Part #2 – Desiring the Kingdom

“May your Kingdom come”

What is a Kingdom?       That probably sounds like a strange or simplistic question, however, like “Hallow”, “Kingdom” is an old word.  When I think of kingdoms my mind immediately trails back to the middle ages, with kings and knights and maidens and dragons

.  Maybe it is because the word Kingdom conjures up these images that we are so prone to pass over the phrase, “May your Kingdom come”, with vague ideas of heaven far off in the future.   After all, we, as Americans, already live in a “Kingdom” or “state”, which is the newer word.  A kingdom is a government.

To the Jews, the coming of God’s Kingdom meant the overthrow of the Roman government and the establishment of a new government with the Anointed King at its head.    The Kingdom or Government of the Messiah was to be a government of peace and justice, where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be vindicated as the one true God, while all other gods were shown to be nothing.  The kingdom of the Messiah was going to be an everlasting kingdom where everyone would worship the God of Israel (Dan.2 & 7).

However, in the present day, it seems like the Kingdom of God, which was so important to Jesus and his followers, is rarely spoken about in the church.  Believers talk about the church and about heaven – which is often thought of as a hazy, unreal place with clouds and naked cherubs and harps – or an undefined bright light that makes us feel good.  This kind of thinking is not only unbiblical, it is actually harmful to our need for hope and damaging to our understanding of our mission as believers.

Having a New Discernment About the Kingdoms We Live In:       Part of the reason that I am saying that our fuzzy views of heaven and God’s Kingdom are harmful, is because the earthly kingdoms/ governments/ states we live in, are, in comparison, much more real to us.  And let’s face it, you are more likely to spend your energies on something that seems real and solid than you are to spend them on something that seems vague and hazy and is full of naked flying babies.  The fact is, that for many Christians, the Kingdom of God is vague and unreal and less important than the kingdom they happen to live in.  Some have even, in a sense, replaced the Kingdom of God, with the hope of a revitalized, religious America.  Why is this blinding and wrong?

There are Earthly Kingdoms:  One thing that is universal about earthly kingdoms is that they are established by things like wealth and strength of arms.   Our own nation is a nation founded by revolt against another kingdom, for the sake of self-government and liberty, but also (and let’s not be naive) for financial reasons.  Kingdoms get and keep their power through wealth, and through warfare and the threat of warfare or economic pressure.  This has always been the case.  When it comes down to it, an earthly kingdom is going to serve the purposes of power and wealth and prosperity/ personal freedom, etc. – and not the purposes of God the Father Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ.

So while earthly kingdoms have, historically, acknowledged the religion of the people in order to gain a kind of legitimacy, and Presidents and Kings generally take some kind of religious stance in order to appear respectable, the real agenda is and will always be power for the state and wealth.

There is God’s Kingdom:  But the kingdom of God is  unique.   The kingdom of God was established not by force or threat or by wealth.  Instead of using threats and warfare, Jesus Christ laid down his life by allowing violent men to execute him shamefully as a criminal.  Instead of gathering and striving to maintain and protect wealth, or using wealth to put pressure on others, Jesus Christ became poor, a servant who had no place even to lay his head.

The Kingdom of God was established differently from any other kingdom that ever has been on earth.  And consequently, the Kingdom of God is a different kingdom than any that has ever been.

  • Rather than being a kingdom in which men seek power, it is a kingdom in which men become servants of one another.
  • Rather than being a kingdom that seeks wealth for some, it is a kingdom in which the cardinal virtue is generosity and self giving.
  • Rather than being a kingdom of coercion and threats, it is a kingdom in which followers are told not to seek vengeance, not to return insult for insult, but instead to love enemies and to pray for  persecutors.

And here is the thing:  The kingdom of God  allows all other kingdoms of this world to exist – temporarily.  But one day all the temporary kingdoms of this world will have to give an account  to God for what they have done.

