Kingdom: Praying for the Kingdom on earth (Matthew 6:9b-13)
Prayer is a mystery to me on many levels. The most obvious has to do with the HOW of it, not the WHAT of it.
I know prayer to be conversations with our great God, Yahweh, through the merit and virtue of His Son, Jesus Christ, our King. But I don’t know HOW it works, exactly.
I know we humans are to ask Almighty God to do things, that we are to ask according to His will (1 John 5:14), and that He promises that the prayer made in faith will garner incredible response from God (1 John 5:15). But I don’t understand HOW that instruction fits within the sovereign purpose and plan of God.
We are taught that our prayers, made in faith, according to His will, change things… but how that can be true when we are asking of the immutable, eternal God who is perfect in all His ways? I’m not sure.
But I pray all the same. I pray both because I want to participate with God in what He’s doing in this world (prayer for Kingdom work), and because my King instructs me to do so.
Those two things meet in the passage under consideration today, Matthew 6:7-13.
CONTEXT OF THE PASSAGE
Chapter 6 is part of the greater teaching we refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount,” which is not what we think of as a sermon at all (see my explanation a few posts back).
In this section, Jesus is teaching His 12 disciples more of what it means to be a citizen of His Kingdom. To this point in the life of Jesus, everything He’s taught has turned tradition and convention upside down. It’s not that He’s being contrary or that He’s trying to blow their minds, it’s that the Jews of His day had lots of things twisted around in their thinking. Jesus is instructing His disciples for the purpose of setting them straight.
Nobody will function effectively and in the spirit of an organizations purpose (pardon me for comparing to the Kingdom of God to an “organization”) if they don’t have a clear grasp of what that purpose is. They won’t do their work, interact with co-workers, or produce desired outcomes according to organizational values, if they don’t know what those values are.
If I haven’t said it so far in this Kingdom series, I’ll make it clear now; this teaching is a mindset reset for the 12 disciples. Jesus wanted them to understand the nature of the Kingdom He came to establish.
This section of the Sermon on the Mount addresses the function and role of prayer as it pertains to the Kingdom of heaven.
None of the disciples would have been surprised for Jesus to bring up prayer. They considered Him a rabbi/teacher (John 1:49, and many others). In verse five, He warns against prayer that lifts up the one doing the praying. Such prayer is not being done for the sake of the Kingdom, but rather for the notice and attention of people. This kind of prayer defeats the purpose of praying. Private, sincere prayer is more aligned with Kingdom values.
Jesus also instructs (verse 7-8) about the vocabulary they are to use in prayer. Prayer doesn’t need to be fancy, nor does it need to be complicated. Jesus emphasizes that prayer is an engagement with a caring, all-knowing Father, so our best efforts at impressing or manipulating Him are in vain.
This brings us to Jesus’ recommended prayer model. I call it that because that is what it is. He begins verse nine with the phrase, “Pray then like this…”
We must pay close attention that word “like” – we are not being given a rote prayer or mantra, we are given a pattern that demonstrates the types of things to pray about, the general topics that Kingdom citizens are to pray about. Jesus’ model prayer also demonstrates the tone that is to be characteristic of our prayers.
PRAYER FOR THE KINGDOM
Jesus’ prayer model begins with an acknowledgement of our heavenly Father’s place of honor over all things, then immediately points to the existence and ultimate goal of the Kingdom of heaven. There is a load of insight to be gained from this simple prayer pattern, but in light of the Kingdom-focus of this study series, our focus today will be on the second sentence…
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
First, we should notice that the Kingdom of heaven is the Kingdom of our Father and God, Yahweh. That is BIG Kingdom, and powerful! I’m immediately reminded of Revelation 11, where loud voices in heaven exclaim…
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.
This declaration in Heaven happens as a result of a seventh trumpet being blown. The previous six trumpets brought various judgments upon the inhabitants of the earth. This one, the seventh, initiates a heavenly worship service, with this declaration of God’s Kingdom overcoming all earthly kingdoms being the statement that prompts the worship.
Jesus’ prayer model is pointing to THAT day, the one John saw in his Heavenly vision, recorded in Revelation 11, the time when “the kingdoms of this world” become “the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ.”
Here is what Jesus is getting at: We, as Kingdom citizens, are instructed to pray for that day to come. We are to ask the Lord to make the circumstances of our lives and the outcome of our actions each day to be done according to His Kingdom’s ways.
Simply put, we are asking the King to establish His Kingdom on this earth.
WHERE AND WHEN IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN?
noThough the name “Kingdom of heaven” could give us the idea that we are talking about things that are spiritual in nature, it’s clear that’s not what Jesus is instructing us to pray for — He makes a distinction between that possibility and what He really means when He says, “on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will, which we must assume is done perfectly in heaven, is what we are asking Him to bring to earth.
It’s real-time human history He had in mind. Our prayers should be asking God to do His will perfectly here, now, and every day. The more that prayer is answered and God’s will is done on this earth, the more the Kingdom of heaven is being realized and implemented on the earth.
I can’t see this as anything but the real existence of the Kingdom of heaven ON the earth and that it is expected to be progressing, growing, advancing in actual human history. Why else would we be instructed to pray that it (the Kingdom) would come “on earth” and that God’s will as King would be done “on earth, as it is in heaven?”
