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Praying For The Kingdom

Kingdoms might be difficult for us to understand because we don’t live in a kingdom. We live in a democracy where our leaders are elected. They don’t have absolute authority on all things. And so the idea of “kingdom” isn’t our world.

Kingdoms are where the king reigns. Saudi Arabia is a kingdom and people there know they have to do what the king says, but that doesn’t work here because the king of Saudi Arabia doesn’t reign here. But where he reigns there is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Wherever Jesus reigns there is the kingdom of God. And when we pray “your kingdom come…” we are praying for God to bring Jesus, and the things of Jesus.

Jesus probably taught and said more about the kingdom of God than anything else.

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed. You mean that I can’t see or touch it? No, he said, “for, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you”, or “within” or “near” you.[1]

Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached for people to change the direction of their lives because the kingdom of God is near.[2]

Jesus told parables to illustrate the kingdom. In fact, most of his teaching and speaking about the kingdom was in parables. He would say, “The kingdom of heaven (or God) is like…” and then he would tell a story. He even said that the secret or mystery of the kingdom was given in these parables. The kingdom is a mystery?

Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God above anything else. He said that it was the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.[3] He said it was almost impossible for wealthy people to enter the kingdom, and that it is to children that the kingdom belongs.[4]

The Scriptures say that after the Lord rose from the dead he presented himself to his followers and spoke to them about the kingdom of God.[5]

Jesus stood before Pilate and said, “My kingdom is not from this world.”[6]

We look around and it looks like the kingdom of God is a million miles away. I see 500,000 dead from COVID, and people suffering with cancer, and nations in turmoil, and famine, depression, anxiety, and fear. It sure doesn’t look like God is reigning around these parts.

Maybe that is why Jesus taught us to pray for the coming of the kingdom.

You see, on the one hand the kingdom has been established. Jesus has come. He died and rose from death, and something new began. But there is a lot that still has yet to happen. And the final unveiling is yet to come. It’s like God started the process in Jesus, but the world has yet to be fully redeemed.

Perhaps it’s like this: My neighbor, Cliff, bought an old, beat up Chevy pickup last year. He loves classic cars. It is a clunker. I can’t believe he paid too much for it. But I think he is trying to restore it. I can’t tell for sure because it is hidden underneath a covering of tarps. He works under there every day. You just see some activity going on behind the tarps and hear the sounds of the work.

One day that covering is going to come down, Cliff’s going to take the pickup for a drive, and that Chevy will shine. The rust will be gone. The body will be like new. The parts will be working to perfection. The engine will hum. It will be something to see. But right now the transformation is hidden. The work is undercover, being done with patience and steadiness.

God’s kingdom is hidden right now and coming slowly. It came with Jesus the King, but the kingdom has yet to be revealed in its fulness. We live in the tension of “already here” and the “not yet”. There are times we get glimpses of God’s reign, but there’s a lot more to come.

Jesus said that the kingdom is like a small seed, barely visible, but it grows. It even grows amidst what is bad. Jesus recognized that good and bad exist side by side, but he said that it isn’t for us to sort all of that out. God will do that one day. When this small seed grows it becomes the greatest of all the plants. It is like yeast in something you are baking - it comes silently and works subtly and unseen.[7]

Don’t think that just because the powers of darkness seem to be dominating that God’s kingdom isn’t on the move. The writer Philip Yancey said, “God’s kingdom advances slowly, humbly, like a secret invasion force operating within the kingdoms ruled by Satan.”[8] We are praying for God’s ways to come amidst the dark forces of this age.

The thing about the kingdom of God is that it is imperceptible. But God is bringing his kingdom underneath all the anguish and distress of the world. It comes in spite of and beneath the wars, the terror, the misery. The kingdom cannot be stopped by a worldwide pandemic or even the dysfunction in our own personal family.

Christians have sometimes believed that if we can gradually Christianize the world, we will eventually bring the kingdom. But the thing is that nowhere in the Bible does it say that we bring the kingdom. God brings his kingdom.

The language of the prayer, “your kingdom come”, like “hallowed be your name”, is a prayer for God to bring his kingdom. We are, in essence, telling God to do what only God can do. “You bring your kingdom, God! You make it happen by your power. We are calling on you to do this.” The language is almost like a command.

We don’t make the kingdom come. God makes it come. It is not the result of human progress or effort. No, it is the result of bowing down before the King, Jesus Christ.

So we pray for the ways of God to prosper. “Thy kingdom come.”

The most important thing in any kingdom is the king. And the most important thing in the kingdom of God is the King, and that’s Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God is anywhere Jesus Christ is. Some of that is here amidst us this morning.

