Here is one very practical recommendation for engaging the kingdom of God afresh. It is simply this: pray the Lord’s Prayer. I encourage this not just because I believe the prayer contains the “how and why” of our existence but also because Jesus commands us to pray the prayer in order—among other things—to redirect our hearts and minds. This redirection all begins with the simple opening line: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.”
Although ancient Judaism saw a continuity between the future coming kingdom of God and Israel’s kingdom of days gone by, they also expected the kingdom to break in in meteoric fashion, in keeping with the biblical pattern of divine intervention. I believe that when Jesus’s disciples were first asked to pray, “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,” they were not being led to think in the first instance of a new reality progressively settling in like, say, an ocean tide inching its way imperceptibly up the beach. Rather, their minds went to the apocalyptic end point, the seismic day when God would break into the affairs of humanity with definitive and tsunami-like force. To pray “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come” was to pray that the kingdom be revealed now.
In the Lord’s Prayer, the petition for the coming of the kingdom of God is above all a prayer that God would end history as we know it and cap off the current narrative with a new reality called “eternal life.” For the disciples, anticipation of these climactic events did not relativize either their mission or their present-day reality, but rather helped them set each into its proper context. For them, to pray “your kingdom come” was to request the establishing of a new world that would exceed their wildest aspirations. Yet whatever noble dreams Jesus’s first followers nurtured, their attempt to implement such dreams was never confused with the kingdom. The disciples had no delusions that they could “advance the kingdom” or “create the kingdom on earth” or anything of the sort. Rather, following in the footsteps of Jesus, theirs was to live out the kingdom narrative in the present, ordering their lives in the present as an appropriate response to Jesus’s present signs, the events of Easter weekend, and the future coming of the kingdom. Taking human form as a radical, even revolutionary, Spirit-filled protest movement against the kingdoms of this world, the kingdom of Jesus was intended to forge an alternative society that pointed to a coming and now-emerging reality.
On an even more fundamental level, the coming of the kingdom is about restoring the sanctity of the name of the one true God. So, then, when we pray “Our Father in heaven,” we are confessing ourselves as God’s obedient children, committed to representing God faithfully in our world. When Jesus enjoins us to make our first prayer “hallowed be your name,” it means that God’s holiness, not our own self-serving concerns, must stand at the top of our prayer agenda. Why has the kingdom come? Because creation is out of kilter, yes, but also, and more basically, because God’s name has been tarnished. By submitting to the kingdom, we are participating in a process that will finally see that name restored.
There is, I think, also a very practical difference at stake here, which I will illustrate. When I was a sixteen-year-old driver still on a learner’s permit, I remember how I had difficulty steering the car in a smooth and steady motion, especially on the highway. With my eyes glued to the painted stripes, I found myself veering too far to the left, only to overcompensate by moving too far to the right side of the lane. With fingers wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, I was frustrated with my tendency to steer the car in such a reactionary, uneven motion. But then one day I discovered that if I actually kept my eyes focused not ten feet ahead of me but two hundred feet down the road, I could manage much more easily. Alert to my surroundings but eyes focused down the road, it was almost as if my sense of direction took care of itself. If only someone had told me early on, “Don’t worry so much about where you are now. Just focus on where you want to be.”
Through the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is giving his disciples similar advice: “In your prayers, don’t start with where you are now. Focus first on where you want to be—the coming of the kingdom.” This is the practical intention of the petition “your kingdom come.” When we precede all our prayers—the laundry list expressing all our hopes, desires, and fears—with a prayer for the coming of the kingdom, strangely enough, the short-term prayer projects seem to take their proper place. You might even say that the prayer “your kingdom come” is Jesus’s secret for staying centered in a life fraught with disequilibrium.
Sometimes I’m almost embarrassed by the prayers that come out of my mouth, by how shortsighted they are. So often when I pray, if I’m honest, I find myself taking the short view. I might pray “thy kingdom come” with my lips, but the problem is that my heart is all too set on my kingdom now. It is not just that “thy kingdom come” must be prayed—it must be prayed from the heart. It must be prayed before God.
In a secular age, in a world that informs us that time has no end and that our fullness is completely in this life, this prayer is all the more crucial. Again and again, we must readjust our lives to the truth that all of history is rushing forward to one final goal and destination: the coming of the kingdom. Until that moment, Jesus’s followers are called to foster its coming. In short, everything we think, say, or do in this life—not least our prayers—must be tied forward to the coming kingdom. If the myth of this age is its relentless catechism that “real reality” is nothing more than the visible here and now, a biblically informed vision of the kingdom received through prayer will unmask the lie soon enough. The key, again, is to focus on where you want to be.
This is as true for the church as it is for the individual—for you and me. We must encourage one another in sustaining our kingdom focus, constantly restocking our imaginations with images and stories drawn from the Scriptures. Together, as we prayerfully, thoughtfully, and fervently superimpose the enduring template of the kingdom onto the brokenness of this passing world, we will—by God’s grace—find ourselves mysteriously conformed to the Adamic image of God. Today we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. . . .” Tomorrow, when the kingdom comes in its fullness, when reality “on earth” finally matches reality “in heaven,” we will look back to discover that the kingdom has come in the most unexpected of ways. Then as now, the more we discover about the kingdom, the more we find its mysteries not eliminated but enlarged.
—Nicolas Perrin, adapted from his new book The Kingdom of God: A Biblical Theology
How To Use This Book
What exactly is the kingdom of God? What does it mean for the people of God, and what does it mean for how we live in the world? If leaders or small groups in your church are wrestling with these questions, share The Kingdom of God with them. As part of The Biblical Theology for Life series, this book offers solid biblical theology that is thoughtfully contextualized for our culture, so that God’s life-giving Word can speak into and transform our daily lives.
And to help you teach this book in church settings, you can get a free “Small Group Study and Discussion Guide” and other free teaching resources—available on ZondervanAcademic.com for senior and lead pastors who register as Pastors on the website. Resources include presentation slides, quizzes, and more.