The follower of Jesus, then, may live in an earthly kingdom and have responsibilities to that kingdom – but ultimately the followers of Jesus belong to the Kingdom of God and have a higher responsibility to Christ and his Kingdom.   This means that when the governments of men and the government of Christ have conflicting interests, the duty of the follower of Jesus is to the Government of Christ.

  • To take up the Kingdom of God means that we turn from the stockpiling of personal fortunes as a goal of life, and turn towards generosity to the poor and those in need in our communities.
  • To take up the Kingdom of God means that we turn from the solutions of violence and revenge, bitterness, lawsuits, malice, passive aggressive hatred, and turn towards forgiveness, love for enemies, working out differences peacefully and graciously, willingness to be wronged rather than to respond in vengeance.
  • To take up the kingdom means to turn away from gossip, slander, filthy speech, damaging cutting remarks, lying, and turn towards speaking the truth, holding our tongue rather than tearing another person down or spreading an evil report, blessing, rather than cursing, parents, children, those we love, enemies.

These are the ways in which God’s Kingdom advances.   It is true that these things do not look impressive or powerful.   It takes faith to believe that a kingdom can be established through such things as not returning insult for insult.

The Intrusion of the Kingdom of the United States Into the Church:  I don’t want to offend, but this is the reason that I have a real problem when I walk into a church and see a Christian flag and an American flag both up front.   We should recognize that these are two competing kingdoms with competing aims and competing means.   When we come to worship our God, whose Kingdom of peace can alone bring peace, who alone is the answer to our fallen world, we ought not to have the flag of a kingdom that uses force and that is based on the acquisition of wealth, up front, as though being American and being Christian were the  same thing.   The truth is, it is an outrage to have this or any other nations flag in the place of worship.  At best they are distractions, and at worst they are banners to the kingdoms of the earth which stand opposed to the rule of God.

Having American flags at the front of our churches has led to the kind of confusion in which well meaning Christians have begun to equate the U.S. with God’s kingdom.   Every so often in the mail, we receive magazines selling pins and stickers with “God Bless America” printed across American flags.   Recently, someone sent my wife and me a Christian magazine showing children dressed up as American patriots holding weapons.  These things certainly serve the loyalty of the American state, but they have nothing to do with the kingdom of God.

As Christians we live with a tension.   We live in a country that gives us certain rights and freedoms as citizens, but we are part of another kingdom.   We must recognize the tension between the state that we happen to live in, and the true Kingdom that we serve.   One kingdom serves wealth and power, the other teaches us to seek first God’s kingdom and to lay up treasure in heaven, and to lay down our lives for one another.  We cannot serve two masters.   If we are willing to pray for God’s Kingdom to come, then we must  follow the way of his kingdom.

To pray for God’s Kingdom to come is to separate ourselves from holding on too tightly to earthly wealth or prosperity.   The  prayer forces us to recognize that no matter how pleasant life may seem, we still live under the curse of sin and death, in the presence of a world in revolt against God.  The prayer should force us to recognize that the methods of earthly kingdoms – (violence and coercion, pursuit of wealth above all, the abuse of resources) – can never be our methods.

The Kingdom of God, Presently:       With the coming of Jesus, the kingdom of God was established.  Through his teaching, his life, his death on the cross and his resurrection, Jesus set up an insurrectional movement.   From now on there was a new kingdom – the Kingdom of God.  The followers of Jesus saw that their mission was to serve the purposes of God – to establish a new kind of government, where God was king and men were transformed into the kind of people they were always meant to be – glorious and redeemed human beings.

The Book of Acts records for us the continuing work of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, in the establishment of the church.  The church is the great work of God that is going on in the world – it is the work of God’s Kingdom.  The church is a new government whose concern is not to compete with or join human governments – but to create a new kind of people and government, obedient to Christ – living by grace – turning away from division and violence the worship of wealth.

  • The church is the work of God’s Kingdom on earth in the present day.
  • The church is the place where there is peace on earth (when it is carrying out its’ mission).
  • The church is the light of the world.
  • The church is God’s Kingdom in a fallen world – peopled by sinners who have come to Christ for forgiveness – and also by those who do not belong to Christ (Matt.13:24-29).

