April 26, 2009
Mt. 6:10; Psalm 145:8-13; Is. 9:2-7
We are continuing our sermon series on the theme “Teach us to pray”. Our goal for this series is to help us go deeper in our prayer life. Jesus disciples grew up praying, but they were so impressed by Jesus’ prayer life that they asked him to “teach them to pray”.
The prayer Jesus taught them is what we now call the “Lord’s Prayer”. This is a prayer that is meant to be prayed on a regular basis, but it is also a prayer that teaches us how to pray.
I said last Sunday that there are seven petitions in this prayer and these petitions can help us learn how to focus our own praying to God. They can be our guide as we develop and deepen our own prayer life.
Last Sunday we learned that prayer is really about a relationship with God. To address God as “Our Father” is a statement of radical intimacy with God.
One of the things you learn, if you ever read the prayers of saints, is that many of them saw prayer as having a romance with God. For them, prayer is less about what you say and more about being with the one you love.
So, in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to develop a love relationship with God. Daddy, can we talk?
It is out of this intimate relationship with God that we then begin to talk about things that really matter in life – like putting food on the table, paying the bills, getting along with our neighbors and wrestling with our sins.
God cares deeply about all of these things in our lives and wants to be in conversation with us about them.
This morning, I want to focus on the second and third petitions of this prayer – “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
A question for us is what are we asking for when we pray – for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven?
The one thing that is obvious to me is that in Jesus’ mind there was something going on in heaven that he expected to have happen on earth.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t pray that “earth would go to heaven”. Too often that is our prayer. When we get in trouble or begin suffering our prayer is often “Lord, get me out of here. Get me out of this situation. Take me to heaven.”
But Jesus teaches us in our difficulties to pray “send heaven to earth”. Bring your kingdom into this situation.
And when Jesus prays for “heaven to come to earth” he isn’t praying for golden streets and luxurious mansions to come to earth. Again, too often that is our prayer. We want mansions and all the nice amenities on earth.
But heaven is not about golden streets and luxurious mansions. Heaven is not so much a place as it is a sphere or territory where God rules with justice and peace and mercy and self-giving love.
The kingdom of God or heaven is where God reigns in fullness and Jesus is Lord of all.
When Jesus prays for “God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven” he is praying for God’s reign to fill the whole earth.
You see, in heaven where God rules in fullness there is:
- no poverty,
- no homelessness,
- no crime,
- no war,
- no hunger,
- no racism,
- no sickness,
- and no oppression.
So, when Jesus prays for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven – he is praying that poverty and homelessness and crime and war and racism and sickness and oppression be done away with on earth.
So often, we Christians want to escape the problems we face on earth. We want to withdraw from problem communities. We want to protect ourselves from pain and difficult situations.
Yet, when we pray “God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” we are immediately thrust back into the world with all of its struggles. As Christians we are not to withdraw from the world – for it is in the world that we see God’s kingdom coming.
To pray “your kingdom come always thrusts us right back into the fray of life – it does not remove us from us the struggles we face.
Every time we pray “for heaven to come to earth” we are praying for a revolution where love overthrows the reign of fear.
Every time we pray “for heaven to come to earth” we are asking God to turn everything upside down and inside out – including us.
The question for us is – are we really ready to enter heaven’s culture here on earth?
Jesus is teaching us in this prayer that we don’t have to wait until we die to get glimpses of heaven. We can get glimpses of heaven now and we can experience heaven now.
When Jesus started his ministry his main message was – “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”.
In calling people to repent – Jesus was inviting people to let go of their citizenship in the old kingdoms of this world and to become part of this new kingdom he was establishing here on earth.
Jesus said the kingdom of God is here and it is coming and we are invited to begin living our lives now as though the future was already here.
Where there is hate – we sow seeds of love.
Where there is violence – we sow seeds of peace.
Where there is oppression – we sow seeds of justice.
Where there despair – we sow seeds of hope.
Where there is sin – we offer seeds of forgiveness.
Where there is polarization – we sow seeds of unity.
We begin to live now what we expect heaven to be like because God’s kingdom has come and is coming.
I think it is easy for us to get lazy and complacent and to let God take care of it all.
But to pray “your kingdom come” means God brings this kingdom into the world through us as we seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.
And that can be scary for us because there is no question that when we pray for “God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven” we are in a power struggle that can become violent because the kingdoms of this world rarely give up power without a fight.
Jesus, the embodiment of God’s kingdom, was rejected and killed because he was a threat to the powers of this world.
So, to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven means we have to be ready to be changed. Do we really want God’s kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven? How would that change your life? If heaven came to earth, how would you feel called to live now?
To pray – your kingdom come – will always be a reminder that God’s kingdom is not yet fully here but it is something we long for. This petition is one that is full of hope because we are always eager to see what God is bringing to birth among us.