When we believe in Jesus, seek Jesus, and live for Jesus we are living in the kingdom. The kingdom of God is the place – not a geographic place – but the place where we and everyone does things God’s way and honors him.

Here’s my problem: I put myself on the throne. I keep crowning myself and bowing down to Phil’s system and reign instead of allowing Christ to be at the center of my life.

When we pray “your kingdom come” we are praying for it to come not only in the larger world, but it includes our very own hearts and lives. Who rules your heart?

God’s kingdom comes whenever his ways are acknowledged and lived:

…whenever there is love for those who are unlovable,

…when we forgive instead of seek revenge,

…where people praise, pray and live by faith,

…when the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, and the lonely visited,

…when we die to ourselves and live for God.

In this way, the kingdom breaks into our lives, our homes, our work, our neighborhoods even in this dark world.

Which brings us to praying for God’s will to be done. We pray this because we are in a place where God’s will is not done.

Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”[9] He said he didn’t seek to do his own will but the will of him who sent him, being his Father.[10] Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”[11]

In one of his most stunning teachings, our Lord said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father.”[12]

C.S. Lewis said that in the end there are really only two kinds of people: “those who say to God, “Thy will be done” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” Either we submit to God and say “your will be done” or we live life on our terms and God says to us, “OK, then your will be done.” It is the difference between heaven and hell. God will not force us to do his will if we choose to go our way.

And sometimes going God’s way is hard. It was for Jesus.

There is a book called “Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry, about a barber in a small Kentucky farm town. Jayber originally wanted to study theology and become a minister, but that was not God’s will for his life, as it turned out.

In the book, Jayber Crow is reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer. He says that one day it hit him,

“that Jesus’ own most fervent prayer was refused: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” I must have read that verse or heard it a hundred times before without seeing or hearing. Maybe I didn’t want to see it. But then one day I saw it. It just knocked me in the head. This, I thought, is what is meant by “thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer, which I had prayed time and again without thinking about it. It means that your will and God’s will may not be the same. It means there’s a good possibility that you won’t get what you pray for. It means that in spite of your prayers you are going to suffer. It means you may be crucified.[13]

Jesus never asks us to pray anything that he didn’t pray himself.

In Gethsemane, in his darkest hour, facing crucifixion, Jesus prayed “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He prays a second time for the cup to be taken away but ends by praying “may your will be done.”

Jesus can tell us to pray “your will be done” because it is how he prayed. And sometimes that is not an easy prayer.

In Gethsemane we see Jesus struggle with God’s will. He is honest before the Father about his fear of what he faces on the cross. He asks to be corrected if he is wrong.[14] “If this isn’t what you want, Father, then confirm that for me.” Jesus has been there, too.

To pray “your will be done” is a prayer of submission. It is to put our life in God’s hand, and to say we will let him govern this world as he sees fit,

…that we want him to work his way,

…to work in our lives as he wants,

…and that we will trust and love him through it.

Having said that, I don’t want us to think praying God’s will is merely resignation to what is hard. Praying for God’s will to be done lets loose things that might be bound. It opens doors. It changes circumstances. It can bring grace, peace and hope. It can bring life and the power of God.

It’s just that when all is well and great in our lives we don’t struggle with what God wants, do we? It is usually when there is adversity or we are at the crossroads.

But in God’s will is our peace.[15]

And by asking us to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done” Jesus has invited us to join God in establishing God’s agenda. And what God wants in this world and our lives first comes with prayer. That’s why Jesus said to pray like this.

I pray that Jesus will reign – be King - in my life and your life, in this church, and in this world.

I pray that what God wants will be done in my life and your life, in this church, and in this world.

I pray that we will see God’s kingdom and the presence of the King break into our lives.

Prayer: Thanks be to you, O Lord, that we can surrender our will to yours. Thanks be to you that the sacrifice is worth it when it comes to you because we can fully place our lives in your hands.

Lord Jesus, your kingdom come and your will be done in our world, in this church, in our lives. Make it happen. Do it. Amen.

[1] Luke 17:20 [2] Matthew 3:2, 17 [3] Luke 12:31,32 [4] Mark 10:14 [5] Acts 1:3 [6] John 18:33-36 [7] See the various teachings in Matt. 13 for this [8] The Jesus I Never Knew, p.251 [9] John 4:34 [10] John 5:30 [11] Matthew 12:50 [12] Matthew 7:21 [13] Jayber Crow, p. 51 [14] Dale Bruner, Matthew, Vol. 2, p.984 [15] Dante

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