Our Father who is in heaven,Matthew 6:9-13 LEB
may your name be treated as holy.
May your kingdom come,
may your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
One of the first major decisions I faced in starting a blog was in choosing a name for the blog. I wanted it to be a name that conveyed, in at least a small way, what I want my blog to be about. I thought of a few titles, including borrowing the famous line from J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy describing Aragorn, the forgotten king of an ancient realm; “Not all who wander are lost”. While I thought that title had some possibility, I felt that I should be more creative than simply borrowing a famous line out of a famous book by a famous author. So after giving it more thought, I ended up using a famous line from the most famous prayer out of the most famous sermon of the most famous religious figure in human history. So much for creativity.
Over the last few years I have spent some time studying chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of Matthew, which is often referred to as ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. It contains some of Jesus teaching on prayer including the prayer he offered as an example to his disciples, which is commonly called ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. I don’t exactly know why I thought of using the phrase ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ as a blog title, but the more I thought about it the more it began to grow on me. There seems to be an almost limitless depth of meaning in that and the surrounding phrases of the Lord’s Prayer. I have began to wonder if it is too much of an exaggeration to say that almost the entirety of Christian thought, desire, and hope are contained in these words.
There have been many books, sermons, and blogs posts written discussing the Lord’s Prayer, often discussing it line by line. I will not attempt to cover the whole prayer, but will focus on exploring the meaning of the phrases “May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. I will share what significance these verses of scripture hold for me and touch on some of the ways I see their current relevance.
What is the kingdom?
The concept of kingdom is an important one throughout Biblical history, and Jesus made this topic a central one in his teaching. One key lesson Jesus wanted to communicate is that the kingdom of God is not a kingdom in the sense that we human beings expect. The kingdom Jesus was trying to bring about was a kingdom made up of those who through voluntary submission and obedience were to live out the will of God. These people were not defined or contained by geographical, ethnic or cultural boundaries. It was to be a kingdom of the heart. While I am guessing most American Christians would say they believe that Jesus wasn’t instituting a political kingdom, the way people respond to political developments makes me wonder how deep that belief runs. Disguised beneath pious cliche’s such as ‘I know God is in control’, panic and fear seem to be ubiquitous emotional responses when their side suffers a political setback. These emotions soon morph into a vitriol towards those on the other side whom they believe are attacking the values and beliefs they hold dear. I would argue that these emotions stem from attempting to hold on to a notion of an earthly ‘kingdom of America’, in much the same way the first century Jews were anticipating the Messiah instituting the restored earthly Kingdom of Israel. To accept the invitation to follow Christ and join the Kingdom of God involves a complete refocusing of our vision, away from geo-political entities focused on human power struggles and towards an eternal, spiritual realm governed by the will of God. (For a more in-depth understanding of the Biblical concept of kingdom, listen to the first half of this podcast featuring an excellent interview with Biblical scholar D. A. Carson.)
Having said that, this idea of focusing on the eternal, spiritual realm is open to the criticism expressed by some variation of the thought ‘they are so heavenly focused to be of no earthly good’. And certainly that criticism has merit. Christians have, far too often, been willing to set contentedly in churches waiting for Jesus to come back while having little to no impact on the world around them. In American culture, we often conceive of religious faith as simply an idea in the mind, a belief that is independent of actions in the outside ‘real world’. Yet, when I meditate on Jesus prayer, I find no room for such thinking. Jesus is asking us to pray for not merely to believe the right things, but for God’s will to be done on earth; and it is impossible for me to conceive of how that can be more than a utopian dream unless we allow ourselves to transformed by our theology into people capable of living out the will of God.
This transformation will move us out of the realm of mere belief and into the realm of active, obedient faith. It will also open our eyes to see the world around us the way God sees it. In his book ‘The Lord and His Prayer’, New Testament scholar N. T. Wright makes this observation: “Thy Kingdom Come: to pray this means seeing the world in binocular vision. See it with the love of the creator for his spectacularly beautiful creation; and see it with the deep grief of the creator for the battered and battle-scarred state in which the world now finds itself. Put those two together, and bring the binocular picture into focus: the love and the grief join into the Jesus-shape, the kingdom shape, the shape of the cross – never was Love, dear King, never was grief like thine!”
Seeing the battered world with Wright’s binocular vision has always placed within me a desire to move beyond personal spirituality and to address societal issues such as broken families, poverty, the need to balance environmental concerns with human needs, and more recently, racial healing. It has always been a source of frustration for me that these concerns have, amongst the conservative evangelicals I have grown up around, often been relegated to the realm of ‘liberal’ politics. This has resulted in both a weakening of Christian involvement in society and has contributed to the increased divisiveness. The dream of seeing God’s will on earth as in heaven is a holistic dream, a dream that includes the reconciliation of rebellious human beings to their creator, healing the divisions between people, and restoration of the fractured relationship between humanity and nature. It includes what we consider spiritual, but also the intellectual, psychological, and physical parts of our being. Living out faith holistically will often lead us to challenge well worn political lines, but we must follow regardless.
While this is the dream, we must recognize that to ask for the kingdom to come is an admission that is not here, at least not in it’s fullness. It is an acknowledgement that God’s will is often not done, that much of human history has been one of humanities attempt to live as our own gods following our own will, and the result of this rebellion is the current broken, ruined state of the world that we live in. To ask for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will be done is to ask for the world to be set back, redeemed, to what it was supposed to be. On earth, we do not now know what that looks like. That is why we we must look heavenward for our ideals, and seek to know the God who alone knows how things are meant to be.
If you would like to investigate the Lord’s Prayer further, this book is well worth your time. *I receive a small percentage from any sales generated through this link.*
|The Lord and His Prayer
By N.T. Wright / Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
In The Lord and His Prayer, a series of pastoral reflections, N. T. Wright explores how the Lord’s Prayer sums up Jesus’ own agenda within his first-century setting.
Taking the Lord’s Prayer clause by clause, Wright locates this prayer within the historical life and work of Jesus and allows the prayer’s devotional application to grow out of its historical context. He demonstrates how grasping the Lord’s Prayer in its original setting can be the starting point for a fresh understanding of Christian spirituality and the life of prayer. This deeply devotional book will stimulate and refresh the heart and mind of any reader.