If this second petition “your kingdom come” is full of hope – the third petition “God, your will be done” is a prayer for patience.
Our temptation, when God’s kingdom doesn’t come as quickly as we would like, is to try and make it happen on our own terms. We are tempted to fight against the walls of injustice by destroying our enemy instead of overcoming evil with good.
So, when we pray for God’s will to be done, sometimes the most important thing to pray for is patience. To pray for “God’s will to be done” is to give up our way and to wait for God’s way and timing.
Many times, I think this is the hardest petition in the entire prayer to pray.
One of the reasons it is hard to pray this petition is because ultimately we want to be the boss. We do not want God to be the boss. We want God to give us what we want and when we want it.
Even Jesus struggled with doing God’s will. On several occasions in John’s Gospel Jesus talks about doing God’s will – not his own will.
In John 4:34 Jesus says – “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”
Later, in John 6:38 Jesus says again, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”
So Jesus always sought to do the will of God, but during his greatest crisis – Jesus struggled in prayer long into the night – even with bloody sweat – as he agonized over his decision facing the cross.
Jesus really did not want to go through with it. He asked God – is there another way? Doing God’s will was not easy for Jesus.
Finally, he was able to pray “not my will but your will, God, be done.”
Relinquishing our will for God’s will is never easy. Most of the biblical characters all struggled mightily with letting go of their will to do God’s will.
In some ways, I think this struggle to do God’s will is important because we don’t want to just resign ourselves to fate and to say that whatever happens to us must be God’s will. It isn’t.
True prayer is a dialogue with God and often it requires this give and take with God and some struggle before we know what God’s will is.
The apostle Paul, for example, prayed long and hard for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed but it never was. Paul had to relinquish his will for God’s will and God worked through him in wonderful ways.
Even though it is often a struggle, one of the reasons we are able to relinquish our will for God’s will, is because like any good parent, God does want what is best for us.
Jesus, in another one of his teachings on prayer in Luke 11 reminds us of how God wants the best for us. Jesus says – “Ask, and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
So we can seek for God’s will knowing that God has our best interests in mind.
Even when others do harm to us God is the one who is at work to turn “what others meant for evil” into something profoundly good.
In the OT, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but in the end – Joseph was able to tell his brothers – you meant it for evil but God brought good out of it.
Joseph’s story is an amazing story about the loving grace of God who is able to turn our difficult situations into something more beautiful than we ever could have dreamed possible.
Sometimes it is difficult to see how God was active in our lives and usually it is only in retrospect that we can see it.
To pray “God, your will be done” is to believe at the very core of our being that God is going to surprise us in ways we never imagined.
But that kind of trust does not come easily. To pray – God, your will be done – is a lifelong training in taking God’s will a little more seriously and learning to relinquish our will to do God’s will.
So, when we pray “Your will be done, God” we are not asking for things to come out right as we want things to come out right – but rather we are asking that God’s will be done.
In praying “your will be done” we are learning to want what God wants.
The first three petitions in the Lord’s prayer are all focused on God – Making God’s name holy, praying for God’s kingdom to come and seeking God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
These three petitions are all saying – God, do what is important to you. Make yourself central in the world. Have your way in our lives.
It is only after we pray for God’s agenda and will to be done that we then turn to pray about our needs and even know how to pray about our needs.
Next week will turn out attention to asking God to give us our daily bread.
In closing, though, I want to end with us thinking about our bodily posture in prayer as it relates to our praying for God’s will to be done.
For me personally, I often praying sitting down. And for me, just consciously turning my open palms up is a bodily act of saying – God, I am open to you. I want what you want. I want to receive what you have to give me.
Another bodily posture of seeking God’s will is kneeling in prayer. Bodily getting down on our knees is a way of humbling ourselves before God and saying – God, your will be done – not mine.
And then another bodily posture is actually prostrating yourself on the ground. I don’t do it often but for me it is kind of like a total surrender to God. It is saying – God, I give it all up to you – have your way in my life.
I also think just standing and raising your hands in the air is another bodily posture of giving our lives over to God. It is an act of surrender to God.
So, prayer isn’t just with words. We can also pray with our bodies. The very act of bending our knees or opening our hands is an act of prayer.
This morning I want us to pray a bodily prayer.
You can sit with your palms up.
You may choose to kneel.
You may choose to stand up with your hands raised.
Or you may choose to prostrate yourself on the floor.
You may have to move around a little bit and don’t worry about what the person beside you is doing or thinking.
We are going to just take a minute or so to pray in this way. But as you do – you can just pray – God, your will be done. Have your way I my life.
At the end I will lead us in praying the Lord’s prayer together. And lets say “forgive us our debts.”