Sometimes people try to establish God’s Kingdom by force (Matt.11:12).  Often the church has been misguided and in error and has done wrong in the name of Christ – and yet it is still the beginnings of the Kingdom of God.  Often the church has been deceived into doing evil (Rev.12:17), and yet the church (like OT Israel) is the beginnings of the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God, which we are part of now, only waits to be made complete when Christ returns.  The kingdom of God, which we are part of now, is the expression of that coming kingdom (however imperfectly), on earth.

We need to understand and take hold of this;  The church is the work of the Kingdom of God now.  The church is the mission of every believer.  The church is what God is doing in the world.  And if we are asking for God’s kingdom to come, then what we are saying is that we want the church to thrive and to be faithful and to carry out its mission and to be blessed by God.   We are saying that our hope is that God’s Kingdom will come and replace the earthly kingdoms we are living in.   We are saying that we recognize that the earthly kingdoms we live in are fallen and can never be the fulfillment of the things we hope for.

Certainly, Paul teaches that we should honor the ruling authorities who are ministers appointed by God to do good and keep order.  Certainly we should pay our taxes.  Romans 13 makes both of these things clear.   As believers we cannot advocate armed revolt.  And yet, we are part of a kingdom that displaces all other kingdoms.

The Kingdom of God, Future:     Scriptural pictures of the Kingdom of God promised not just a kingdom that would enact stricter laws and force people to be moral, but a kingdom where the God Himself would seat his followers around His table and prepare a feast of the best meats and wines for them … where the veil of death would finally be done away with … where the shame of the sin of God’s people would be taken away (Is.25:6-9).   The Kingdom of God, according to Isaiah 2:1-4, would be a place where all the nations of the world would lay down their weapons of warfare and flock to the mountain of the Lord to see his beauty and to be in his presence.  In other words, Jesus through his death and resurrection, had established the promised Kingdom of God which was going to transform the entire world.

These things are our hope.   We long for the coming return of Jesus and for the transformation that will take place when we finally come into the physical presence of God.   The Scriptures speak not of living on clouds in some half real, boring existence – but of rivers and trees and mountains.   The Scriptures speak of a beautiful city.   Many of these images are found throughout Scripture – but particularly in the book of Revelation.   And these things are, as C.S. Lewis suggests, more real, and more substantial  than the things we know now.   The same God who created the earth and made all things good… who made animals and trees and oceans and skies and waterfalls and jungles and coasts and rocks and beauty and love and joy and time and human beings – is the one who has prepared for us a new creation.   But our hope is not merely the fact that there is a new unspoilt creation.  Our hope is to live in the presence of God – in whose presence we were originally created to live.  In His presence, when we see him face to face, we will finally be alive – for the first time in our lives.

We live now as mortals.  We live under the curse of death.   We live under the influence of illness and mortality.  Paul tells us, in Romans 8:22-23, that the whole creation groans, … as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.   The hope of the Kingdom of God is real and actual bodily resurrection and transformation.

The Kingdom of God, future, is the hope of the people of God – a government and a new creation that makes all other kingdoms pale in significance.  The Kingdom of God, future, is the country that Abraham and others were looking for in Hebrews 11:13-16.

Taking Up the Desire of God:      Praying for the kingdom to come is formational, which is to say, it forms or creates and organizes a new interest in our hearts.   When we pray for the Kingdom of God to come, we begin to face the fact that we live in an earthly kingdom that competes for our allegiance.  We begin to see the distinction between being believers who are comfortable in our earthly kingdoms – and being believers who are looking for and longing for the Kingdom of God.     We begin to recognize that our role in the church is not as spectators but as servants of the Kingdom.   We being to question our motives and to ask – “Do I really want the kingdom of God to come and change the world, or am I more comfortable keeping the kingdom at arms length?”

