A Voice in the
June 4, 2000
Thus, in my mind/heart I am struggling just a bit to figure out how to make this any clearer [to everybody] than has been done already at various times in the past.
I would suggest that most of what are called "prayer meetings" are not. At least... not to God Most High. They typically involve people 'sharing' with one another various things, and then they go "to prayer". What does this 'prayer' consist of? The people in the group taking turns vocalizing 'words' allegedly "to God". If they 'pray' for 15 minutes... 30 minutes... it is 15-30 minutes of people talking "to God". Now, if we understand that our relationship to Christ is like that of a "wife" (Eph5:32) ...what is all this "talking"? If a wife continually only -talks- "to" her husband, society has all sorts of labels (and jokes) for such a kind of wife. And yet, that's what "christians" do, and they call it "prayer". If a group finds 'silence' during "prayer" time, it is terribly uncomfortable, and somebody usually seeks to jump in there and start "praying", because there was silence. And if they are praying "around the circle" and the "next" person in line doesn't start praying, it is assumed he has a spiritual "problem" ...otherwise, he would be able to start uttering words, in his turn.
Also, if a wife spends all her time asking, whining and requesting things of her husband, society has another name for such a person. A "nag". But that's what most people think prayer is. We have a need, so we go to God. We have an emergency, so we form a prayer 'chain'. We want to know what the Lord's will is, so we ask God...and we keep asking, asking, asking...yak, yak, yak...blah, blah, blah. And we never -SHUT-UP- long enough to 'listen to' God and 'follow' Him. But what we are doing is [allegedly] "prayer".
When Paul says "pray without ceasing" (1Th5:17); by definition, "without ceasing" is 365/24/7. Every day, every hour, every minute. Just like a 'good' marriage. That also includes our sleeping time. If "prayer" is only "talking -to-" God, it is obviously impossible to obey Paul's exhortation. Sometimes in our normal daily routine, we talk to other people. Again, by definition... if we are talking to other people, we are not talking "to" God, are we. And I don't know of anybody who is conscious while asleep. If prayer is "talking", talking requires intelligent thought; which, if we are asleep... that is not possible... by definition.
Thus, we obviously need to redefine "prayer" from what most people think of it as. It is not, as you suggest in your question, that prayer has "little meaning", but it is a different understanding of what prayer -is-.
As so many things "in church" seem to have come from pagan origins, I have to wonder but what "prayer", as practiced by most people, is another of those pagan carry-overs. They (pagans) go to that place where the idol statues are standing, utter some meaningless repetitions (Mt6:7), light some candles, bow and clap. (Is2:6)
When Jesus said, "The Father did not leave Me alone, for I do the things pleasing to Him -always-" (Jn8:29), He was obviously "praying without ceasing". Another picture of Jesus' prayer can be seen in the content of His 'prayer' of John ch17; His relationship with the Father. But He also, obviously, was talking with and healing a lot of people. He was obviously in the Father's "presence" at all times...although He might not have been vocalizing 'words' to the Father.
Perhaps our notion of prayer comes from the O.T.? There, when they wanted to communicate with God they brought their offering to the temple, and "inquired of" God with the Ephod. (1Sam23:9-10,etc) The veil of the temple was still in tact...and it required the priests to communicate with God on behalf of the supplicant. There was this official "distance" between God and man through the priest. It was typically only specially-anointed people who had the Holy Spirit come upon them, when they had been cleansed. Of Daniel we know that he prayed three times a day, towards Jerusalem. (Dan6:10-11, 1Kg8:33, 2Chr6:32)
But when Jesus died on the cross, that all changed. The veil to the Holy of Holies was torn, symbolizing 'direct' access to the Father through Christ. (Heb4:14-16) A primary definition of a Christian is one who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. (Rom8:9) And so prayer is accomplished through the indwelling Holy Spirit. (Rom8:26-27)
However, since we are likened to the "bride" of Christ, our relationship to the Father is a little different. Jesus is now at the "right hand of God" (Rom8:34). Since we are His bride, we are figuratively right there in God's presence, too. We are in submission to our "Husband". He leads us, and we seek to do His will. As such, our own requests have less significance. Yes, we do have requests, but we are not "anxious" about them. (Phil4:6) And we know that He knows our needs before we even ask. (Mt6:8) So yes, we might ask things sometimes, but because of our submission to Christ, our prayer should become more of a matter of affirming His knowledge of us, being in agreement with His leading, and submitting as Christ did, "Not my will, but Yours be done". (Lk22:42) This is the definition of "asking according to His will". (1Jn5:14)
