As we gather and pray on each Lord’s Day, it is as if the veil that separates our life on Earth from the blessings of our loved ones in heaven is thinned. Our prayers, our songs, our hearing of God’s Word read and preached, and our reception of the sacraments give us grace and bring us closer to that blessing for which we long and which our brother and sisters in heaven begin to enjoy.
One thinks of the oddest things while driving to church.
One recent Sunday on my morning drive to services I had an unusually strange thought. The saints in heaven worship God and pray to God. If they pray, would they perhaps pray using the Lord’s Prayer, which our Savior taught to us while on Earth?
The strict answer is, of course, that we do not know what precise prayers they pray or by what form of words. But on as I pondered on the roadway, I realized the question of the applicability of the Lord’s Prayer in heaven was in fact quite edifying and interesting.
It is very common, when discussing the experience of those who have died, to mix our own speculations in with the teachings of scripture. As in many other areas of doctrine, it is good to remember, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV) What has actually been revealed of the nature of God’s blessings to his people after death is limited, but glorious. To add to them would be like a child gluing tinsel and glitter onto exquisite works of gold and gems, and with as good of taste. We are not yet the sanctified souls that we will be in Heaven, and we are further still from the glorious perfection that we will enjoy after the resurrection.
What do we know about these future glories? We know that for the Christian “to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Philippians 1:21), because “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:8) The greatest blessing of Heaven, starting from the moment of death, is a profound and direct fellowship with Christ. As Samuel Rutherford wrote, “[Christ] is all Heaven and more than all Heaven.” This is the great Sabbath rest of God’s people, the first stage of the eternal blessedness.
That blessedness is great indeed, yet for those dead in Christ the day of fullness is still to come. We know that they along with us “wait eagerly for … the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23) Our Lord Jesus Christ has not yet returned to make a final end to sin and death. Until that day, suffering rules on Earth and death still claims all. Sin has not yet been fully vanquished. God’s justice is still not fulfilled visibly. No wonder that Revelation shows the martyrs in heaven pray, “how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:10) Heaven, as the intermediate place between death and Christ’s return, is therefore a place of blessed anticipation. For the saints in heaven faith has not yet been fully made sight, and hope has not yet fully become present enjoyment. Though far happier than us on earth, our brothers and sisters in heaven also await the final fulfillment God’s plan of salvation.
We also know that the saints in heaven worship God. This is shown in the vision of the heavenly throne room in Revelation. Who- or whatever the elders are surrounding the throne of God, they join angels and archangels in the cries of “holy, holy, holy” and “worthy is the Lamb.” And, as we have seen, the saints under the altar make their own prayers to God for justice. Indeed, our Lord Jesus himself prays for us before the Father in heaven (Romans 8:34). Heaven is full of the glory of God, and therefore it is filled with the proper responses to His glory, including praise and prayer.
So, what then of the prayer that our Lord Jesus taught us? How would it apply to the prayers of saints in heaven, no longer burdened with the cares and temptations of this life? To answer, let us look at each part of that prayer in turn, following the divisions in the Westminster Larger Catechism.