“Thy Kingdom Come”, an annual international prayer wave between Ascension and Pentecost, promoted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope, is a time to pray especially for friends, family, colleagues and the wider community, that people may encounter Jesus Christ for themselves. But it raises an interesting question: what do we really mean when we pray “Thy kingdom come” each week in the Lord’s Prayer? I searched my bookshelves and found some challenging answers.
|The official Thy Kingdom Come logo 2019|
Commentators agree that when Jesus talked about “the Kingdom of God” he didn’t mean a nation-state, church or even heaven. It is rather “the rule of God” which exists wherever and whenever Jesus is honoured and followed, “on earth as it is in heaven”. This Kingdom is ruled by love and powered by truth, expressed by service and characterised by humility. By all accounts, we need to be careful what we pray for when we reel off the familiar words!
When Jesus in Mark 1:15 tells us that “the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” he meant more than that he was beginning an evangelistic tour. Theologian Alan Richardson explains: “In general terms this means that Jesus proclaimed as good news the fact that God was setting about the task of putting straight the evil plight into which the world had fallen, or that he was beginning to bring to its fulfilment his original intention in the Creation”.1
Jesus’ followers belong to this kingdom by virtue of both their commitment to him as saviour and to their conscious and deliberate reflection of his Lordship in the world. We help to build the kingdom now by bringing Jesus’ standards and purposes to bear on every detail of our lives. But there can be no new “Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land” (or anywhere else) until Jesus returns and fully institutes his kingly rule in a new creation that is beyond our imagining. The New Testament is clear that the whole realm of nature and human endeavour will be caught up in the new creation (see Romans 8:19-21; Colossians 1:19-20; Revelation 21:1-6). The kingdom is both “now” and “not yet”.“Thy Kingdom come” then is primarily a prayer for God’s Kingship over ourselves. Says commentator William Barclay, “The Kingdom is the most personal thing in the world. It demands the submission of my will, my heart, my life. It is only when each one of us makes the personal decision and submission that the Kingdom comes.”2 More recently, American Presbyterian minister Timothy Keller wrote, “It is asking God to extend his royal power over every part of our lives – emotions, desires, thoughts and commitments. … We are asking God to so fully rule us that we want to obey him with all our hearts and with joy.”3
A prayer with world wide scope
On that basis, “Thy Kingdom Come” then becomes a mission prayer, as we gladly long for Jesus’ Kingship to be extended to all around us. According to John Pritchard “It’s not a phrase to trot out in church on Sunday without at least a crash helmet and a first-aid kit. This is serious praying for God’s massive attack on all that frustrates his good and loving purposes.”4
And it extends to the whole world of human affairs. Says the founder of the 24/7 Prayer movement, Pete Grieg, in his forthright style, “It’s tragic that the most revolutionary cry in world history, ‘Let your kingdom come’, is so often reduced to a religious catchphrase, mere shorthand for a few less people leaving our churches and a few more homeless people receiving a tuna sandwich on Friday nights. By contrast early 20th-century Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper … wrote ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!’”5
|God's Kingdom is far removed from concepts of earthly power|
but it envisages a new world order ruled by God's love
Pete Grieg in his latest book draws attention to the promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” He picks up on the last phrase: the forgiveness of sins and the healing of the land are entirely contingent on the intercession of God’s people. What task could possibly be more important, more urgent for our world today?”7
But prayer alone, important as it is (and for some people, especially those largely housebound, the greatest thing they can do) is not for many of us enough. Praying “thy kingdom come” also means committing ourselves to the kinds of Kingdom-building actions that demonstrate our membership of it.
Swiss professor of systematic theology Jan Milič Lochman, recognises the depressing state of the “dark horizons” of the modern world and suggests that “thy kingdom come” sets them in a fresh context and thereby “relativizes them, robbing them of their final validity. Kyrios Christos [Lord Christ]: The Risen Lord is the Lord of the principalities and powers. This liberates us. We are no longer the prisoners of omnipotent fate. … Our world must not remain as it is. Resistance is possible; our hearts and circumstances can change.”
He asserts that, “It makes a decisive difference to culture and society if there are groups within them that amid the oppressions of time keep their eyes open to the kingdom of God, praying for it and following it in the direction that Christ’s promises indicate, that is, by taking up the cause of the poor, acting on behalf of prisoners and the handicapped, freeing the oppressed, and especially proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord, the liberating future of God. The state of the world will be renewed.”8
We help to build the Kingdom by living as liberated members of it, and by praying for people to come to know Jesus Christ personally. Then they in turn, through their renewed and changed lives and witness, bring God’s rule to bear on their corner of the world. So the shorthand “thy Kingdom come” becomes: “Allow me to be an agent of your kingdom by bringing peace to the anxious, grace to the needy and your love to all whom I touch. May people believe in your reign of goodness because of how I live and speak today.”9
Think and talk
Just consider the different ways in which you can make the prayer, “thy kingdom come” become more specific in fact, broader in scope, and deeper in meaning, for you and your friends. And remember that, each time you join in the Lord’s Prayer.
1. Alan Richardson, “Kingdom of God”, A theological word book of the Bible, SCM Press 1962, p.1192. William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew volume 1, St Andrew Press 1956, p.212
3. Timothy Keller, Prayer, Hodder and Stoughton 2016, p.111-112
4. John Pritchard, How to pray, SPCK 2004, p.17
5. Pete Grieg, Red moon rising, David C Cook, 2015, p. 36
6. Tom Wright, The Lord and his Prayer, SPCK 1996, p.31
7. Pete Grieg, How to pray, Hodder and Stoughton 2019, p.88
8. Jan Milič Lochman, The Lord’s Prayer, William B Eerdmans, 1990, pp 62-63
9. Philip Yancey, Prayer, Hodder and Stoughton 2006, p.164, slightly altered
© Derek Williams 2019