You know, I've come to the point where I don't really ask "for" things from the Lord any more. I have long since learned that His will and plan is always beyond what I even know what -to- ask for. I don't even know "how to" pray. I find myself in total affinity to Rom8:26 in that I "do not know what [I] should pray as [I] ought." Thus, my life has become one of "waiting on the Lord" (Is40:31) Yes, as "dust" (Ps103:14) I worry about things. But I've also learned that I cannot selfishly plead on my own behalf, beating my head against the wall in futility. I belong to Him. As His servant I don't really have any personal "rights" by which I can make personal requests. And certainly I don't have any rights to "demand" (as so many do) that the Lord do this or that, just "because" I said so...and He "promised" to 'obey' our request/s. (That's what they do!) His "grace is sufficient". (2Cor12:9)
Thus, back to your question's wording... How "life..plays out". My life is not mine to direct. Thus, my 'prayer' is one of being "in the way" and seeing how the Lord is "leading" me (Gen24:27); accepting what He brings along day-by-day, step-by-step.
Prayer is simply being in His presence. Hearing His voice through the Scriptures. Being sensitive to various things from a spiritual perspective. Sometimes that will manifest itself in being "angry" at those things He is angry at, like the third Q/A of this series. After all, if we are living and praying "in the Spirit" (Eph6:18, 2:22, Gal5:16, 1Cor2) we "have the mind of Christ" (1Cor2:16b)
Perhaps this answer has turned into a bit of a personal "testimony"? I know that my life's circumstances are presently exactly where the Lord wants me to be. Life is often not easy. I also know that my own relationship with the Lord comes the closest to how I understand God's Word regarding prayer, compared to anything else I see that is called "prayer". I will be the first to admit that there is a lot I don't yet understand about prayer...such as some of the O.T. prophets. But I also know that most of what I see, called "prayer", is NOT... and most of it gives me the "creepy crawlies" when I'm anywhere near it. And this is knowing what it is, having engaged in it, myself, in the past...but also knowing that my remembrances of that past as being "empty". I used to be able to "pray" along with the 'best of them'. I knew the form and terminology of what it took to make a "good prayer". But in the inner recesses of my heart, I was never comfortable with it, knowing (looking back on it now in hindsight) it was phony. My own relationship with the Lord was not represented by those 'prayers'. Those were what I did around others who called themselves "Christians". Presently, I am extremely uncomfortable if somebody asks me to "pray" out loud, because I know that our mutual understandings of -what- prayer is, is different. So many people like to stop and "pray" in order to "bless" things; either before they are about to do something, or in hindsite as validation of what has just been going on, or the person's particular argument they may have been trying to impress upon the other person. Such "prayer" is NOT -to- God. It is merely for man, in the presence of other men.
As time progresses, more and more of them (who practice such prayer) become known as not really being Believers. Thus, it is -that- 'kind of' prayer that we speak -against- continually, as being 'worthless', because it is NOT "prayer". At least... not to the Most High.
So...let's reword your opening question a bit, if I may, and make it into a statement:
Living our faith every moment -IS- prayer.
P.S. This is obviously primarily addressing 'personal' prayer. There is also corporate or 'group' praying, which has its own purpose, which we have talked about in the past: Solomon dedicating the temple (2Chr6) Jesus praying when He raised Lazarus (Jn11:41-42) Paul on the storm-tossed ship (Act27:35), etc. Many past discussions on prayer can be found at the "Topics Search"
Going to Heaven?
First of all let's clear away the fuzz regarding "literal vs spiritual" Paul proclaims that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption." (1Cor15:50) For the person who remains unrepentant, and ends up in the "outer darkness" there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth". (Mt8:12,22:13,25:30) It is a place where "their worm does not die, and the fire is not put out". (Is66:24, Mk9:44,46,48) The "rich man" requested that Lazarus might put a finger-tip of "water" on his "tongue" because of his torment in the "flame" (Lk16:24) These are all expressions of -physical- "literal" pain and suffering. Whether it's called "hell" where the "body" is thrown (Mt5:29), or the "Lake of Fire" where even those who died at sea are reconstituted to stand before the Great White Throne; judgement against sin is "literal" and "physical"...it -hurts-...and it's "forever" (Rev20:10,14:11) No! They are not 'ultimately' restored.
