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Because I am married to an unreasonably patient man, we hardly ever argue – except for when it comes to the Ascension. His (perhaps quite reasonable) conclusion from Acts chapter one is this:
Jesus went up.
The disciples looked up.
Therefore, heaven is up.
My (perhaps quite unreasonable) argument is that on that day when His feet lifted off the Mount of Olives, Jesus was dealing in metaphor. As a Teacher (THE Teacher), Jesus knew that His disciples would need to see Him leave – to watch Him actually go somewhere else with their own eyes — in order to get on with things.
And so he rose, but isn’t the power of God such that heaven could be anywhere? Just as Narnia-Through-The-Wardrobe was a place completely “other-than” World War II era England with a different cadence of hours and a population of talking beasts, I tend to think of heaven as a place without a possible zip code — and yet still close at hand.
The immanence of God, the idea that He is right at my elbow and at the same time filling the entire universe, stops me in my tracks:
“’Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.”
When I read and respond to powerful words that I read in Scripture, I am careful to filter my motives. Am I rejoicing in this passage because of the unvarnished veracity of those words? Or is my heart soaring because of a particularly effective combination of nouns and adjectives, because of a plangent metaphor that I wish I had thought of myself?
Given this tendency toward nerdy swooning, I had to read and then re-read Romans 5:2 back in January when I discovered it in The Message Bible:
“We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”
While I’m all the time imagining a closed door and cramped quarters, God has envisioned and provided for open access and my feet standing on the place of grace, planted in the fields of His glory!
I’ve never before chosen One Word for my year, and truly had no intention of breaking with that tradition in 2017, but standing reached out from those verses and chose me for its own. That word — “standing” — and God’s miraculous gift of hope are calling me to rise from my chair of unbelief, to ascend visibly, not merely for the benefit of others as Jesus might have, but for the broadening of my own view of the world.
With my feet planted firmly in those wide open spaces, how can I continue in my small prayer life with its locus around safety and good health? I was rebuked in this tendency recently when my oldest son announced that he was starting a prayer group in his work place – a shop environment populated with hard-handed welders, most of whom make no bones about their disregard for the numinous.
Did I launch into immediate prayer for their lost souls?
Did I plead for the efficacy of my son’s efforts to irrigate that parched wasteland?
No, and I can hardly bear to reveal the words of my narrow soul:
“Oh, Lord, they just bought a house, and he needs that job. Please don’t let this hurt him.”
Stooped, round-shouldered prayers shrivel my courage, but even worse . . .
What if they are contagious?
Since my children are all priceless to me, my deepest desire is for their greatest good:
Holiness and healthfulness.
But time-bound and short of sight, do I really know what’s best?
This new awareness that I’m standing “where I always hoped I might stand,” means that I can do away with my prescriptive prayers:
(“Lord, do this thing that I have planned for us . . .”)
Standing tall, I want to see over the top of my fears. In hope, I want to catch a glimpse (however slight) of what’s on the other side of the walls that divide, and, in that ascending, transcend a few of the artificial boundaries that plague the white, the middle-aged, the orthodox, the comfortable.
In The Reason for God, Tim Keller reminds me that at the very heart of my belief system there lived “a man who died for His enemies, praying for their forgiveness,” (p. 21). This was no sparkling success story for Mary to share at Galilean Tupperware parties.
Or was it?
Jesus’ death calls me to a rising that may take me lower into a humble, peace-loving place of repentance. His rising invites me to ascend with Him to the people who are outside the gate, unlovely and unlettered, to be carried by the eternally transcendent questions and the answers that I affirm – not merely by the falsehoods that I fight.
Rising, we step through God’s open door and find that He is far bigger than we ever imagined.