READ : Matthew 6:10, 31-34
In praying for God’s kingdom to come we are really asking for the best thing that could happen in all the world.
The first Christians in Jerusalem “devoted themselves . . . to prayer” (Acts 2:42). What were they praying for? I suppose you could say they were praying for everything, that their prayers were as extensive in breadth as they were intensive in depth. But, for what it’s worth, I have a guess as to the principal subject of their prayers. Judging from the results as recorded in the book of Acts, I think the Jerusalem church devoted itself above all to prayer for the kingdom of God.
After all, this is what Jesus taught his followers to pray for. “Your kingdom come” is the second petition in Jesus’ model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. And a little later in his Sermon on the Mount he said that this should be the highest priority in our lives:
So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
The kingdom of God was the primary theme of Jesus’ public ministry. The gospel of Mark opens its account of Jesus’ career this way: “Jesus came preaching the gospel and saying the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Most of his teaching had to do with the kingdom of God. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus explains the ethics and laws of the kingdom. His parables are stories about the life of the kingdom; “To what should I compare the kingdom of God?” was the way he usually introduced them. When Jesus was put to death the official charge against him was that he was the King of the Jews, and afterwards he offered many convincing proofs of his resurrection to his disciples, says the Bible, “appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). From the beginning to the end of his ministry the kingdom of God was the main thing Jesus cared about and spoke about – and so should it be for us.
But what exactly is the kingdom of God? What does that phrase mean? In the first place, the kingdom of God is not like the kingdom of England or Spain. It’s not a geographical realm; you can’t point to it on a map. God’s kingdom is his reign, or rule, primarily over human persons – over our hearts, minds, and consciences, our feelings, our thinking, and our actions – but also God’s rule over human institutions, over our churches, schools, governments, societies, over our various “worlds” of business, politics, art, culture, and entertainment. Of course, God is sovereign. He governs the world of nature and of history. God already rules everything and everyone in the sense of being in control of all things. But God’s kingdom is his specific conscious rule over the lives of those people who have come to know him through faith in Jesus Christ.
This rule begins in anybody’s life when he humbles himself, repents, believes, submits and is born again. God’s kingdom is Jesus Christ ruling over his people in total blessing and total demand.
(John Stott, Christian Counterculture, p.170)
Secondly, it is important to remember that God’s kingdom is spiritual, not political. “Spiritual” does not mean “unreal.” Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world, he didn’t say it wasn’t in this world. Jesus’ rule over our lives is very much a part of the real world of everyday experience; indeed, it should affect everything we do. Being spiritual means that God’s kingdom is advanced by spiritual means, by prayer and preaching, not by armies and laws and taxes and elections. Christians have sometimes tried the other way, to build and expand the kingdom of God through political and military and economic power, and these attempts have always ended in spectacular failure. Examples include the Crusades of the Middle Ages, with their disastrous consequences for the cause of the gospel in the Middle East, or the European religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in which Protestants and Catholics slaughtered each other for the sake of Christ. We still see some echoes of those conflicts today. (If you like what’s going on today in Northern Ireland you’d have loved the Thirty Years’ War 350 years ago.) No, God’s Kingdom is a different kind of realm, and it comes in a different way. It is a battle fought within the souls – especially the minds – of human beings, not with guns but with words and ideas. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does,” wrote the apostle Paul.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to tear down strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
(2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
A final thing to remember about the kingdom is that establishing it is God’s work, not ours. We do not bring about the kingdom of God on earth by our efforts. Make no mistake, biblical Christians are not passive “do-nothings.” We are called to active obedience, to strive for righteousness, to evangelize our neighbors, to take the gospel to the whole world, to work for peace and justice in our communities and our nations. But the kingdom of God itself, and everything connected with it, is a pure gift. We don’t build it; only God can give it. The most important thing we can do for God’s kingdom is to ask him for it. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come.”
PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM
To pray in this way for God’s kingdom means to pray for at least four specific things:
First, for personal spiritual growth. One Christian confession puts it this way:
Thy kingdom come means, Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.
(Heidelberg Catechism, Question 123)
There’s a popular song that says, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Well, praying for God’s kingdom – God’s rule – to come involves a similar desire. As a Christian I long for God’s rule to begin with me and in me. Christians pray that God would reign more and more completely over more and more of our lives. Our wish is to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ, starting with the thoughts in our own minds. Our prayer is that God would take his proper place and rule over every aspect of life – over our home and marriage and family, over our work and career, over our public as well as our private lives, our social as well as our religious lives. When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we are really saying, “Lord, come and rule in my heart and over my life.”
Second, to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom means to ask for the conversion of the world. What we are especially praying is that men, women and children everywhere will be brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The reason Jesus opened his ministry by declaring that the kingdom of God was at hand was because he was at hand. The kingdom comes when Jesus comes. God’s rule is known where Jesus is Lord. Apart from him, there is no kingdom. One day a good man came to Jesus with a question. Jesus was impressed with his understanding, “This man is not far from the kingdom,” he remarked. Not far, but still not in it, because he had not yet committed himself to Jesus. If you’ve never been converted, then you are still outside the kingdom of God. You may be close to it, but you cannot be in it without faith in Christ. If you want to pray this prayer with any kind of meaning you must first know Christ as Savior and Lord personally yourself, and then you must want the whole world to come to know him that way too. When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we are really saying, “Lord, make your church grow, here and everywhere.”
Third, praying for God’s kingdom means praying for the transformation of human society. Jesus said our first priority should be to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness; those two things are bound inseparably together. God’s rule has a social as well as a personal dimension. It doesn’t just affect our private lives, it affects our neighborhoods and towns, our schools and businesses and churches, our nation and our world. The Bible says that God’s kingdom is a matter of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, so to pray for its coming means to pray for the growth of all those things, everywhere and for everyone. Where God rules, Satan and all his works are overthrown, there is liberty for the captives, health for the sick, sight for the blind, good news for the poor. When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we are really saying, “Lord, destroy the power of the devil, rescue us from all evil, and bring justice and freedom and gladness to the earth.”
Fourth, to pray for the kingdom of God means to pray for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s kingdom is present wherever Jesus is acknowledged as king, trusted as savior, and served as Lord. Wherever the Holy Spirit has converted people from lovers of self into lovers of God, wherever the church is truly living as the people of God, and wherever God’s Spirit is working for good in human society, there is the kingdom of God. But not in its fulness. All these things are only shadows of the kingdom, still marred by sin, continually interrupted by our rebellion. They are just hints of the glory of God’s perfect reign. The final reality of the kingdom awaits the final glorious coming of the Son of God, for the kingdom will come when the King returns. When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we are really saying “Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus!”
Here’s a good question to ask. Do you look forward to Jesus’ return? Do you long for the coming of his kingdom? Do you pray fervently for these things? It’s the very best thing you could hope for; in fact, it’s all you could ever hope for.