Prayer #10: Praying for the End of the World

For I will create new heavens and a new earth;
the past events will not be remembered or come to mind.
Then be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I will create Jerusalem to be a joy
and its people to be a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem
and be glad in my people.
The sound of weeping and crying
will no longer be heard in her.
In her, a nursing infant will no longer live
only a few days,
or an old man not live out his days.
Indeed, the one who dies at a hundred years old
will be mourned as a young man,
and the one who misses a hundred years
will be considered cursed.
People will build houses and live in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They will not build and others live in them;
they will not plant and others eat.
For my people’s lives will be
like the lifetime of a tree.
My chosen ones will fully enjoy
the work of their hands.
They will not labor without success
or bear children destined for disaster,
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord
along with their descendants.
Even before they call, I will answer;
while they are still speaking, I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like cattle,
but the serpent’s food will be dust!
They will not do what is evil or destroy
on my entire holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

Isaiah 65:17-25

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”

Revelation 21:1-5a

Think about all the things about this world that you want God to change. What are some of those things? Be as specific as you can. The Bible teaches us that one day God is going to finish what he started. That Jesus is going to return is an essential truth of our faith. How does knowing Jesus is coming back affect our prayers? Think about the Lord’s Prayer. What does it mean to pray “Your kingdom come”? What are we asking God to do?

We shouldn’t only be praying for concerns in the here and now. Actually, even praying for concerns in the here and now shows that we don’t want things to be or remain as they are. When we pray about all the problems around us, we are reminded of all the ways the world is broken by sin. I think Scripture teaches us to pray for the end of the world! The question is, what does that mean?

Our passage from Isaiah says: For I will create a new heaven and a new earth. Throughout Isaiah Israel and the nations are judged. But there is also this hope of God doing something new woven throughout that increases and grows more powerful as the book goes on. Similar to what we read in Isaiah, Revelation 21:1 says: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.

The question is: what will life in the new heaven and new earth include? In Isaiah 65 we see: Israel’s sin and judgement will no longer come to mind (v. 17); an end to grief and death (v. 19—20); a reversal of the curse on the ground (v. 21—22); and intimate and uninterrupted relationship with our God (v. 23—24).

How does this make a difference to our prayers? First, we can pray with hope. How? Look at what our passage from Isaiah says. I will create a new heaven and a new earth. I will create. God is going to do this. He keeps his promises. He can be trusted. We can have hope that he will do what he says. In other words, being people of prayer means not being a despairing people. Second, we can pray with perseverance. We can keep on praying Your kingdom come. Somehow in his providence God answers our prayers. They make a difference. Third, we can pray with joy, because God will do what he says. In Isaiah the Lord says: Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; I will create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people. Does anyone know what the last prayer in the Bible is? In Revelation 22:20, Jesus says Yes, I am coming soon. And then we have the last prayer in the Bible, Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

When you pray that a sick loved one get better, remember that praying for the end of the world means praying that God will once and for all get rid of sickness and disease.

When you pray that God will comfort you or others who are struggling with grief, remember that praying for the end of the world means praying that God will one day rid the world of grief and death.

When you pray for those who suffer from chronic conditions, different kinds of ongoing pain, or mental health issues like anxiety and depression, remember that praying for the end of the world means praying that God will eliminate every sort of pain.

When you pray about issues of violence and injustice—like war, sex trafficking, racism, poverty—remember that praying for the end of the world means praying that one day the wolf and the lamb will feed together, that one day God will reconcile all things.

And when you pray out of a deep longing for human connection and for a deeper walk with God, remember that praying for the end of the world means praying that one day God will dwell with his people forever in uninterrupted fellowship.

All this is possible because of Christ. Colossians 1:19—20: For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ], and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. This vision of reconciliation is something we also see in Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:26 says: For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.When Christ died on the cross and was raised from the dead, he not only procured personal salvation for those who trust in him, he also defeated the principalities and powers, he defeated evil and suffering, and he defeated death.

If we want to be a part of what God is going to do at the return of Jesus, we have to put our hope and faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus now. This is also why we pray that God will change the hearts and minds of those who have yet to confess Christ as Lord and Savior. While it’s true we can never fully know the hearts of other people, or what exactly God is doing in their lives, this should only encourage us to pray more fervently and passionately for people around us—whether family, friends, or neighbours.

It’s not enough that someone says they believe in God, once went to Sunday school, went forward at an altar call years ago, was baptized, or even attended church. What matters is their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. What matters is whether or not they’ve heard and responded to the good news.

Praying for the end of the world also means praying for the church. Not only that believers would persevere in faith, hope, and love until the end to enjoy the fulfillment of the vision we see in Isaiah and Revelation, but that we would be a window to the good news and not an obstacle for those who right now do not believe.