If this is true, it means that Jesus is already reigning as King now.
We are not looking toward or praying for a future day when the Kingdom will sweep in and overtake everything. He is seated on His throne now, in fulfillment of His promise in Luke 22:69 and its parallel passage in Matthew 26:64. If you don’t recall what’s going on there, that’s when Jesus told the chief priests and scribes who presided over His trial that “from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” He’s talking about something that was just about to commence in THEIR DAY.
This idea coincides with what Paul communicates in Colossians 3:1. When speaking of OUR position “in Christ,” Paul tells us that Jesus “is seated at the right hand of God.” The writer of Hebrews confirms the same thing, that Jesus “is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
The idea of Jesus being our present-day King should not be a shock to modern-day Christians. We have long referred to Jesus as King in various contexts and believe that He reigns over all things. But to go the next step and admit what this model prayer demonstrates, that the Kingdom of heaven is already present, active, and growing on the earth is not common at all.
Christians believe that the Kingdom of heaven is coming, one day, in the future, not that it is already here and that we, as Kingdom citizens, are to be actively working and praying for its advancement.
THE IRONY OF HOW WE PRAY
It’s not a stretch to suggest that the “Lord’s Prayer” (this model prayer we’ve been considering) is one of the most-quoted passages of scripture. It’s surely at the very least, one of the most-repeated prayers in church history. From Catholics to Protestants, we’ve made it part of our liturgy and religious practice.
But it’s ironic that the meaning of the prayer has escaped us.
Rather than thinking that we are asking God to advance His Kingdom in the present-day, we’ve viewed the Kingdom-oriented request of the prayer as a “sometime in the future” sort of thing.
“Father, bring Your Kingdom to earth, someday… fulfill Your will perfectly on earth, someday…” The expectation in that kind of prayer is an outgrowth of our belief that this world is firmly in the hands of the evil one and that our job as Christians is to “occupy until He comes” (Luke 19:13). Translation: “Hunker down and endure the evil of this present world as best you can. Don’t expect much in the way of spiritual renewal or growth in this world, it’s obviously winding down and getting worse. Jesus will show up and put things right, someday.”
It could be that I’m describing how I have wrongly applied this prayer in the past and that I’m an isolated case, but I don’t think so.
We Christians haven’t been clearly taught that…
- The Kingdom of heaven is already in existence on this earth.
- Jesus is reigning now as King.
- You are citizens of His Kingdom.
- You should pray for the Kingdom to be established and to grow.
- You should pray for God’s perfect will to be done on earth.
- You are to expect your prayers to be answered.
That last bullet point is where I have failed most over the years. I’ve mouthed this prayer, probably hundreds of times, but have not fully understood what I was asking for, which means I’ve seldom expected the prayer to be answered… at least not now.
STRONGER FAITH THROUGH KINGDOM PRAYER
If I can adjust my mindset to understand that the Kingdom of heaven is already in place and that I’m to be actively praying for its advancement and growth in real-time, I can be greatly encouraged in my faith. I say that because of the promise of 1 John 5:14-15.
And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.
John tells us that when we confidently pray for the things Jesus wants, we can confidently believe that He will bring them about.
This model prayer is one of the most obvious ways we can pray what we KNOW Jesus wants.
He gave us the prayer, for God’s sake! He intends for us to be actively “praying-in” the Kingdom of heaven in real-time history, in our day. We can do so with confidence, and instead of looking at our world pessimistically, expecting things to wind down and get worse and worse, we can turn the corner an embrace biblical hope because King Jesus reigns over human history, over the evil of wicked rulers and wicked cultures, and He holds sway even over the spiritual forces of darkness that seem to have such a hold on this planet.
Our prayers for the Kingdom to come (here and now) and for the Father’s will to be done (here and now) give us the greatest reason for hope, because we know that we are asking for what Jesus wants to happen.
How will this confidence impact how we see the world? Can we shift our view to see it as being “white for harvest” as Jesus taught us to (John 4:35), not “black with resistance and doom?”
How will it impact the way we view the very real opposition we face as Christians? Can we determine to believe that Jesus, who lives in us, is greater than anything the world or the spiritual forces of darkness can throw our way (1 John 4:4)?
Would you join me in this prayer?
Oh Jesus, forgive me for misunderstanding and misapplying this prayer. I do believe that Your Kingdom is here and I want to see it come more fully and work out Your will on this earth. Be King, in my life, over Your church, and for the sake of the world’s redemption. Conquer every power of evil and manifest Your good repuation and reign for all humanity to see. Make me bold, aggressive for Your sake, and clear in representing You accurately, as my one and only King. You have my alligience.
Kingdom Insights (cumulative list)
The Kingdom of heaven/God was long anticipated by the Jewish people (and others)
Entrance into the Kingdom requires repentance
The entrance of the Kingdom brought the Messiah and judgment
The Kingdom began with the advent of Jesus and continues growing, even today
The Kingdom of heaven is characterized by humility and righteousness
Those who enter the kingdom must do so by the righteousness of Jesus