Sometimes the words we utter, say and yes, even pray, are so familiar to us that we can lose any sense of their radical edginess. This I think is true for the phrase ‘thy kingdom come.’ And maybe, if we are honest, these are words that slightly scare us: what if the kingdom of God really was to come, not just ‘in heaven’ but ‘here on earth.’ Again, if we are honest, I suspect there is something far less challenging and far more comfortable of keeping the Kingdom of God out there, in the distance, confined to heaven. But as Christians our mandate is to help bring the Kingdom of God into the here and now. If we aren’t prepared to accept that mandate – the mandate to preach the good news to all the nations – we really have no business praying the Lord’s Prayer.
But here is a bit of good news: God knows our weaknesses and our reluctance to do that which we have been mandated to do and that is why we have been given the gift of prayer. However, both our readings make it clear that before we begin to pray, we first need to make sure that our orientation to prayer is correct. Paul, in his letter to the Phiippians, is clear that we need to make sure that we ‘rejoice’ or give thanks to God for all of our many blessings. Jesus urges us to render ourselves vulnerable before God, retreating to a place of quietness and solitude and making sure that we pray in a spirit of humility: ‘whenever you pray do not be like the hypocrites for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners, so that they may be seen by others.’ So humility and joy should be two of the guiding virtues that underpin our lives of prayer.
But, what of the phrase itself, ‘thy kingdom come,’ what might we make of it? I have just three thoughts:
First, it is in itself a prayer for the suppression of ego: ‘thy kingdom come, ’ not my preferred version of whatever that might mean. It is a prayer for the breaking in of God’s kingdom. The one thing I can promise you is that if you really pray these words you will be changed and transformed. You will start to see the world around you from God’s perspective and when you, or we, do this then the result will be that your prayers will be answered as ‘the Father who sees in secret will reward you.’
My second thought is that the answers to your prayers might come in a rather unexpected fashion. Too often our requests are too modest, too restricted, too ‘me orientated.’ Too often our prayers are not orientated towards the breaking in of the kingdom but instead for an off the shelf, cheapened version of grace; one that seems to sort things out but in fact never really does. Real prayer always allows for, even anticipates, the unexpected, the truly transformational, the supernatural. We must allow our prayers to be answered lavishly. In the gospels we hear the stories of how a few scraps of food, when prayed over, fed thousands. We know from the testimonies of people like Chiara Lubich and Mother Theresa how God seemed to multiply the seemingly scarce resources at their disposal simply through the act of prayer. We also know how the prayer life of people like Desmond Tutu helped transform an entire nation. Lubich, Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu are all examples of humble yet joyful people who sincerely prayed ‘thy kingdom come.’ We can and must follow in their footsteps. We must be, as I keep saying, a church that is ‘rooted in and routed from prayer.’
One more thought about our prayer heroes: they were not people who prayed only on Sunday. Prayer was, and in Tutu’s case is, part of who they are. Prayer is the very oxygen they breathe. They are all people who have taken Paul’s advice to pray without ceasing. They are all people, ordinary people, who ‘by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving in their hearts’ brought ‘everything’ before God in prayer. We too need to ensure that prayer, true prayer, is part of the fabric of our daily lives.
Finally, praying ‘thy kingdom come’ from a place of humility and with joy in our hearts will change us, and when we change we become signposts to the kingdom, because we are already, even ‘here on earth’, citizens of the kingdom. The consequences of an active life of prayer, where the phrase ‘thy kingdom come’ is prayed with utter sincerity are a loss of anxiety, a renewed sense of peace, the ability to survive and thrive on a simple diet of ‘our daily bread,’ and, forgiveness of those who have ‘trespassed against us.’ Through praying this one phrase we become increasingly compassionate and merciful; we become deeply committed to justice, equality and inclusion; kingdom values in other words.
We become the sort of people who bring the Kingdom of God into the here and now; we become part of the answer to our own prayer, for prayer’s concern is bringing us into partnership with God and his will. When our wills are aligned with God’s will then the result is the coming of the kingdom ‘on earth as in heaven,’ and that is truly something worth praying for,