"Desiring Your Kingdom Together" on Matthew 6:7-13 by Michelle Ellis - Feb. 5, 2023
As we look at the Lord’s Prayer together, I’d like to say right from the beginning that we will not be exploring everything there is to explore about this rich prayer that Jesus uses to teach his followers how to pray. We won’t be exploring how the structure mirrors the ten commandments, the first part focusing on our relationship with God and the second part of the prayer on our relationship with others. We won’t be exploring how it mirrors Jesus’ summary of the law—love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. We won’t be exploring how Jewish people had a custom of praying set prayers, quite similar to the first part of this prayer twice a day and how the early church and Christians throughout the centuries have prayed the Lord’s Prayer at least daily as part of their discipleship. We won’t be exploring how this set prayer fits in the bigger picture of prayer that we have in the Bible, that is, with written prayers, psalms, spontaneous prayers, long heart rending prayers and short, simple prayers of trust. Books and books have been written on the Lord’s Prayer and there is so much here to explore that is worthy of our time and attention. But because it is impossible for us to explore all these things today, I wanted instead to highlight just a few things together about this rich and simple prayer that Jesus gifts to us as his followers.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:7, “When you pray, don’t pile up a jumbled heap of words like the pagans do. They reckon that the more they say, the more likely they will be heard.” With this, the first thing I want to you notice is the posture in which Jesus invites us into prayer. In Jesus’ time, people prayed a lot. Many were very devout in their prayer, and they used a lot of words. The Greeks and Romans would pray to their gods at the temple in big groups, and they would shout for hours about how great this or that god was. A lot of energy went into telling the gods how great they were. And behind all this shouting and posturing was likely no little amount of anxiety. They thought that the gods were known to be touchy. They were sometimes selfish, and they were not always prone to caring about people unless they were rubbed the right way. So they needed to be manipulated and sweet-talked into caring. The relationship between the Greek and Roman people and their gods was tenuous so they needed to be careful.
Jesus does not teach his followers to pray this way. There does not need to be hours of preamble to establish good relationship before talking to God. The relationship is already established at God’s initiative. The relationship between God and his people is a given in prayer. I’m not sure how many people pray like the Greeks and Romans did now. I wonder if many don’t spend that kind of effort and time today, not because we think the gods are touchy, but because we don’t really trust that anyone is listening, or we don’t think our prayers matter or make any kind of difference. And to those of us who are prone to this posture, Jesus invitation to call God “Our Father in Heaven” is just as striking. The relationship of kindness, care and trust between God and his people is a given for Jesus. It is a ‘taken for granted’ fact. God is there, he is listening and he cares just like a good, attentive parent. And Jesus invites us to pray trusting this is true.
I’m by no means the world’s best parent. But when my kids ask me for simple things, they don’t work themselves into a frenzy or try to butter me up first, nor do they assume I won’t hear them. They simply come and ask. “Can I have a drink?” “Can you zip up my coat?” “Can I have a snack?” They ask without anxiety totally trusting that I’m there, that I care, that I’ll give them what they need and what is good. When Joe read a draft of this, he noted that he can often be in his own world, and the kids sometime have to shout, jump on him, or pull his face to get his attention. That image can work too. Jesus is saying we can pray like kids jumping into their parent’s lap and our Father in heaven will be delighted in whom He sees. That kind of simplicity, trust, and even presumption is because God cares for us. God loves us, we are important to him, he delights in us, just like a good parent does a child. Prayer isn’t about trying to manipulate powers to do what you want them to do. Nor is it calling out into the void. Prayer is about being invited into the relational intimacy that is ours as God’s children. For many of us, even this step to respond to this invitation in trust, to pray, trusting that someone who cares is indeed listening is a big one. This is Jesus’ invitation to us.
