Setting the world right, both now and in the future
When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray Jesus suggested a prayer to them. We call it the Lord’s Prayer, but it’s not really the Lord’s, it’s ours. It is a model given by Jesus for how we should pray. Most of us can recite it by heart, yet I’m not sure that was how Jesus meant it to be used. Jesus didn’t say, “Pray in these words.” He said, “Pray in this manner.”
It begins suggesting our prayers should always honour God and bring glory to his name, it then quickly moves to three short words full of meaning, “Your Kingdom Come.”
Throughout the gospels Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew) more than anything else. It is the dominant theme of his ministry, but despite it being so prevalent and clearly about God’s rule and sovereignty, interestingly Jesus never clearly defines what it looks like. Rather than giving us a clear definition he chooses to describe it through hints, analogies, parables, and images.
He says, among many things, that the Kingdom of God appears as something small and insignificant that grows silently before yielding a great harvest (Mark 4:26-29). However, it involves a great deal of wasted seed as much is sown that fails to take root (Mark 4:1-9). The Kingdom of God is also like a large fishing net dragged through the water gathering everything in its path, good and bad, useful and useless (Matthew 13:47-50). It is also like a paddock sown with wheat but is riddled with weeds. Yet contrary to good farming practice, the farmer leaves the weeds growing alongside the wheat until harvest (Matthew 13:24-30). The Kingdom of God is like a rich person who leaves town and places his property in charge of his servants (Mark 13:34-36) or a businessperson who sells everything just to gain it (Matthew 13:44-46).
Now but not yet
We could go on with many more images that Jesus used to illustrate the point—the Kingdom of God is something that is difficult to explain and even more difficult to understand and see. His stories suggest that the kingdom is here, but not quite. It is surprising and unexpected, yet playful and intriguing; it is threatening and reassuring; very real yet equally elusive. It is a bit like standing on your head and seeing the world upside down.
So when we pray, “Your kingdom come” what are we praying for? I don’t think Jesus was giving a pious plea to be offered in the hope that someday, somehow it might be answered and achieved. In fact, it is important to note that in the original Greek this sentence is a command. We are to pray it not just as a request to God, but as a command to God!
This is quite provocative. The idea of instructing God to do anything no doubt offends you in much the same way it does me. Yet this is what Jesus taught his disciples to do. Try praying, “Your kingdom come!” as a command to God; it doesn’t come easy does it.
What is easier for us is to pray that God would rescue us from mess of this world and whisk us away to join him in eternal bliss in heaven. Yet the Lord’s Prayer gives no hint of this. Jesus goes on to suggest we command that, “Your will be done here on earth as in heaven.” We are not to pray that we be taken from earth, but rather command that heaven, where the Kingdom of God is totally at work, comes here to earth.
The focus of “Your Kingdom Come” is not us, but the world we live in. It should be translated “Set the world aright,” says British Bible scholar N.T. Wright. To “set the world aright” means to make the world a better place. This is what Jesus is calling us to pray and not surprisingly it was the central to his work also. Seeing the Kingdom come here on earth was so much part of the ministry of Jesus that he was sentenced and put to death as a social activist wanting to set the world aright.
Ever since Jesus first taught this prayer, it has been prayed millions of times by millions of people around the world. Each time, it is an instruction for the rule of God to be brought to this planet. Each time it is a call to God to bring justice and peace to planet earth. Each time, God is pleased to answer and bring more of his rule to individuals, families, communities, cities and nations. One day it will culminate in the Kingdom of God coming in all its fullness here on earth as it is in heaven.
Let’s keep praying for God’s Kingdom to come on earth, across all facets of time and place.
Stephen L Baxter