In this series, we read Scripture together with Blumhardt (1842 – 1919), a theologian, evangelist, and pastor who inspired Barth, Bonhoeffer, and Moltmann.
I call upon you, O Lord; come quickly to me;
give ear to my voice when I call to you.
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. (Psalm 141:1-2, NRSV).
As Christians we ought to sigh night and day: “Give ear to my voice when I call to you.” We can have no greater happiness than to know that our voice is heard in heaven. But this is not automatic.
I am often astonished at how easily people take for granted that God will hear them. They seem to assume that whenever we on earth open our mouths and hold forth, the Lord of heaven must pay us the compliment of listening. But you will not find that idea anywhere in the Bible; it is heathen. In this, pagans are no different than many Christians in believing that our worldly fuss is heard in heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it costs a real struggle before we reach the point where we can say, “My voice is heard in heaven.”
Of course, it is true that God certainly hears the unceasing drone of lament which comes from the world – the constant murmuring, groaning, and moaning of humankind. But it is one thing for my sighing to be heard along with all the universal sighing, and something else again if my voice is heard directly in heaven – that is, if my prayer “rises like incense” and my hands are “lifted up as an evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2).
This can happen only if I am “at home” in heaven in the sense spoken of in the Revelation of John, which gives the image of lamps in heaven that are always burning for the churches and their angels (Rev. 1:12-20). But if my lamp is extinguished, I will no longer be heard in this way; I will again be part of the general bustle of humankind.
Far too many Christians do not understand this. Today we have a religion in which each person rattles off his or her prayers, standing separate and proudly aloof from other believers – something that would never have occurred to Christians in the time of the apostles. I wish for everyone – and especially for pastors – that they would realize that prayer is not as easy as they think. Our voice will not be heard in heaven unless we have an organic relationship with heaven, from God through the Savior, and unless we have an organic relationship to a church of Jesus Christ. Such a church is present wherever there are two or more believers with whom Jesus can do what he wishes (Matt. 18:20). Such believers are constantly surrendered to God’s will, rather than insisting on their own; they humbly serve others, enduring all things, giving themselves to toil and drudgery in service to their fellows. I tell you, our voice will not be heard unless this happens (1 Pet. 3:7).
But people resist this kind of prayer. They imagine that they are already saints in heaven, rather than reflecting that what God needs are people here on earth who are heard in heaven. The Bible speaks of only a very few men and women who were so focused on God in heart and soul that their prayers were heard. The concept that one person’s prayer is as good as anyone else’s is simply not true. Sometimes the most diabolical people will go into a prayer meeting and insist that God must now listen to them. Should the dear Lord listen to devils? They live like heathen and still presume to pray. Will such unclean prayers be heard in heaven? I would not count on it.
Yet our prayers can be heard – if we become as little children (Matt. 18:3) and seek the kingdom of God with all our hearts (Matt. 6:33). If we do this together with other believers, an organism will be formed, not outwardly, but from within (Luke 17:21). All people, no matter who they are, can join in this: those who are the least important and poorest, all who want to stand with the Savior and live for the kingdom of God. Then, when we pray, we will experience a sudden certainty that our prayer is rising upward (Matt. 18:19-20).
When this happens, our voice is heard by God, and it’s not necessary to keep on praying endlessly. We will then no longer need the formal, ritualistic kind of praying in which we try to squeeze something from God as if with a vice (Matt. 6:7-8). No! We will know how to pray as necessary, and heaven will hear us as necessary and reply.
But for our prayers to be heard, something is demanded of us. We must utterly lose our independence of God; we must become his slaves (Acts 16:17). We can no longer do what we want (Luke 22:42). Self-will ceases utterly with people whose voice is heard in heaven.
It must be our desire and request for this to happen to us. To pray this way together, it is not necessary for us to be alike in all respects. But let us ask God that many people all over the world may have lamps in heaven (Rev. 1), so that through the Spirit of Christ powers from on high may blaze up in a distinctive and mighty way. To be sure, even then we will still have struggles and temptations. We will always remain poor sinners who often cannot shout for joy but must rather endure many difficulties in body and soul. For our prayers to be heard, everything in our lives must be judged; we cannot shield out anything. Yet if just a little power of the Spirit would spring up, this would find acceptance in the kingdom of God.
Praise God, we do experience something of this power welling up in our life together. We should not brag about it, but must always long that it become stronger. We must long that our voice may count for more before God, so that we may fulfill the many tasks he has given his followers on earth (cf. Matt. 28:16-20). Let us do this this in the strength of the Almighty, of Jesus Christ who is Lord, before whom every knee must bow (Phil. 2:9-11; Isa. 45:23). For we can be sure of this: however evil the world is, in the end everything will have to bow down to Jesus Christ. Amen.
From Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, Jesus ist Sieger!: 1880 – 1888 (Zurich: Rotapfel Verlag, 1937), no. 68, trans. Jörg Barth and Renate Barth, © 2013 The Plough Publishing House.