The second thing I want to notice together is that this next part of the prayer is another invitation into relationship and into intimacy. It is about being invited into the desires of God. The first section of the prayer where we pray “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” are all very similar requests. They are requests that God act, that he bring his kingdom, that this world and the people in it would flourish, that God would bring revival, renewal and healing, that things would be just as he designed and desired for them to be. This part of the prayer is about joining our hopes to God’s hopes, our desires to His desires, our affections to His Affections and our aches to His aches. This prayer shapes our desires. After all, we are praying for God’s Kingdom to come. We are praying our desire for His Kingdom to come. The Father then shapes our desires into desiring His Kingdom. That’s our whole Christian walk, learning to desire the coming of His Kingdom. As God shapes our desires, He then shapes what we pray for. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus who we come to when we want to get a new bike or find a good parking spot. When we pray, “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven,” we are asking for something beyond ourselves. But we’re also asking for something that deep within us, God has given us longing for.
You might notice the times that your heart feels almost sick for things that need to be made right, for things that don’t even directly concern your own lives — when you listen to the news you long for the healing of all the racial violence in our judicial systems, you ache for the changing of the hearts of people who are drawn to go to schools with weapons, you ache for the healing of friends who are fighting cancer, you ache for the healing of young adults who are navigating through mental illness or addiction, you long for the healing of the economy whereby hundreds of people are facing unemployment at an upcoming mill closure, you ache for the healing of the unexplained illness changing the course of a family’s life, you ache for the healing of a little girl just a few months old who is on life support at Vancouver Children’s Hospital. God shapes our longings, our aches and our desires for His Kingdom, and we pray into those desires. That’s the invitation of the Lord’s Prayer. You desire to pray these things because He has shaped your desire, and your prayer is a witness that God will one day answer the prayers He has given you to pray. May He answer them soon.
These desires are the best of what it means to be human. This desire and this ache for all things to be made well, this deep awareness that things are not on earth as they are in heaven, this is what it means to be human and to be God’s child. As we grow in Christ, He shapes our desire for His Kingdom. This is a painful growth into desire, because so many things are not as they should be. Sharing in God’s desires for this world, means sharing also in God’s grief. It inevitably results in us crying out to the only one we can trust who has the power to change things, to fix them, to redeem them, to heal them and to do all this quickly because we can hardly wait any longer. To long, to ache and to wait with God for the day when all things will be made new is what we are being invited to in this part of the prayer. We are invited into the inner workings and desires of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a wound that we carry.
As God shares his desires with us we begin to ache with the wound of knowing the discrepancy between the world as it is and the world as it will be. God invites some of us into this wounding knowledge quite deeply. I wonder if he invites us deeper into this wounding knowledge as we grow and mature as his children. Some of us who have seen much of life, who have seen much of pain, who have known and seen injustice have been invited into a deeper wound of knowledge, the knowledge of the real distance between things as they are and things as they will be, and a deeper ache for desiring God’s kingdom to come. Those who have known this wound of knowledge are invited deeper into closeness with God, and are invited deeper into prayer — if only we will accept the invitation. This is a painful and a holy calling. So we pray, “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done.” — And so we utter a cry from the heart, longing for God to act and to make all things well.
Now, we need to note one last aspect of this prayer. We are not alone as we grapple with this desire for the Kingdom, as we share this wound of knowledge. Even when we pray alone, we are joining in with followers of Jesus across time and place in longing for the things of God together. This prayer assumes that our lives are mysteriously bound up with the lives of one another. We call God our Father, not my Father, we ask for our daily bread, not just my daily bread, we ask to be forgiven just as we forgive others and we ask to be delivered from evil together. As we desire the Kingdom, as we learn to desire the heart of God, as we continue to live in the tension of things as they are and things as they will be — we are here together. This prayer binds us together as we seek our bread, as we find forgiveness, as we resist the evil that confronts each day’s life. We cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer alone — Jesus does not permit that, we cannot bear that. We cannot bear the desires of God alone. This is one of the reason that we gather weekly as a body of believers—to bear witness to the fact and to remind ourselves that when God calls us, he calls us into a family, he calls us into community, his church. We bear the wound of desiring His kingdom together, and we also carry the hope together that one day all will be made well again. Amen.