Praying with Jesus
Imagine if every time you pray, you actively remember that God loves you as his precious child. “Our Father” is the source of human worth and security.
Imagine if every time you pray, you actively remember that you don’t pray alone but with suffering sisters and brothers that God also loves and wants to liberate. “Our Father” is the source of divine empathy and solidarity.
Imagine if every time you pray, you actively stop and remember that God is more and other than you think, that God doesn’t fit into your box or rubberstamp your agenda. “Hallowed be your name” is the source of radical humility and openness.
I believe this is what Jesus is teaching us and forming into our character when we pray. It’s so simple but so powerful, especially if we begin each day by praying with Jesus. Jesus’s prayer touches on ultimate questions like “Who is God?” “Who are we?” and “How should we approach God?” and Jesus gives profound, practical answers.
Your Kingdom Come
The next moment in Jesus’s prayer answers the question, “What does God want?” What is God’s endgame, his ultimate goal for our lives and world?
Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). For Jesus, that’s the mission in one sentence: God wants his kingdom to come on earth.
I see four powerful implications in this petition.
First, to pray “Your kingdom come” is to abandon what Nietzsche called the will to power.
Some of us have devoted our entire lives, consciously or unconsciously, to making sure our kingdom comes and our will is done. We desperately need to feel like we are in control. We focus our time, energy, and resources on securing ourselves and advancing our goals. For many of us, this is the definition of success: when our will is done and we get what we want.
But Jesus says to abandon this self-centered project for something infinitely bigger and better: God’s kingdom and will. This petition really flows out of “Hallowed be your name.” Jesus’s prayer interrupts our kingdom-making tendency to turn God into a tool for our purposes and voices exclusive devotion to God’s kingdom and God’s will – not ours.
This is a radical, total-life reorientation. To pray Jesus’s prayer is to confess with Martin Luther King, Jr.,
“The end of life is not to be happy nor to achieve pleasure and avoid pain but to do the will of God, come what may.” Strength to Love
This prayer is cultural insurrection.
For Jesus, human life has a higher vocation than self-fulfillment, whether we measure it through sex, power, money, reputation, knowledge, tribe, religion, or something else. To be fully alive is to live for God’s will – not our own. So Jesus teaches us to reenlist in God’s kingdom each time we pray.
Second, what does God’s kingdom actually look like? What are we praying for when we pray for God’s kingdom to come? Jesus gives us insights throughout his teaching.
God’s kingdom is the place where people who are often ignored, excluded, or crushed by manmade kingdoms will ultimately feel at home. Jesus proclaims blessing – sacred happiness – on the poor in spirit, mourners, the gentle, the justice-hungry, the merciful, peacemakers, and those persecuted for doing right. Jesus bookends this unlikely list of “blessed” people with the promise “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3-10).
God’s kingdom reverses our hierarchy of values and systems of status. According to Jesus, “Whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than [the greatest]” (Matthew 11:11). Philip Yancey said it like this: “Lucky are the unlucky.”
Jesus later describes the signs of the kingdom:
“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Matthew 11:6
The kingdom of God heals, includes, empowers, and gladdens the disabled, the outcasted, the powerless, and the have-nots. Cicero, a powerful Roman statesman who lived a generation before Jesus, called these people “the scum” of society. Jesus called them the special subjects of God’s kingdom. You know God’s kingdom is getting closer when these people are the center of caring attention.
Jesus was also always clear about the law that governs God’s kingdom:
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:45
“In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
“The more important matters of the Law [are] justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” Matthew 23:23
The Constitution of God’s kingdom is hate-transcending love, equalizing regard for others, and a focus on the fundamentals that doesn’t get distracted by dead religion.
In sum, God’s kingdom is not like human kingdoms, driven by the desire for self-serving power, wealth, and fame. God’s kingdom welcomes people from every corner of the earth (Matthew 8:11). It’s the place where love and justice, happiness and holiness are perfectly united. God’s kingdom is home for the people who get overlooked and excluded just about everywhere else.
This kingdom is God’s endgame, our hope, and what we should pray for every time we pray.
Third, Jesus teaches us to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth. Against common assumption, Jesus rejects escapism and otherworldliness. Bonhoeffer captured the implication of Jesus’s prayer in the anti-Nazi church confession he wrote soon after Hitler came to power in 1933:
“It is our earth that will be made new, the same earth on which the cross of Christ once stood… We reject the false doctrine that would seek to tear the world of hope apart from our world, so that the first has nothing to do with the second. We see this as an attempt to escape.” Bethel Confession
Jesus’s prayer cancels any “attempt to escape.” Rather than teaching us to pray, “Take us from earth to heaven” or splitting our lives into the earthly and the heavenly, Jesus boldly teaches us to pray for God’s upside-down, status-reversing kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, in its full perfection. This is what drove Bonhoeffer to resist Nazism.
God’s endgame – God’s ultimate desire – is not to rapture us to heaven but to reign on earth, for “the world of hope” and “our world” to be remarried, against all odds. People who pray with Jesus cannot be detached from or unconcerned with what happens in the world. God’s goal isn’t evacuation; it’s restoration.
But, fourth, this is not a prayer for religious domination.
The next breath of Jesus’s prayer is for “daily bread” – not weapons, wealth, and feasting. Jesus teaches that God’s kingdom is embodied through self-lowering, status-upending service like washing others’ feet (Mark 10:41-45; John 13:1-17). Jesus defiantly tells Pilate that his kingdom is “not of this world,” because it’s based on truth and nonviolence rather than fear and killing (John 18:28-28).
Jesus’s throne in the Gospels is the cross, the place of ultimate vulnerability and sacrifice (John 12:32). In the end, when Jesus claims “all authority on heaven and on earth,” he doesn’t tell his followers to conquer the world. He tells them to reach out to everyone and to teach them to obey his enemy-loving, people-equalizing commands (Matthew 28:18-20).
So the kingdom Jesus teaches us to pray for is worlds away from a manmade theocracy. It’s the exact opposite of any form of domination.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is what God wants. And when we pray for it, we resign our will to power and enlist ourselves in God’s upside-down kingdom. We reject escapism, root ourselves in the earth, and trade domination for God-given hope.
Imagine if you began each day in 2019 with this prayer on your lips. What would begin to change and grow? I invite you to join me.