A matter for much prayer at the minute is our pursuit of a new visa. Perhaps these words will not carry much meaning for some but for anyone who has taken up residence in a country where they were not born, they are significant. Perhaps if you have done so, you have had a chance to reflect on how being born in a nation makes you an incontrovertible part of it. You belong to it and thus it belongs to you. All the rights and privileges of a citizen, a fully-invested member, are yours as a matter of course. No one may contest your right to be–and to stay–present.
Not so the immigrant. Somehow permission must be obtained: not just the right of entry, but the right to remain. Dwelling rights, regularly renewable—must be yours. There are papers, fees, and processes that must be engaged in and outcomes are ever uncertain. We last engaged in this process last spring, leaving, as we thought, adequate time to receive our first visa before we departed the home shores on July 22. But these things do not always (ever?) go according to plan. Our visas did not arrive. A few days before we left Boston we learned they were stuck on a desk in New York. With our passports. Thus rendering our impending (and expensive) departure for Asia impossible. There were prayers and heart-burnings and many, many phone calls. In the end Alex drove to New York and was able to pick up our passports and visas (probably with the ink still wet) and drive all the way back again, thus missing the last day with his family. At three o’clock the next morning, we headed to the airport and left the country.
It was during that time that my scheduled Bible reading happened to be Psalm 87. When I read it, I could not believe it. Who knew that a Visa Psalm was in the Bible?! I could not remember ever reading of entry rights and dwelling rights before—but it’s there. It’s about the citizenship everybody’s trying to get and the only one that really counts: citizenship in the city of God.
1 On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
2 the LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
3 Glorious things of you are spoken,
O city of God.
Have we pondered of late what glorious things are spoken of the city of God? Could this be real: “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away . . . behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:2-5). Are we ready to be done with the dark yet? Are we ready to be done with tears and death and brokenness? How can that even be true, says my mind. The next thing he says: “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” How do we get a visa for that city? Who has the dwelling rights in that one?
4 Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—
‘This one was born there,’ they say.
Is that a typo? The list of nations that know this city is a list of the enemies of God’s people. Rahab is a recognized term for Egypt and Tyre was a Canaanite city. What are they doing in Zion? And they are claiming full citizenship—“This one was born there.” In the psalm that comes right before this one it says this: “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name” (Ps. 86:9). But how do they get in? How do we get in?
As it happens, the visa-granting process to the kingdom of God is simple. It’s simple because no one needs one. Every single citizen of the city of God was born there.
5 And of Zion it shall be said,
‘This one and that one were born in her’;
for the Most High himself will establish her.
6 The LORD records as he registers the peoples,
“This one was born there.’
O the greatness and beauty of the incredible mercy of our God! I read this and I can see him, writing each beloved name in indelible ink with a flourish, his countenance broadly smiling with satisfaction as he changes the birth records of humanity. You—you, were born here. The full rights of citizenship are incontestably yours. There are no processes, or papers. There are no fees. Permission needn’t be obtained and re-obtained for you, you’re a native.
But you weren’t born there, cries our accuser. You were born in the dark.
Oh, that was the first time, we say. I’ve been born again.
7 Singers and dancers alike say,
‘All my springs are in you.’
Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
he whose word cannot be broken
formed thee for his own abode;
on the Rock of Ages founded,
what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
thou may’st smile at all thy foes.
See! the streams of living waters,
spring from eternal love,
well supply thy sons and daughters
and all fear of want remove.
Who can faint, when such a river
ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace which, like the Lord, the Giver,
never fails from age to age.