Just one month ago, 35,000 people crammed into Molson Park in Barrie for the Live 8 Concert. They joined millions of other people at nine other sites to make their voices heard for justice in Africa. It was a free rock show, but it was more. It was a concert that wanted to change the world.
They're not alone. Groups like Make Poverty History started a clicking campaign:
The world has never been as wealthy. Click. The world has never been as healthy. Click. We have never produced or consumed as much before. Click. We have never been more educated. Click. Nor grown such vast quantities of food that we have to pay our farmers to stop working. Click. Despite all the above, poverty kills a child every three seconds. Click.
Some of us here are probably wearing wristbands for Make Poverty History, or Lance Armstrong's Live Strong wristband, or for some other cause. It's all part of a desire to see this world changed, to stand up for what's right, to make a difference.
We want this world to change, which is why we hold concerts and wear wristbands. Every attempt to change the world expresses our desire that things would be better.
At the same time, we're really powerless to change the world as much as we'd like. The G8 summit ended, and even the most optimistic person would not say that they didn't solve the problem of poverty in Africa. Despite unprecedented wealth and health, nobody has the answers for how to get food and medicine to those who need it most.
We need to keep trying, and we shouldn't give up. But we're powerless to effect the type of change we want to see in the world.
The real question is this: how? How can we bring about the type of change we want to see?
A couple of weeks ago, Charlene and I were sitting on our porch one sipping coffee. Charlene asked me the same question, except more to do with us as a church. How can we as a church bring about the type of change we want to see? How can Richview be a group of people that blesses the world? At times it seems to clear what we need to do, but it seems so tough to bring about the type of change we want to see.
Charlene asked the question, and I tried to change the topic, since I didn't have a good answer. She pressed me, so I had to answer. I don't think my answer is everything you could say on the topic, but I do think that it's foundational to any success we're going to have as a church in changing the world around us.
Here's what I said: it begins with praying.
I know, that seems like a cop out. All kinds of objections come to my mind. It feels like we'll become a church that does nothing but pray while the world around us moves on. I want to say that prayer isn't enough, that we need to get off our chairs and actually get out there and do something. I think there's part of me that thinks that prayer is the last thing that we need to do to change the world.
I want to say all of this, except for two things. One is the example of Jesus. I don't know anybody who changed the world in such a short time. He was only 33 when he died, and was in the public eye for only three years, yet I don't think anybody has changed the world more than he has. In his life, prayer was absolutely crucial. Somebody's said, "For me, prayer is preparation for the battle. For Jesus, it was the battle itself" (Haddon Robinson). Jesus agonized in prayer while others slept, but when the moment of crisis came, Jesus was fine. Virtually anybody who has studied Jesus' life will tell you that one of the hallmarks of his life was regular prayer.
That's one reason why I think changing the world begins with praying. The other reason is this: Jesus flat out told us to.
A couple of weeks ago, we began to look at the prayer that Jesus left for his followers to pray. We usually call it The Lord's Prayer. That's a bad name. It really should be called The Disciples' Prayer. It's a prayer that Jesus has left for us as a pattern for all of our prayers. It's absolutely central to our walk of discipleship, to our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.
We began studying the prayer two weeks ago and learned that Jesus taught us to pray by beginning with God's character, specifically his love ("Dad") and glory ("Hallowed be your name"). As Jesus unfolds this prayer, he tells us how to pray to bring about the type of change we want to see in the world. He says to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
In the first part of the prayer, Jesus tells us to focus on God and his glory. In the next lines, here is what he said:
To see this world change, put a prayer for God's reign at the top of your prayer list.
If you want to see this world change, Jesus says, then that's a good thing. But realize that the only way this world can permanently and significantly change for the better is for God's reign to be established on this earth. And one of the primary ways that we come into line with the establishment of God's reign is through prayer.
So if we want to see the world around us change, begin by praying. Pray for God's reign. Put it at the top of your prayer list and pray for it often. "Your kingdom come, your will be one, on earth as it is in heaven."
This brings up quite a few questions in my mind, and I'm sure it does in yours as well. Today, I'd like to explore two questions that come to my mind out of what Jesus has said here.
