Though Jesus doesn’t want us to think of Father has far away, nevertheless, he does want us to think of him in a different way. The fact that he is in Heaven means that he is not like our earthly fathers, fallen and frail, subject to ups and downs, an image that is full of disappointment for many. No, he is the Father who is so much other than we are, he is the holy Father. The one who is perfect and complete in every way, whose love is not restricted by human frailty, and power not tainted by human fallenness. Jesus says, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in the heavens give good things to those who ask him!”
But he’s also the Father who reigns, Heaven speaks of his throne – “Heaven is my throne” says the Lord in Isaiah 66:1. Yes he is sovereign, he has the power and the authority, all he needs to do is speak the word and it will be done. This gives us great encouragement in prayer, we are not praying then to one whose sphere of influence and ability to get something done is limited, we are praying to the very maker and sustainer of the heavens and the earth and all that is therein! Pray says Jesus is powerful!
“Our Father in the Heavens” So much in such a short phrase!