This article is an excerpt from my book, The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution. This post is the fourth in an eight part series on the Lord’s Prayer.
The first petition in the Lord’s Prayer is that God’s name be hallowed. The second petition, “your kingdom come” builds on the first by showing us how God’s name is hallowed in the world. God reveals his character and reputation as his kingdom spreads to every corner of the earth and as citizens of that kingdom do God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. But what is God’s kingdom, and what are the implications of praying in this way?
A Radical and Revolutionary Prayer
Very few prayers are so memorable that they become cemented in the public consciousness. Certainly, the Lord’s Prayer is one of the few examples of a prayer that has exercised a formative cultural impact. Some other prayers, considerably more trite than the Lord’s Prayer, have also become artifacts of the culture. For instance, the so-called “Serenity Prayer” is one of the most well-known prayers in our culture: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” A great deal of controversy surrounds who first wrote the Serenity Prayer, though the most likely candidate seems to be theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.
The Serenity Prayer has enjoyed some time in the spotlight since it was first penned. It has been adopted, for instance, by groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other humanitarian or self-help organizations. It has been placarded and painted on decorative pieces throughout the country. Calvin and Hobbes even spoofed the prayer, perhaps writing a superior version in the process. In one famous comic strip Calvin humorously prays, “Lord grant me the strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I can’t, and the incapacity to know the difference.”
In many ways, the Serenity Prayer is the model prayer for a post-Christian society. It says nothing about the character of God, the plight of man, the need for redemption, or the nature of the Gospel. The Serenity Prayer is nothing more than a generic prayer for a people with generic religious convictions.
The Lord’s Prayer, however, is doctrinally robust, theologically deep, and anything but serene. The Lord’s Prayer is anything but tame. Regrettably, our familiarity with the Lord’s Prayer often blinds us from seeing just how radical, even subversive, this prayer is. In other words, this is not a generic prayer for a people with generic theological convictions. The Lord’s Prayer is for those who hold firmly that Jesus Christ has inaugurated a kingdom, has risen from the dead, reigns at the right hand of God, and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. The Lord’s Prayer is for revolutionaries, for men and women who want to see the kingdoms of this world give way to the kingdom of our Lord...
Ultimately, the radical nature of this petition challenges everyone in every theological tradition. We are all guilty of trying to domesticate the kingdom so that it doesn’t subvert our values or disorder our commitments. For decades theological liberals and revisionist theologians have sought to speak of God’s kingdom as something we can engineer through humanitarian efforts and good works. In the liberal conception of the kingdom, God is little more than a cheerleader encouraging our own efforts. He is not one who is infinitely sovereign, but instead just someone who is infinitely resourceful. His kingdom makes no demands on our lives because, as king, he is merely an impotent monarch who simply encourages humanity to live up to its full potential.
Of course, conservatives can similarly domesticate God’s kingdom by confusing a particular political party or a particular government with the kingdom. Christians too often fall prey to the temptation that we can bring the kingdom of God by political force or some other sociological means. But we must always remember that God’s kingdom is not of this world. As Jesus teaches us in this prayer, we are dependent on God and God alone to bring the kingdom to every heart and every corner of the earth. We cannot manufacture God’s kingdom by our own efforts. Instead, we are called to be faithful in the Great Commission, trusting that God by his sovereign, supernatural grace will spread his redemptive reign to every tribe, tongue, and nation.
So, what are we asking when we say “your kingdom come”? We are asking for something wonderful and something dangerous all at the same time:
- We are praying that history would be brought to a close.
- We are praying to see all the nations rejoice in the glory of God.
- We are praying to see Christ honored as King in every human heart.
- We are praying to see Satan bound, evil vanquished, death no more.
- We are praying to see the mercy of God demonstrated in the full justification and acquittal of sinners through the shed blood of the crucified and resurrected Christ.
- We are praying to see the wrath of God poured out upon sin.
- We are praying to see every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
- We are praying to see a New Jerusalem, a new heaven, a new earth, a new creation.
This is indeed a radical prayer. We must not take this petition lightly. But, as we have seen, this petition also carries great hope. Our God will come to save us and bring us to know the fullness of his grace in the final revelation of his kingdom. To that end, we pray.