And on the flip side, where Paul defines the "spiritual body" (1Cor15:35-49), when we observe the nature of that body in Jesus Christ after He was "glorified" (Jn12:23) after His resurrection we see Him encouraging the disciples to come and "handle" [touch] (1Jn1:1) Him to see that He is "flesh and bones". (Lk24:39) So, we know that even our new glorified 'spiritual' bodies will be -literal- bodies, because we will be "like Him" (1Jn3:2), because what He did is the "firstfruit" (1Cor15:20) for us to follow.
Regarding the "bad people being removed", we have addressed that in the past [May,98 commentary "Rapturing the 'Wicked'?"], so we won't again here at this time.
So now let's get to the main issue of this Q/A item: 'where' do we go? Yes, there will be a "New Heaven and Earth" (Rev21:1) But before that happens, there will yet be 1000 years where Christ is ruling on -this- earth as the dragon/devil/satan are bound in the "abyss". (Rev20)
During that 1000 years those who were resurrected in the three events of the "first resurrection" (Rev20:6) [see also at website: Nov28,99 Q/A -Resurrection and Christ's Elect] will be "reigning with Him.."
But prior to that 1000 year reign, there is the seven-year "70th week" of final vengeance on the earth, and deposing of satan from his present position as "prince of the power of the air". (Eph2:2) Where will Christ be during that time? Where will the Believer be, who was raptured prior to that time?
First of all "Heaven". Where/what is Heaven? There are many mentions similar to "Jehovah, God of Heaven.." (Gen24:7) John was preaching, "repent for the kingdom of Heaven has drawn near" (Mt3:2) And we know that he was proclaiming Jesus as the "Lamb of God" (Jn1:29,36) Jesus spoke of either getting "into the kingdom of Heaven" or not. (Mt5:20,etc) Solomon spoke of the "heaven of heavens" (2Ch2:6)
First of all, we need to understand that there are -three- heavens. "In the beginning God created the heaven[s] (Gen1:1) "Shamayim" the "im" ending makes the word 'plural'. NKJV corrected this from the KJV. The very newest MKJV has also corrected it.
The "first" heaven is the "expanse". The earth's atmosphere, which likely changed drastically at Noah's flood. I'll leave the wrangling of words, and science and astronomy of this matter to those who enjoy such banter. But "God called the expanse, Heavens." (Gen1:8) We know that satan is presently given the position as "prince of the power of the air".(Eph2:2) When satan made his claim, Jesus did not refute it.(Lk4:6)
We know there is a difference between the air and space. "The heavens are recording the glory of God, and the expanse [which we already know is also called 'heaven'] proclaim His handiwork." (Ps19:1)
But then, there is a "third heaven"(2Cor12:2) where Paul was caught up to. This "third heaven" Paul calls "Paradise" (vs4) Jesus had promised the thief, "today you will be with Me in Paradise". (Lk23:43) It is also called the "Paradise of God". (Rev2:7) And we have Stephen seeing the "heavens having been opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right of God" (Acts7:56) In other words, it would seem that there is a synonymity between "third heaven", "Heaven" and "Paradise". The "place" where God dwells, with Christ at His right.
-Where- is Heaven? Physically? We are not told, that I know. Many people think that if the "air" is the first heaven, and "space" is the next, that Heaven "layers out" from there. That the 'third heaven' is -beyond-, in 'distance', the known universe. That God (and Heaven) is "waaaay out there" far, far away. Nobody has trained a telescope in any direction and seen Heaven. In fact, when the first Russian went into space, under the era of cold war communism, he is reported as having taunted with words to the effect, "I don't see God up here anywhere!"
Perhaps this is because "God is spirit". (Jn4:24) Jesus explains to the -man- of flesh and blood, Nicodemus, "the Spirit breathes where He desires, and you hear His voice, but you do not know from where He comes and where He goes..." (Jn3:8) As many who observe UFO's and conclude that they are from a "different dimension", as it becomes more and more obvious that they are demonic; God's habitation is also of a different "dimension". A "spiritual" dimension. This is why "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom [domain/habitation] of God". (1Cor15:50) We are earthly. (Jn3:31,1Cor15:47-49) God is Spirit. Which is why we need to be "changed" into having "spiritual bodies". (15:51,44) It is simply not possible for us, in our present state, to even exist in Heaven.