Praying for the end of the world is to pray that God will do exactly what he’s promised to do. It’s to pray with a perspective that is larger than our own immediate circumstances. It’s also to pray knowing that by continuing to trust in the Lord Jesus—and to trust that he is going to return—that the worst we’ve done, known, and experienced can be redeemed. Praying for the end of the world ultimately means trusting in the power, grace, love, and sovereignty of our God revealed in the person of Jesus, that he will accomplish his purposes and keep his promises.

To conclude, I invite you to reflect upon a few verses of the hymn, “Thou Art Coming,” by Frances Ridley Havergal:

Thou art coming, O my Savior, 
Thou art coming, O my King, 
In Thy beauty all resplendent, 
In Thy glory all transcendent; 
Well may we rejoice and sing.

Thou art coming, Thou art coming; 
We shall meet Thee on Thy way, 
We shall see Thee, we shall know Thee, 
We shall bless Thee, we shall show Thee 
All our hearts could ever say: 

Thou art coming; at Thy table 
We are witnesses for this; 
While remembering hearts Thou meetest 
In communion clearest, sweetest, 
Earnest of our coming bliss. O the joy to see Thee reigning, 
Thee, my own beloved Lord! 
Every tongue Thy Name confessing, 
Worship, honor, glory, blessing 
Brought to Thee with glad accord.

There’s 12 More Days of Christmas!

When they saw the star, they were overwhelmed with joy. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:10-11

Years (and years!) ago my grandfather would always say right after Christmas dinner, “Christmas is now further away than ever!”

Calendrically, he was correct. The next December 25 is a full year away. Only 365 shopping days till the next Christmas!

But it’s not entirely true. After all, there are the 12 days of Christmas between December 25 and January 6. That’s where the well-known song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” comes from! And January 6 is what some used to call “Old Christmas.” Usually Christians refer to it as Epiphany, the day we acknowledge the appearance or revelation of the Christ child to the Gentiles in the biblical story of the magi honouring Jesus with their gifts.

That’s why we leave our tree and lights up until after New Year’s. Not because we’re lazy. And, yeah, we also enjoy the Christmas lights and like leaving them up for awhile longer. Actually, we’ll probably take the tree down but leave other lights up until the days get longer and the evenings are lighter.

So don’t think that Christmas is over. More, the story of Christmas—of the Son of God penetrating space and time to bring hope and healing to our broken, hurting world—is a story for any time of year, for 12 more days and beyond!

“Pain and delight flow together”

I’m closing in on the end of The Return of the King, and I have really enjoyed reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy again. When I last spent some time reading it, something in the text stood out. In the aftermath of the victory over Sauron and the forces of Mordor, there is a scene where a minstrel breaks out in song. Here is the description of the effect his singing had.

In the midst of the their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

After I read this, I read it again, so beautifully did Tolkien capture our experience that “pain and delight flow together.” In a very real sense, our moments of joy are all the more joyful because of the pain we’ve known. So closely connected are experiences of delight and suffering that we can scarcely understand or experience one without having experienced the other.

Putting it the other way round, C.S. Lewis speaks of the relationship between joy and suffering in this way:

The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

In this instance, he’s speaking of dealing with the loss of his wife Joy to cancer. Grief is often the result of joy and love we’ve known.

This is why Tolkien says that “tears are the very wine of blessedness.” In The Return of the King, evil has been defeated, but there have been deep and painful losses along the way. Even those who have survived the War of the Ring have been profoundly marked by their experience of it. Theirs is a joy tinged with sadness.

It goes without saying that this is true of us with our own experiences of grief and loss.

Of course, the end of The Lord of the Rings is not the end of the story of Middle-Earth. More grievous ills may well plague those who remain. I can’t say, because this is all the Tolkien I’ve read, save The Hobbit. But for us, the story does have an end. The book of Revelation describes a key part of it this way:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4

According to Scripture, therefore, a time is coming when God’s kingdom will arrive in its fullness, when the pain and loss we know in this life will indeed be overcome. Whether our experience of the new heaven and new earth will lack all remembrance of our earthly sorrows, I can’t say. But it seems altogether certain that even if we do have some such remembrances, the joy of being in the presence of God eternally will be so overwhelmingly profound and full that they will no longer be dampened by our tears.

Again, at the end of The Return of the King, Samwise meets Gandalf for the first time since the beloved wizard (seemingly) fell to his death in Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring. Upon seeing him, Sam bursts out, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” This is the promise–the sure hope–to which we are invited to cling, a hope made possible by the resurrection of the King, the Lord Jesus, and his eventual coming again. Echoing Samwise the hobbit, author Tim Keller once summarized all this wonderfully, when he said, “Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.”