I need hope. Everybody does. What’s been going on in the church, this nation, and the world has many of us feeling doomy: soul-less politics—not just in the U.S. but in many parts of the world; mass shootings in schools, concert halls, and places of worship in the U.S., Egypt, France, and elsewhere; intensifying racial tensions; the blatant slave trade going on right now in places like Libya; the alarming number of refugees in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe; the blade of the gay issue dividing churches in conveyer belt fashion. What’s to stop us from throwing up our arms in despair?
The church’s ultimate answer is Jesus, the hope of the world—and I wouldn’t be a minister of the gospel if I didn’t agree.
Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9-10).
This line in the Lord’s Prayer exudes hope as it longs for a kingdom that is sure to come.
It should also remind us of the basic missional truth that the transformation of the world begins in the heart. It’s a prayer after all. And as such, it serves as the foundation of what we can call a spirituality of mission. Before it is a theological statement on the kingdom, or a missional call to practice the kingdom, or a pronouncement of the coming kingdom, these verses are first and foremost a prayer.
This more than suggests that before we look horizontally at the needs of our churches, our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation, and our world, we need to look vertically to the One who has saved us and who alone can enable us to do the will of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”
It’s no wonder the weight of the world feels crushing. It’s no wonder our hearts are filled with anger and cynicism and gracelessness. We’re trying to be agents of God’s transformation—without God! No wonder the weight of the world feels crushing; no wonder our hearts are filled with anger and cynicism and gracelessness. We’re trying to be agents of God’s transformation without God! Click To Tweet
The Praying Church
I was in a church in South Korea several years ago that never stops praying. The pastor explained that the church’s prayer ministry is “24/7.” Church members tag-team to intercede for the needs of the church, the city, the country, and the world around the clock, seven days a week. I was stunned then. I’m still stunned today when I think about it. Why is that so strange—a church praying nonstop?
That praying church at once inspires and convicts me. It’s inspiring because I remember that it’s God’s power that ultimately transforms—not social policies, political rallies, missional strategies, or faith-based activism. Of course, God’s power can manifest through any of these things, but they must begin, operate, and end with looking to the One who alone can bring true and enduring change. That’s what it means to confess Jesus as Lord.
That praying church is convicting too because I realize how much I rely on myself. I don’t pray nearly enough. I don’t say this as a legalistic thing, but as a heart condition, a heart that doesn’t habitually bend toward reliance on God. I’m a professed Christian, and a preacher to boot; but in practice, I’m basically an atheist. Beyond obligatory prayers, how much do I lean on the Spirit to solve problems, make key decisions, navigate through tough issues, or even process the news?
“Your kingdom come” is a prayer, and we should pray more, but for what? What did Jesus mean when he instructed us to pray, “Your kingdom come?”
This, of course, begs the question of what the kingdom is.
The Kingdom of God and Shalom
Far more than that heavenly place where we go when we die, the kingdom of God is an all-encompassing alternate reality that challenges all that is wrong with the universe. As followers of Jesus, we have pledged to join God’s mission to topple broken, corrupt systems of sin, violence, oppression, and injustice. There’s a biblical word that captures all of this: the word shalom. The “kingdom of God” is the socio-political expression of God’s shalom, which refers to authentic and total peace—peace with justice, peace between God and people, between people and people, and between God, people, and the very creation itself. Jesus said to pray for that, to pray, “Your shalom come…on earth as it is in heaven.”
Most of my ministry through the years has been helping the hyper-individualistic church see the bigness of God’s shalom-kingdom, which manifests itself all over the world. Our mission cannot just be about personal evangelism; it must include addressing social injustices and reforming political structures.
However, God’s shalom—big as it is—does also include Christ’s love for you and me as broken individuals. It includes the Spirit’s interior work in our hearts, rooting out the vileness, the anti-shalom elements that we allowed to grow and fester there. It has to begin there because how can we possibly be an agent of God’s shalom in the world if our hearts are filled with festering anger toward those we disagree with? How can we be agents of shalom when we harbor thoughts of harm for political leaders whose policies we despise and resentment toward a huge part of the church that has bought into an anti-kingdom agenda? Can an always-angry, hateful, bitter heart produce the fruit of God’s shalom in the world?
In deep prayer for shalom to come, let us pray it touches and heals our hearts too—not instead of touching and healing socio-political brokenness, but rather, so we can become a part of the solution to (and not the problem of) our divided, hateful, and violent world.
In these two short verses, embedded in a larger prayer, Jesus manages to weld together the vertical and the horizontal, forever declaring that only praying, worshiping people—lovers of Jesus sensitized and empowered by the Spirit—can ultimately engage the world in God’s shalom mission with any measure of effectiveness.
A shortcut way of saying this would be, only inner-shalom can lead to true outer-shalom. Can an always-angry, hateful, bitter heart produce the fruit of God’s shalom in the world? Only inner-shalom can lead to true outer-shalom. Click To Tweet
And so today, because I need hope, I pray:
Your shalom come;
Your perfect, comprehensive, all-encompassing will of peace and justice, forgiveness and mercy, love and grace,
be done on earth
and in our hearts
as it is in heaven.
Pray it with me, my sisters and brothers.