So now, with this groundwork, let us consider the final question to be answered here. We are not going to address the matter of whether or not there will be a Rapture. Scripture is so clear on the matter, and we have addressed it so often in the past. Anyone who doubts it, please visit the 'Topics Search' at the website and scroll down to "rapture". You will find 'tons' of stuff there. And if you doubt that it's prior to God's wrath upon earth and purifying of Israel, scroll down to "pre-trib"
But, WHERE DO WE GO when raptured? "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up [raptured] together with them [resurrected saints] in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." And here's the answer... "And so we shall ever be with the Lord." (1Th4:17) We will be "with the Lord". Where is that? Jesus made a promise, "I go to prepare a place for you. And...I will come again and receive you TO MYSELF, so that WHERE I AM, you may be also." (Jn14:2-3)
Now, after -just- saying this, Thomas asks the same question we are addressing here. "..we do not know where You go, and how can we know the way?" (vs5) How does Jesus answer this question? "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me." (vs6)
A geographical or astronomical -location- is not the issue. It is not so much that we are resurrected/raptured and go to some -place-. We as humans are so-conditioned to think of our homes, houses, places of work. All these things we hang on to. We get our maps out to plot courses to go some -place-. And once finished, we return 'home' to our -place- of residence. But if we consider the puniness of our present -location-... Solomon prayed, "Behold, the heavens and heaven of the heavens cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built!" (1Kg8:27) Where God (and Christ) dwells is so much more vast than this finite earth upon which we live, how can words adequately describe our new -place- of residence with Christ?
When we "meet Him in the clouds" -WHERE- do we go? To be -WITH-HIM-! Whatever/wherever that is... For now, that's all we need to know, because we "walk by faith (Rom1:17b), not by sight" (2Cor5:7)
Where do the dead go before Rapture/Resurrection
Thus, for a lot of what I expect you mean in your question, I would have to respond with, "I don't know". But we can see some generalities from Scripture. If you will... 'hints'.
First of all, for the unsaved, we are told that "And death and Hades were thrown into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death." (Rev20:14) One objection the KJ-only people have to this wording is that the word "hell" is changed in the NKJV and LITV. That "Hades" comes from Greek mythology. Another name for Pluto. From the "nether world, the place of the dead". But in the Greek text of the Scriptures the word is "hades - hah' -dace" [Editor: interesting how God so often uses terminology man is already familiar with to explain His Truth.]
Scripture records for us both man's philosophizings as well as God's clues. The "preacher" suggests that "..the dead do not know anything, nor do they have any more a reward...nor do they any longer have a part forever in all that is done under the sun.." (Ec9:5-6) There are many who proclaim from this (out of context) that our present earthly lives are 'all' that we have to look forward to. That when we die, that's it. Nothing more. Therefore, "eat, drink and be merry". (vs7) Because there is no work or planning "in Sheol". (vs10) Here, again, the KJV says "grave". But the actual word in the Hebrew is "sh@'owl - sheh-ole". Again, a mythological-sounding "underworld", place of the dead, etc.
Peter speaks of "prison". (1Pet3:19) The place where the "spirits" of the "disobeying ones" were being kept. (vs20) Prison, a place where people are typically kept, and watched, under guard. In our present society prison has become a 'permanent' place of punishment. But in the O.T. there was no such punishment. There was either required restitution (Nu5:7,etc), punishment by whipping (Deu25:2) or death (Ex21,etc), as well as a few other miscellaneous consequences. Any kind of confinement would be until a judgment would be established and carried out.
Notice that in Revelation ch20 that it is these that have been kept under guard, who are brought to judgment at the Great White Throne, and once judgment is passed, they go to their punishment in the Lake of Fire. (vs13-14)
But there seems to be torment, already, in Hades. When Jesus tells of the "rich man" and Lazarus, the rich man is in torments, in the "flame". (Lk16:24) But if we understand from Peter that this prison is where the "spirits" are kept, that is an immediate spiritual torment. We know the body decays and undergoes "corruption". (Ps16:10, Jn11:39) But when "death and Hades" are resurrected to stand before the Great White Throne, that is both "body and spirit".
