The Lord's Prayer: living in the kingdom of God
What is the kingdom of God?
For many Christians, the term "kingdom of God" brings to mind the transformation of the world that will occur when Jesus returns to earth. In other words, they think of the kingdom as yet future. Those who hold this view diminish or entirely overlook the biblical teaching that the kingdom is now present.
Note the definition of the kingdom offered by Gary Deddo in an essay on the Grace Communion Seminary website:
The kingdom of God is primarily about the rule or reign of Christ and not so much…about a realm or a spatial or geographical location. Wherever Christ’s lordship is operating according to his will and purpose, there is found the kingdom of God.
Note also how Grace Communion International's catechism “We Believe” defines the kingdom:
In the broadest sense, the kingdom of God is God's supreme sovereignty—his reign over all the world through the operation of the Holy Spirit based on the completed work of Jesus Christ. That reign is now partially and provisionally manifest in the Church and in the life of each believer as they submit to God’s Word and will. The kingdom of God will be fully manifest over the whole world after the return of Jesus Christ when he delivers all things to the Father, and all are either willingly or unwillingly in submission to his rule and reign.
In Theology of the New Testament, George Eldon Ladd notes that in most English translations of the New Testament, the Greek word basileia is typically translated as “kingship” or “kingly power,” conveying the meaning of reign or rule. Given that emphasis, when we pray for God's kingdom to come, we are praying that God’s will be done on earth—both the present, and in the future.
Understanding Jesus' teachings concerning the kingdom
Viewing the kingdom of God as God's rule and reign is vital to understanding Jesus’ various teachings in which he addresses the kingdom as being both a present and future reality—already present on earth, but not yet in its fulness. In that regard, note what NT Wright and Michael Bird say in The New Testament in Its World:
When we find Jesus beginning his public ministry with the words, “The time has come…the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news,” Jesus was not staking out virgin territory. He was tapping into a long-cherished hope for a new exodus, a new Temple, a reconstitution of the twelve tribes, a renewal of the covenant, a national forgiveness of sins, the release from captivity, an epoch of justice and peace, and an end to foreign rule…. Throughout his brief public career, Jesus spoke and acted as if God’s plan of salvation and justice for Israel and the world was being unveiled through his own presence, his own work, his own fate…. [Jesus] brought about what he talked about.
Note also what TF Torrance says in Atonement, the Person and Work of Christ:
In the New Testament the kingdom is regarded as having broken into time and is overtaking men and women in Jesus Christ, but because it comes into the particularity of history, its universal domain is as yet hidden from the eyes of humanity. It confronts them not first extensively in its universality, but intensively in decisive encounter…. In the Old Testament, the main accent lay upon the future, in the New Testament the main accent lies upon the present, but…the accent on the present has no meaning apart from the future when the kingdom of God now realized intensively in temporal and historical encounter in Christ and his encounter with people, will be realized extensively in a new heaven and new earth…. The kingdom is both future and present… (p. 403)
Concerning the “already” of the Kingdom, note what Karl Barth says in Church Dogmatics:
Jesus Christ is God’s mighty command to open our eyes and to realize that this place is all around us, that we are already in this kingdom, that we have no alternative but to adjust ourselves to it, that we have our being and continuance here and nowhere else. In Him we are already there, we already belong to it. To enter at His command is to realize that in Him we are already inside. (II.2, p 126)
Jesus taught in words and demonstrated is actions that the kingdom is a progressively unfolding reality. We see this in his kingdom parables, most notably those recorded in Matthew chapter 13, where the kingdom is likened to treasure buried in a field, to a tiny mustard seed that grows into a large bush, and to yeast infiltrating a batch of dough. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave teaching concerning how to live in the present reality of the kingdom, and a key part of that sermon is what we refer to as The Lord's Prayer. When understood in the context of Jesus' teachings concerning the kingdom, we are helped to understand that The Lord's Prayer as a pattern for living in the present reality of the kingdom of God.
Background and content of The Lord's Prayer
During their time with him, Jesus’ disciples asked their Master a lot of bad questions: “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But they occasionally got it right: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus must have beamed with joy at the opportunity to teach his beloved friends how to enjoy fellowship with his Father and theirs. So one afternoon on a mountainside in Galilee, Jesus taught them to pray. The words that followed as recorded by Luke and Matthew are among the most famous ever spoken.
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13, KJV)
|"Sermon on the Mount" by Hole|
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Though brief and easily recited by a child, we should not be misled by the brevity or familiarity of these words. The Lord’s Prayer is rightly understood to be the most important prayer for Christians, but it’s more than that. Tertullian called it a “summary of the gospel” and J. I. Packer called it a “key to the whole business of living,” adding, “what it means to be a Christian is nowhere clearer than here.” Dallas Willard wrote in Divine Conspiracy that
when Jesus directs us to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” he does not mean we should pray for it to come into existence. Rather, we pray for it to take over at all points in the personal, social, and political order where it is now excluded: “On earth as it is in heaven.” With this prayer we are invoking [the kingdom], as in faith we are acting it into the real world of our daily existence. (p. 26)
In a similar way, Jeremy Linneman in one of his essays, notes that The Lord’s Prayer is a vision for life in Christ’s in-breaking kingdom, an acknowledgment of the injustice, hunger, and evil of this broken world—it’s a statement of faith, a call to worship, a battle cry. As Linneman also notes, as we pray The Lord’s Prayer together from the heart, we are led by the Holy Spirit to live it out. How? Linneman suggests that The Lord’s Prayer addresses four Kingdom life-style factors.