The two questions are this: What does it mean to pray for God's kingdom to come? What is that all about? The other question I have is this: why? Why is prayer so important?
So, in other words, what does this prayer mean and why should we pray it?
What Does It Mean?
What does it mean to pray, "Your kingdom come?" We pray it so often and it's so familiar. But what exactly are we praying for when we say these words?
Kingdom refers to the reign or rule of God. One of the most significant scholars on this subject calls it "the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced" (George Eldon Ladd).
That's a mouthful. Let's simplify it: the kingdom is wherever God is ruling and that rule is experienced.
This isn't something we hear a lot about in church, but it's actually a theme that runs through Scripture. All through the Hebrew Scriptures, people longed for God to set things right. They believed that one day, God would come to reign on earth, establishing justice and peace for all his people and for all nations. Listen to this holy prayer, that would have been prayed in the synagogue at that time. It's a prayer that is still prayed in some synagogues today:
Magnified and sanctified be His great name in the world that He has created according to His will. May He establish His Kingdom in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of all the house of Israel, even speedily and at a near time.
So here's what the kingdom means: God is in charge on earth. He runs things, he makes sure that everything is right. He handles things when they go wrong. Praying for God's kingdom to come is to pray for God to be in charge of running everything on this earth.
Some of you who are political know how exciting it is when your party takes over. I remember when Bob Rae became premier years ago, he had to calm everyone down and tell them not to get their hopes up. Turns out he was right! No earthly ruler can live up to the hype and the promises. Even the best of them let their followers down. Not so when God takes charge. When God's rule is established, he sets everything right.
God's rule is about overcoming all the forces of evil. It's about victory over sin, the defeat of evil, and the removal of everything that's wrong with this world. It's a prayer for all the glory and beauty of heaven to be turned to an earthly reality as well. It will touch every area of life: our lives, our families, our relationships, our governments. Everything will be set right.
I know this sounds like a bit of a pipe dream. It's really a hope that looks to the end of history, when the Hebrews believed God would establish his reign.
Every time you wear a wristband, you're expressing a desire for the kingdom of God. Every time we express a desire to change and improve the world, we're expressing a longing for God's kingdom and reign. Our desire for relationships to be put healed and for wrongs to be made right and for justice to be established are all expressions of hope for the kingdom of God.
But the kingdom isn't just some far away thing that will take place at a future time. The kingdom was the central message of Jesus. It's mentioned fifty times in the Gospel of Matthew alone. Jesus announced, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Matthew 4:17). Read what he said when he was asked when the kingdom of God would come:
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, "Here it is," or "There it is," because the kingdom of God is in your midst. (Luke 17:20-21)
Jesus taught that the kingdom is here. It began in an unexpected way here on earth in the ministry of Jesus. The kingdom is here because Jesus is here, and this kingdom changes everything.
Some scholars talk about the kingdom as being "already and not yet" at the same time. It's both present and future. It's here, but one day it will fully come and all the world will experience the reign of God.
But it's here. It's started. The future we anticipate is breaking in here and now. He's already established God's rule in the hearts and lives of his people. Those who follow Jesus Christ are proof that God's rule and will can be experienced today, here and now.
I'm excited because that makes us participants in the kingdom. It makes us part of what God is doing in setting everything straight. If you look at the life of Jesus, you can see glimpses of what the kingdom looks like: healing and hope and blessing. That same thing can happen among us today.
I heard somebody describe the kingdom this way as the music and medicine of heaven. You and I, having been captivated by his music and cured by his medicine, sing his song and apply his medicine to a world that is offbeat and sick.
That's what we're praying for when we pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." We're praying for God's rule on this earth to increase, so he will put everything right.
Once in England, I found a historical site where the Romans used to land near the English channel on the way to London. The Romans built a huge marble arch there so you knew you were entering Roman territory. England was an outpost of the Roman empire. Eventually, the Romans packed up and left England, and today, all that's left of that arch is its base.
I can imagine how abandoned some of the people felt when the Romans left. They might have wished that the Roman empire would come back.