That's the unsaved. I realize we're talking about more than merely your question. But I think it's good to have an overall picture of both sides, as much as we can glean of this mystery.
When David and Bathsheba's first child died, David knew that he had gone to a -good- place, and David expected to ultimately join him. (2Sam12:23) Jesus spoke of "Abraham's bosom". (Lk16:22) Jesus was speaking to Jews. God and the Kingdom of Heaven is that which pertains to the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob". (Mt8:11, Ex3:6) Thus, it was natural for Him to refer to the patriarch, Abraham, and where he had gone when he died; having been made righteous when he "believed God". (Gen15:6, Rom4:3)
What kind of place was/is that? Well, it was obviously opposite of the torments the rich man was experiencing across that wide chasm that separated them. In Rev6:9 it speaks of "..under the altar the souls of those having been slain.." They were given robes. But they were also instructed that they would "rest" a bit longer. (vs11)
When 1Th4:14 speaks of those "who have fallen asleep through Jesus", many teach a doctrine of "soul sleep". I certainly don't know all of what they teach. But Scripture certainly seems to indicate something different than an unconscious state, like Eccl ch9 is often interpreted as of there being "nothing" beyond this life. Those under the altar are consciously asking about retribution for their deaths. And Abraham -communicates- with the rich man.
That "altar" in Rev ch6 is in "Heaven" in God's presence. Jesus promised the dying thief that he would be "in Paradise" (Lk23:43). If he died on the same day Jesus did, that was prior to Jesus' resurrection, and subsequent 'first installment' of the "first resurrection" (Mt27:52-53) It would appear, again, that there is a synonymity between "Heaven", "Paradise", "under the altar" and "Abraham's bosom".
If we look at a typical "sleep" passage like 1Th4:14 the word indicates a state of "calm and quiet". A related Greek word speaks of "reclining and taking rest". One of the things Jesus promises those who come to Him is "rest for your souls" (Mt11:29) as opposed to the turmoils and struggles of this sin-ridden earthly existence. The promise for those who die for Christ's sake is "rest from their labors". (Rev14:13)
So, there is obviously a lot of mystery to the answer to your question. Much we don't know. We know enough to know that we are with the Lord in soul and spirit. "..and we are pleased rather to go away from home out of the body, and to come home to the Lord." (2Cor5:8) "For me to live is Christ, and to died is gain...having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better" (Phil1:21,23b)
The bodies decay because "flesh and blood" (bodies) cannot "inherit the kingdom of God" (1Cor15:50). So, our bodies die, and our souls/spirits go to be with the Lord. How or where that happens, that is part of that -not-yet-visible- "hope" for which we live "by faith". But at the resurrection, the Lord unites those who have been "at rest" with their new glorified bodies...which Paul discusses in 1Cor15. And those who are united with new resurrection bodies experience their blessing before the ones "living and believing into [Christ]" at the time He comes, who "shall not ever die forever" (Jn11:26), are "caught up to meet" them "in the air". (1Th4:17)
Right now, until we get there, we are not meant to know details. Again, we "walk by faith, not by sight". (2Cor5:7) But for the "good and faithful slave", the welcome is, "Enter into the joy of your Lord." (Mt25:21,23) That's all we need to know, for now.
Dead in Christ... "asleep"?
Is this interpretation merely a way to comfort those who are concerned about dying prior to Rapture?? Thankyou for your help.
If death were a permanent condition, there is no resurrection. While we are on this earth of corruption, all we 'see' is these bodies. (1Cor15) We are not able to see the spirit. (Jn3:8) And what we see of these bodies at death is that they rot away into "nothingness". Back "to dust".
So yes, when we realize that the "dead in Christ" (1Th4:16b) rise first, we realize that death was merely -like- "sleep" from which, in terms we understand now in this state of corruption, we "wake up". That's what the whole incident with Lazarus was about...the resurrection. Death is not permanent, but we rise again. There -is- something after death. Thus, when a Believer dies, we can "comfort one another" (1Th4:18) with this truth.
And then, to answer your opening question, Paul does express that when we leave these bodies at death, that we go to "be with the Lord", to "be with Christ". (2Cor5:8, Phil1:23)