1. A posture of child-like dependence
In Matthew’s account of The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus does not start with how to pray, but by contrasting two approaches to prayer. We read in Matthew 6:5-6,
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Here two approaches or “postures” of prayer are addressed: one of performative spirituality—doing religious activities to be noticed by God and others. The second is a posture of childlike dependence—acknowledging our utter reliance on our Heavenly Father. The point is that The Lord’s Prayer only makes sense within the context of childlike faith and dependence.
When we pray The Lord's Prayer together, we begin with God, seeing him for who he truly is—our Father, and acknowledging that it is his kingdom, his rule and reign, that we are living in, not our own. We are humbly asking him for our daily provision, including his gift of the Spirit. We are seeking his gracious, lavish forgiveness, protection, and deliverance, just as a young child would do in asking for help and safety as they fall asleep at night.
Is our conception of who God is, and what his present kingdom is, shaped by this reality? Is this part of the worldview—the over-arching story—that shapes how we live and pray; that shapes how we approach ministry? Do we see ourselves and all people as hungry, needy children of God called to live dependently in the embrace of this good and loving Father?
2. A focus on wholehearted worship
As Linneman notes, the Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ psalm. It follows the structure and flow of many of the psalms, including elements of praise, lament, supplication, and intercession. It invites us out of self-centeredness and into a life of wholehearted worship. To pray “hallowed be your name” is to approach God not only as Father but also as Lord and King. Jesus invites us to pray and live in a state of wholehearted worship, to walk before God genuinely, continually, and with undivided hearts. Why? Because wholehearted worship is the antidote to idolatry, greed, and losing our first love as followers of Jesus.
To pray “hallowed be your name” is to center our lives on Jesus and his eternal kingdom, which is now present. It is to reject living for the praise that comes from others. It is to reject the need to be popular or to do grand things to build up our own names. It is to give the entirety of our beings to God and to discover the true joy and peace that comes in total submission to him.
3. Relationships grounded in love
Have you noticed that in the Lord’s Prayer no singular pronouns are used? There is no “I” or “me.” Instead, Jesus invites us to pray this prayer together with the corporate pronouns “us,” “we,” and “our.” In that way, The Lord’s Prayer reorients our individualistic framework, and helps us admit and savor how interconnected we are in the body of Christ. By shifting our praying from singular to corporate, Jesus reminds us of the second great commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and his new commandment to love one another as he loves us.
With an emphasis on “we”—praying The Lord’s Prayer moves us toward our brothers’ and sisters’ practical needs. To pray for “our” (plural) daily bread is to identify with others who lack resources, peace, and hope. To pray for forgiveness is to admit that we often mistreat one another and must return to each other, again and again, to forgive and pull up the ugly weeds of bitterness. To pray The Lord’s Prayer honestly is to be moved to love one another quickly and comprehensively.
4. A mission of participation in God’s kingdom work
It is not possible to pray The Lord’s Prayer in the spirit and intent for which Jesus gave it to us without us stepping into our broken world as our Lord’s disciples. The Lord’s Prayer calls us and empowers us to participate in what Jesus, by the Spirit, is doing to fulfill the Father's mission to the world. We aren’t just praying for God’s name to be hallowed or for his kingdom to come only in the church, but “on earth as it is in heaven.” Just as these words lead us to love one another in the church, they also call us to share Christ’s love with those outside the church.
Questions for application
- When we, together, pray, “give us today our daily bread” are we not being led by the Spirit to identify with the physical and spiritual hunger of those around us and throughout the world? Are we not being moved by the Spirit to feed the hungry and to fight against poverty?
- When we pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” are we not being led to seek the forgiveness of our neighbors and coworkers who we have offended? To work actively for forgiveness and reconciliation?
- When we pray “deliver us from evil” are we not being moved to work for the deliverance of others from the Evil One’s cruel and unjust schemes?
To pray and live The Lord’s Prayer is to be active participants in the kingdom mission of Jesus, just as he had prayed for us at the Last Supper: “Father, as you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).
A prayer of power and promise
Notice what Frederick Buechner wrote online concerning The Lord's Prayer:
We do well not to pray the Lord’s Prayer lightly. It takes guts to pray it at all. To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze.
Buechner also notes that The Lord’s Prayer is a song of promise that one day will be fully fulfilled—fully on earth as it is in heaven. One day all shall be well, but until then we pray and live accordingly within the presence of the existing kingdom of God, which is to say the presence of Jesus who is both King of the kingdom, and through his vicarious humanity the perfect human citizen of the kingdom. It is Jesus our High Priest who sends us his Spirit that we too may live within our Lord’s rule and reign, even now.
As Jesus proclaimed 2000 years ago, the kingdom of God has drawn near—it is a present realit! We are, right now, surrounded by it. Leaning into that kingdom presence, that kingdom reality, is the basis and motivation for our repenting, for rethinking all our ideas and commitments in life, and for the fueling of all our participation in the Lord’s ongoing kingdom mission.
Let us pray and then live out this prayer together! Amen.