We're sort of like that. What God established here is now laying in ruins, and things aren't like they used to be. When we pray, "Your kingdom come," we're asking God to take what now lies in ruins, to reestablish his rule, and to make all things right again.
This still leaves a question about why we should pray about this. We want to be a kingdom outpost, a group who are already experiencing God's reign and everything that it brings. It seems like prayer isn't going to make this happen. So why pray?
That's maybe part of the problem. We want to make the kingdom happen ourselves. The kingdom isn't something we can build or accomplish. We can enter into the kingdom, but we can't build it.
I'm a fix-it type of person. When I see a problem, I want to get in there and do it myself. It's tempting for me to do this as a pastor. Strategies and initiatives have their place, but Jesus teaches us there's something that prayer can do that all the strategies in the world won't be able to do. That's why Jesus taught us to pray for the kingdom.
I listed four reasons why we should pray this way:
So we can learn to want what God wants - I love Brussels sprouts. I don't need butter. I love them a little bit overcooked and with lots of butter.
I realize I'm alone in this. Brussels sprouts aren't a very popular vegetable, and I have a daughter who isn't really into vegetables.
That's why it surprised me to learn that she loves Brussels sprouts. It gives me great pleasure to hear her say, "Please can we have Brussels sprouts?" Or, when I cook them, to hear her get excited. It gives parents pleasure when kids want what they want.
When we pray, "Your kingdom come," we're essentially saying, "Dad, I want what you want." It brings God pleasure when we desire his kingdom to come to this world. Prayer teaches us to long for this more, to make this part of what we're asking God to do. We're agreeing with what God wants and asking for it too.
So we can join his kingdom movement - When we pray, "Your kingdom come," we're really praying for God to work among us. We're getting in line with what God is doing, instead of asking him to get in line with us. We're adding our prayer to what God is already doing.
I used to think that prayer was trying to get God to do what I want. I'm learning that prayer is more about getting me to do what God wants. When we pray, "Your kingdom come," we're aligning ourselves with God. We're joining in with him and his plan.
So we see the world the way that God sees it - Last year, I found Charlene sanding the rails of our porch. She had found rust on the rails and wanted me to paint the rails before winter. I had never even noticed that anything was wrong with the rails, but that's just like us. She notices things that I completely miss.
I don't know if you've ever had that happen. We become so familiar with things that after a while we don't even see them. Then one day we see the same thing through someone else's eyes and say, "I had no idea that it was like that!"
When we pray, "Your kingdom come," we're seeing the world the way God sees it. We get used to seeing and accepting things the way they were. This prayer reminds us that we were made for more. We were made to long for the kingdom.
Because God answers this prayer - Finally, we pray this prayer because God answers it. We know that God will establish kingdom, and that one day his will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. But God answers this prayer even among us. The way that we will see God's reign spread in Etobicoke is going to be through prayer, asking God, "Do it here. Let us experience your reign around us."
We pray this prayer because Jesus told us to. We also pray it because we want to be part of what God is doing. We want his kingdom to break in all around us, right here in our community. We don't want to be spectators. We want to see it happen.
Dean Kennedy is a pastor who went to Disneyland in California this summer. As he rode the monorail from the hotel to the Magic Kingdom, he began to feel sorry for the hotel operators. That's kind of crazy, because the hotel operators make tons of money by being so close to Disney. But listen to why he felt sorry for the hotels:
They are so close to the action yet no matter what they do to their hotels - they will never "be" part of the magic of the "kingdom" of Disneyland. They can offer large pools, free high speed internet, free meals, gourmet coffee, luxurious rooms - but they will always, always be "across the street from Disneyland".
He compared this to churches. We can profit from the kingdom, we can be close to the kingdom, we can offer all kinds of cool services and programs. But in the end it would be a sad thing if we did all of this and missed out on what was happening on the other side of the street.
The kingdom is where the real story is being written and to be so close and to be doing many good things and providing many good services and yet missing out on what's going on "across the street" is profoundly sad and ultimately such a waste.
That's why we want to pray, "Your kingdom come."