John Cheek wonders at the upside-down nature of God's kingdom.
It was a hot, clammy, Sunday afternoon and thankfully, I was inside in the cool, cloistered-walk of one of Britain's best-loved Cathedrals.
It was the Sunday of the annual 'Thy Kingdom Come' event; an Anglican initiative to develop the individual and collective prayer life of the Church and I was hoping to capture a radio interview with one of Britain's best-loved worship leaders. They could spare me just a few minutes.
They talked about the need for all of us to pray more earnestly. As I held up a portable recording-microphone, they emphasised the need for all Christians everywhere to pray for souls to go to heaven.
All this I agreed with. My time was almost, already up. One final question. When asked his advice on prayer, Jesus didn't tell His disciples to pray for souls to be saved; instead, He instructed us to pray for God's kingdom to come. As this was a 'Thy Kingdom Come' event, shouldn't we be praying for that, as well?
My interviewee was silent and fixed me with a stare, and continued to look me straight in the eye, before saying into the microphone, "That's a very mean question...".
I had asked them about a biblical imperative, the divine direction to pray for the authority of God to be the sovereign power in this life. I've occasionally wondered about my "mean" question, since. After all, Jesus' disciples had asked Him to teach them how to pray, like John had, with His disciples. His response, as recorded in Luke 11:2-4, is:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.
Of course, historically, other lines have been added to what has become known as the Lord's Prayer, but I don't have any problem with that. It was Jesus' first step in teaching about prayer and He probably fully intended for His words to act as a template; as something to be added to.
But there it is, prominently there at the heart of Jesus' teaching - the coming of God's Kingdom and how our prayers may even have something to do with its realisation.
It reminds me of something else that has been misunderstood, or overlooked. In 1987, as a non-Christian and a teenager, I heard the track 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' by U2, and a certain line really stood out for me: "I believe in the Kingdom come/When all the colours will bleed into one, bleed into one...". But many Christians have since asked, "So why do they then follow that with the refrain, I still haven't found what I'm looking for?"
The clues happen to be lying in the promo-video for this massive hit single. It begins with the band in black and white, before singer Bono makes the sign of the cross and the whole thing moves into colour. U2 are pictured in Las Vegas and around them are the signs of 'success' and temptation: the bright lights, the beautiful blondes, the money, and the slot-machines. Bono doesn't seem all that impressed and sings words, which were their most explicit testimony of faith up until then: "You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains/Carried the cross of my shame/Oh, my shame..."
After that, the four band members turn their backs on Las Vegas and all that it represents. What they're looking for, isn't to be found there. Adam Clayton laughs and walks to a taxi and gets driven away. Bono jumps onto the bonnet of a slow-moving, expensive car and starts lecturing the driver.
Not long after 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' had become a global hit, Bono was in conversation with the Australian pastor, Rev. John Smith of God's Squad motorcycle group. Smith asked the singer and lyricist about the song and Bono explained that it should be regarded as a prayer: "Along the lines of Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven - and until that day comes, I still haven't found what I'm looking for."
So often my prayers can be just a sanctified shopping-list. There's lots of requests for salvation for others, but not much listening. So often our prayers can have ourselves at their centre, as if our sins were the only ones that matter. They do; but God is also in the business of redeeming His whole creation. He will not rest until all structures, organisations and nations fully come under His Kingship. Are we serious about partnering in, and praying for God's kingdom to come on earth, fully? Or we just going to sit there, waiting for heaven?
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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