[Jesus taught them, saying:] “Pray then in this way:Matthew 6:9-10
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
This is the third part in a series I am sharing on the Lord’s Prayer. You can find the first two parts here: “Why We Pray Our Father” and “What Does It Mean to Hallow God’s Name?” This week I am looking at what it means to pray “Thy kingdom come.”
What does it mean to pray, “Thy kingdom come”? The Lord’s Prayer is taught by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew in the middle of his Sermon on the Mount, which forms Chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel. This sermon is really all about what it means to live in God’s kingdom. And if we are going to pray that God’s kingdom come, we’d better get ready to live in God’s kingdom. We can do that by living out the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
So, to think about what it means to pray for God’s kingdom to come, let’s look at all the places in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talks about the kingdom. The first is at the very beginning of this sermon:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:3
Kingdom-living requires a poverty of spirit. It requires humility, recognizing that we’re not in charge. We don’t see the big picture. We’re definitely not in charge of this kingdom. And that gives us (or should give us) a certain humility. To be poor in spirit is necessary to being rich in faith, because our humility and helplessness deepens our dependence on Jesus, and our trust in him.
The next time kingdom is mentioned is in the last beatitude:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:10
Jesus recognizes that it isn’t always easy to live as if we are in God’s kingdom, because this kingdom has not yet come in its fullness. There are forces in this world completing against God’s kingdom. Sin, death, and the devil all undermine God’s kingdom. To pray that God’s kingdom come is to willingly work toward its coming, and this can lead to persecution, so Jesus blesses all who suffer for righteousness’ sake.
Kingdom is next mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus reminds us that living in God’s kingdom means living by God’s commandments. How can it not? Here is what he says:
Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:19
Living in the kingdom means doing what the king commands. That’s why in the Lord’s Prayer, praying for the kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done are so closely connected. They can’t be separated. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we are agreeing to do God’s will; and when we agree to do God’s will, we are agreeing to help God’s kingdom to come.
A few verses after Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer, but still in his Sermon on the Mount, he mentions the kingdom again, in a very well-known verse:
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Matthew 6:33
There is so much that can be said about this verse! Let me just keep it to this, that this verse can serve as a compass in our life, reminding us when we are lost of which direction to go. Put the kingdom of God first! When in doubt, ask whether what we are planning to is helping God’s kingdom to come. Return to this verse at every fork in the road, before every major decision, and whenever we are unsure of where to turn. And trust that when we do this, everything we need will be given to us. All these things, whatever we need to fulfill God’s will and to participate in the coming of the kingdom, will be given to us when we strive first for the kingdom of God.
There is one last mention of the kingdom in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, at the very end:
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 in heaven.Matthew 7:21
Here, Jesus comes back to the basic idea that to pray for the kingdom to come is to do God’s will. The only way to enter this kingdom is to do God’s will. And if we don’t want to do God’s will, why would we want to live in God’s kingdom?
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.” Before we ask for our daily bread, or for forgiveness, or for anything else, we take time to hallow God’s name, and pray for God’s kingdom to come.
Imagine if we spent the first half of our personal prayer-time with this focus. Imagine beginning all of our daily devotions by looking at our life under God’s watchful eye and asking what God wants us to do. How can I hallow God’s name? How can I help God’s kingdom to come? Today. At work. At home. While shopping and running errands. While on my phone or computer. How can I serve God today?
That’s what Jesus teaches us in the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer – to begin there. Jesus teaches us to begin our prayers with God, not with us. And that teaching, of course, gives us a humility, a realization that we can’t do this without God’s help.
And that brings us back to that first Beatitude – “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus doesn’t demand that we get it all right, but that we be humble, faithful and prayerful. And when we do, he promises us his kingdom.