“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NIV)
In the prayer Jesus gave us, we are taught to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, when God’s will is done both in heaven and on earth. But Jesus’ parables about the nature of the kingdom seem slippery, like the old swimming pool game of “greased pig” in which we try to get hold of a watermelon that has a generous amount of baby oil applied to it.
I’d like for Jesus to speak more about recruiting us to assist in establishing the kingdom and working for its advancement. At least then I could pretend to know what I’m supposed to be doing.
Now, I’m not going to say that we shouldn’t work to see God’s kingdom advance. If the goal of the Christian life is to become Christlike, and Jesus was about his Father’s business, then being a Christian has a positive relationship with kingdom advancement. But if we aren’t attentive to Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom elsewhere, particularly in the kingdom parables in Matthew 13, we’ll assume our main job is making kingdom stuff happen rather than keeping our eyes open so we can spot kingdom stuff happening. Hear the difference?
In those parables, Jesus speaks about how the condition of our heart either inhibits or welcomes the message about the kingdom. He speaks about a farmer’s patience yet ultimate judgment about the presence of weeds and wheat growing in the same field. He compares the kingdom to a small seed that becomes a large tree and to a bit of yeast that leavens a large amount of dough. He speaks of it as a priceless treasure, and as a net that gathers up many fish with a fisherman who sorts them out later.
What if the advance of God’s kingdom isn’t something we make happen (because “we’re the only hands and feet he has,” after all, we didn’t help a lick with the resurrection, but God managed that)? What if, instead, we’re to be people who pray for the kingdom’s coming because prayer is the first way to participate in God’s kingdom? What if God is advancing the kingdom and people who pray earnestly for its advance are people who begin to have eyes to see it in their midst?
Then our work might be simply to join in what God is doing. This seems like the slightest of shifts–after all, we’re still doing kingdom stuff, right? But participating with God rather than working for the kingdom for God seems to live better in the mystery that this is God’s work we are invited into rather than God’s idea that we are enlisted to help bring about. It remembers that God is in the driver’s seat and helps us resist the ever-present urge to reach over and put our hands on the wheel.
Prayer: God, give me eyes to see your kingdom in my midst, especially in surprising ways and places. Give me a desire earnestly to pray for your kingdom’s advance. And give me a heart to participate in your kingdom work as you lead me. Amen.