Praying for the kingdom forces me to look at the fact that the world I live in is fallen.  There is political corruption, disease, death, starvation and want, abuse, hatred, war, perversion and the debasement of human beings.  People are empty, blind to what is truly good while chasing after what is truly worthless, in constant pain, wracked with sorrow, with shame.  This is not some detached list of evils that we know about but which never touch us, we know people in all of these conditions.  We know parents who have lost children.  We know children who are throwing their lives away.  We know adults who are empty and living for nothing.   We know those who are terminally sick and dying.

God’s Kingdom on earth is a place where healing is possible –  physical, emotional and spiritual.  God’s Kingdom on earth is a place where true worth and meaning is found.  God’s Kingdom is a place of life and peace and true worship.   And it is as we pray for our own needs and longings and those of other damaged and wounded and corrupted people, like us, that we begin to truly see the worth of His Kingdom.

Two attitudes slowly come to life in the heart.   First, there comes to be a growing detachment to a world that is fallen and transitory.    Cars and homes and living room furniture begin to seem to be limited as life pursuits.   There is something greater that  is happening that concerns the souls of people and our own souls and eternity.

If one continues to pray for the Kingdom of God to come, for Christ to return, and one is engaged in that prayer, a longing begins to form in the soul.  I don’t know a better way to express this longing than to say that it is a longing for home.   Since the Fall of man, human beings have been living in a fallen, broken atmosphere that they were not intended to live in.  Our world is broken.  Praying for God’s Kingdom to come brings this realization to the surface and causes the follower of Jesus to begin to recognize that there is a promise of a land without death, full of trees and rivers and the beautiful city of God.  Most of all, the realization begins to dawn that to be in the presence of God in the kingdom is to be finally, joyfully home – where we were always meant to live and be – a kind of completion that is not an ending but a fulfillment of all we were meant to be and have – the sum of our desires.  I believe that to be redeemed and at last in the presence of Jesus is to be filled with an ecstatic joy – the kind of joy and innocence that children experience in their best moments.   It makes sense to me that this, in part, is what the image of the bride (the church) and the bridegroom (Christ), in Revelation 21, is all about.

So then, how do we pray for God’s kingdom to come?  What are we praying for when we ask for God’s Kingdom to come?  How are we changed by praying this way?

 Pray for the Mission of God’s Kingdom on Earth:        FIrst, we are praying for the church…

  • We are praying that those who do not know God would come into the church.
  • We are praying that the church would carry out its mission and actually follow the teachings of Jesus.
  • We are praying that the kingdom work of God would be done: Justice for the poor and oppressed, freedom for the prisoner (both political and spiritual), healing for the sick,  joy for the sorrowing and depressed.
  • We are praying that God would redeem our lives and make them meaningful, lovely and true – and that God would do this with all men.
  • We are praying that the church would champion peace and love and justice and unity in Christ.
  • We are praying that God would be praised and would receive glory through the church.
  • We are praying both for our local church(s) and for the church around the world.

All of this is in the present – but our prayer is also future…

Pray for the Blessed Hope of the Return of Jesus and the Fulfillment of the Kingdom:   The coming of God’s Kingdom is not just about the mission of the church in this fallen world right now, but it is about the final fulfillment of the believer.   Our final destiny is to be in the presence of the One who created us from Himself and His glory.   Therefore, when we pray for the Kingdom of God…

  • We are praying that Jesus would return and set all things right – that he would defeat death and sin and that our lowly bodies would be transformed.
  • We are praying for the judgment of the nations.
  • We are praying for the great Wedding Supper of the Lamb.
  • We are praying for the day when we will be united to Christ – made alive as we have never been – filled with ecstatic joy and perfectly remade, free of the curse of sin at last –  set free to love God, to love one another – set free from death and shame and sorrow and loss.

These are not exhaustive lists – nor are they meant to be.  The truth is that as a desire for the Kingdom of God grows in us, our understanding of what and how to pray for the Kingdom will grow as well.

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