“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Sometimes people pray a version of the Star Trek prayer to Scottie: “Beam me up.” Many people think our job is to get my afterlife destination taken care of, then tread water till we all get ejected and God comes back and torches this place. But Jesus never told anybody—neither his disciples nor us—to pray, “Get me out of here so I can go up there.” His prayer was, “Make up there come down here.” Make things down here run the way they do up there.
Jesus told us to pray, “Bring heaven down here.” We begin with our body, our mind, our appetites. Then it spreads to the office, our family, our neighborhood, our church, our country.
God doesn’t reveal himself to us just to make us happy or to deliver us from loneliness. He also comes to us so that we can in turn be conduits of his presence to other people. He invites us to join him in making things down here the way they are up there.
This news is the best news the human race has ever heard. It is not just good news for the world around us; it is good news for us. Psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
This is maybe the most dangerous, exciting, life-altering prayer a human being can pray: “God, make up there come down here.” Every time you pray it, your life becomes Beth-el, the place where God dwells, and the “with-God” life breaks through the hedge.
A Place to Start
Start by asking yourself this question: “Where do I want to see God’s presence and power break into my world? Where would I especially like God to use me to make things down here run the way they do up there?”
Jesus didn’t just come to pierce the hedge that separates God from human beings. He came to tear down the hedges of fear and suspicion and bitterness that separate human beings from each other. In Paul’s day, the big hedge was the one that separated Jewish people from Gentiles. But Jesus, Paul said, “made the two one, and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. . . . through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
“God, make up there come down here.” Three women from the church I serve prayed this prayer one day. They were on a women’s retreat, but they were playing hooky from a session that was being taught by my wife, and they started dreaming together about being “kingdom-bringers.” Eventually they came to one of our pastors, called “J.D.,” and told him about their dreams.
“What do you want to do?” he asked. They told him they wanted to save all the babies in Africa.
J. D. told them that was kind of big for a starter project, so would they be willing to begin by trying to spend a day helping out an under-resourced school?
So the women started to pray: “God, make up there come down here for this little school in East Palo Alto.” In our area, one of the big hedges is the Route 101 freeway that separates East Palo Alto from Palo Alto. Palo Alto is the home of Stanford University and Silicon Valley; it was listed recently in Forbes magazine as the number one area in the world to live in if you want to get rich. East Palo Alto is an under-resourced community right next door; a few years ago it led the nation in murders per capita.
This group of women schemed and prayed and planned and came up with a challenge: How about having one thousand people from our church give up a day to plant trees and tile floors and paint murals at this school?
I didn’t think there was any way we could get a thousand people to do this, but I said I would announce it and see what happens. We ended up having to cut off sign-ups at twelve hundred people because we couldn’t handle any more volunteers. The best part was watching God present and at work in ways none of us could have planned.
A young coed was visiting our church from college and heard about this plan. Not only did she want to come, but when she went back to school and told her sorority, they wanted to come too. So we ended up with over a thousand people from our church—and thirty sorority sisters. This meant that scores of single young males suddenly felt God prompting them to serve also.
Some people were talking to an East Palo Alto city official about this at a Starbucks, and he told the store manager, “You ought to donate enough coffee for all these people on Saturday morning.”
And the Starbucks guy said, “Okay.”
The city official decided to go for broke: “You ought to deliver it too.”
And the Starbucks guy said, “Okay.”
The three women went to Home Depot. They had no titles or credentials, just a conviction that God would help them bring up there to down here. They told the Home Depot guy what they were up to, and then said: “We need $10,000 worth of equipment. We don’t have any money for this—you ought to just donate it.”
And the Home Depot guy said, “Okay.”
So they got $10,000 worth of material free.
They were talking to a woman who doesn’t attend the church. By now you can fill in the conversational details by yourself: the school ended up getting $20,000 worth of playground material for free.
For a whole day there was music blaring and balloons flying and five-year-olds serving next to eighty-five-year-olds and people working together from churches of every stripe and ethnicity. It was the single most joyous day I have seen a church have. Those of us who served were blessed far beyond those we offered services to. And it was because of a single prayer: “Help us make up there come down here.”
These three women have actually adopted a mission statement for their friendship that leaves the mission statements I have seen for most churches and corporations all behind: “To identify our neighbors’ greatest needs, and surprise our church into hilarious giving by providing impact-full, totally happenin’ and celebratory opportunities to serve.”
Ortberg, John. 2009. God Is Closer than You Think. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
We have just completed a 10-Part Study of John Ortberg’s book, God Is Closer Than Your Think. It is available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Lesson Subscription Service. It is also available on Amazon