Looking up to Heaven.

A friend (who kept chickens as pets) told me a profound observation: “If a chicken starts to look towards the skies, it’s a sign that the chicken is going to die.”

He was speaking about a condition called wry necks or stargazing chicken which is a disease.[1]

I was also reading John 17 at that time. John 17 is about Jesus’ longest prayer just before his imminent death on the Cross[2]. John 17 verse 1 starts with Jesus who “looked towards heaven” as he prayed.

Also, Acts 17:55 records that Stephen just before he was stoned to death, “Looked up to heaven” and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

“Oh oh, is this looking towards heaven a sign of impending death?” I thought to myself.

I know in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. But really, who wants to face persecution and die a martyr?

Yet to skip those passages or to gloss over them is a real tragedy as they contain deep truths. So, I did more research. And I came across a very interesting article in Catholic Daily Reflections May 28, 2020. It’s short and sweet. It reads:

“Lifting His Eyes to Heaven…What a great phrase! As Jesus lifted His eyes to Heaven, He prayed to His father in Heaven. This act, of lifting His eyes, reveals one unique aspect of the presence of the Father. It reveals that the Father is transcendent. “Transcendent” means that the Father is above all and beyond all. The world cannot contain Him. So, in speaking to the Father, Jesus begins with this gesture by which He acknowledges the transcendence of the Father.

But we must also note the immanence of the Father’s relationship with Jesus. By “immanence”[3] we mean that the Father and Jesus are united as one. Their relationship is one that is profoundly personal in nature.

What the writer showed me was the duality, even paradoxical nature of God: God is both transcendent (beyond me) yet God is immanent, God with us, Emmanuel.

Those concepts appear conflicting but in Christianity transcendence and immanence come together. So, when we pray, we seek a God that is all powerful, beyond our comprehension but is knowable. He knows us intimately and wants to be known[4] He is Our Creator, Our Father and friend.

However, martyrdom still sits uncomfortably with me and I cannot relate to Jesus or Stephen on that level. Is there another person that also looked towards heaven? And what was his response?

Strangely enough, another person who raised his eyes toward heaven was none other than the evil dictator King Nebuchadnezzar. In the Book of Danie,l Chapter 4. King Nebuchadnezzar is a wicked King, extremely proud of his achievements.

At the peak of his power, God judged him and stripped him of his royal authority. He was driven to madness. The Bible says Nebuchadnezzar “ate grass like cattle, his body drenched with dew until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.”

One day Nebuchadnezzar “raised his eyes towards heaven” and his sanity was restored. Then He started to praise God. He said …

“Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives forever,

His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation; All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him “What have you done.?”

I opine that Nebuchadnezzar saw the transcendence and immanence of God, He saw a God that was powerful with eternal attributes, yet personal and involved in the affairs of men. He humbled himself. He had to put to death his pride, his ego, in order to draw close to God. Only then did his sanity return and he became a complete person.

From these observations, I postulate that these 3 factors all come together. In order for us to experience the presence of God we need to know with our heart, mind and soul:

(a)        The transcendence of God, that He is larger than us;

(b)        The immanence of our loving Father who knows us and wants to be known to us;

(c)        Death to our pride, our ego; a dying to self. Only when we are ready to let go of our false self will we find our true self; we will truly come alive and receive the promise of eternal life. Just as Jesus said:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul…[5]

Besides the certainty of death and taxes, in this life there will be trouble and suffering. When trouble and suffering sets in, it robs us of our peace, and we may face great anxieties and fear. These anxieties seem overwhelming and we feel that we are standing precariously on the edge of insanity. Our identities, our sense of who we are, are shaken to the core.

I have experienced that too, when my worst fears came true. During that time, I took long walks alone in the parks. As I looked towards heaven, I saw miles of air, sky, sun, and clouds above me. Someone bigger than myself – the transcendent God. And I clung onto the promises that God is Emmanuel, God with me (even though I often didn’t feel that way). I learnt to pray, to let go and let God, And sanity prevailed. Glory be to God!  I am still learning.

Thus, looking towards heaven is a sign of death, death to self. But it is also a promise of eternal life. May we all experience the presence of God.

[1] Stargazing is a term that refers to a condition where a chick is unable to hold its head upright. Instead, the head of the chick flops backward and rests upon its back, giving the impression that the chick is looking at the sky, or stargazing. How to treat a stargazing chicken – jaguzafarm.com

[2] This prayer is termed the Farewell Prayer or High priestly prayer.

[3] In that article the writer printed “imminence”. I believe that this is a typo. And should read “immanence” meaning (from Latin, immanere “to dwell in , remain”) Britannica

[4] Divine Transcendence and Immanence an essay by John M Frame – the gospelcoalition. Org/ essay/ divine – transcendence- immanence.”

[5] Matt 16:24- 25

6 thoughts on “Looking up to Heaven.”

  1. This is a very good sermon, well researched and meaningful. It would touch many people deeply. It certainly touched me, especially reading this on Father’s Day. Thank you.

  2. I experience His presence this morning as I warmed myself in the suns rays and watched it dancing on the expansive ocean before me. With worship songs in my ear pods, I felt peace returning to my soul. This must be what the writer is teaching us ! Thank you Tammy.

  3. Very interesting and thought provoking article! I read it twice in order to take it in. It helped me to face the truth that God might call me to be a martyr. Will I chicken out? After reading this article I felt reassured that God is with me always, He is reachable n His perfect love casts out all fear. I also am more enthusiastic about dying to self, since it will result in more intimacy with God

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