When Jesus teaches us to pray for the future, his picture can sound a bit authoritarian: “Your kingdom come!” we are to pray. No matter how strongly we believe in enlightened, tolerant, participative government, when it comes to God we are in a monarchy.
So what are we asking when we pray “Your kingdom come!”?
That line of the Lord’s Prayer is the topic of Question 123 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
If the answer seems obvious we haven’t considered how differently Christian groups have dealt with the topic of the Kingdom of God. Take just the 19th century
- For the missionary it probably had an evangelistic meaning. God’s kingdom expands where the church spreads and converts are won to the rule of Christ.
- For the liberal it had more of an activist social meaning. The church is busy improving and reforming society, bringing God’s Kingdom here on earth.
- For the dispensationalist it likely had a more future apocalyptic meaning. Christ was coming (and soon) to reign in person.
The Catechism’s answer is a good example of something I love about 16th century Reformed theology: It tries to grasp the whole of Scripture’s teaching on the topic. You get a hint of this by a glance at the footnotes: in this one question they cite two gospels, four psalms, two epistles (one of them twice), and the book of Revelation.
The point becomes clear, though, in the range of ideas presented in the very short space of the Catechism’s answer.
“Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.”
The kingdom starts with a personal emphasis — Heidelberg is always personal. The kingdom starts with the one subject of the King over whom I have any control: myself. The kingdom of God grows when God is really in charge of my life, with my choices submitted to his will. There is always room for progress; I go my own way rather than God’s way far too often.
“Preserve your church and make it grow.”
The kingdom also has an evangelistic component. The church can’t be equated with God’s kingdom, but the church’s members are its citizens. We long to grow in numbers, with more and more coming under the rightful rule of our King. And of course we also need to grow in other ways too, like wisdom and love and faithfulness.
“Destroy the devil’s work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your holy Word.”
There is room for both a social and a supernatural component here. We know what our King’s reign should look like in the compassionate ministry of Jesus — so we pray any obstacle to his good work will be put down.
Do we have to believe in a personal devil? What we need to see is that as Paul said the battle is not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. We pray God will put down any power that conspires against his rule.
“Do this until your kingdom fully comes, when you will be all in all.”
There is also an eschatological sense to the kingdom. Mysterious and paradoxical as the details may be, this age will draw to a close and finally every knee shall bow and every tongue confess him Lord and King.
Heidelberg does not pick and choose its favorite parts of Scripture and ignore or hide the rest. It embraces the whole range of biblical teaching on the Kingdom of God.
And in all these ways we do need to pray for God’s Kingdom to come.
How do you make your prayer specific when you pray “Your kingdom come”?
What do you take as signs that God is answering the prayer for his kingdom to come?
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