“Your Kingdom come!” Jesus taught us to pray. Because this is such a central topic it is important for us to ask ourselves: What are we really praying for here? What does the coming of God’s kingdom mean? How does it come? Do we really want it to come? I’m not sure whether we always want the latter.
God’s kingdom is righteousness
God intends to make us into people of righteousness. God’s kingdom is righteousness. Here it gets daunting. For, after all, every one of us wants to get his rights. We know that the world’s idea is “equality for all”. Righteousness, or justice, means that all are equal before the law; at least theoretically. And this is how we perceive righteousness.
But what about God? Let us look at the story of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-6. People in this parable have the impression that God is unjust. Not because he didn’t keep his word but because he did not treat others as they would have done. Our human understanding of justice wants to make sure that we do not come up short. We aren’t all that concerned that everyone else be treated justly! We are much more concerned that we ourselves receive our share when honor, recognition, esteem or material goods are distributed. When we consider that we haven’t received our share we begin arguing with God and with men.
It may be that others treat us unjustly, wound us, defame us or in some other way sin against us. What is our desire then? We want to “set matters straight”. We want compensation. We want our reputation to be publicly restored. In the worst scenario we want revenge. We want punishment against the one who hurt us, who brought us into discredit and treated us badly. Humanly speaking, this is quite logical.
When we pray for God’s kingdom to come we must know that this kingdom is righteousness. But it is God’s righteousness, not ours! God’s righteousness is fundamentally different from our concept. His righteousness comes from the cross. It forgives without keeping accounts: it forgives without measure or end. God’s righteousness takes men’s guilt onto himself so that they can be liberated and receive a new chance to find life. If we want God’s kingdom to come into this world in and through us, we must become men of righteousness. There must be men and women who make a new decision every day to release others from accusation and let them go; to set them free and keep on giving them a fresh chance. And not just seven times. But, as Jesus told Peter, “seventy times seven times”.
This is challenging. Do I really want God’s kingdom to come – in my life and through my life? If so I must realize that everything which this world considers normal, rational and meaningful will lose its meaning. God has a different concept of righteousness from the world. He says, “If you had realized how boundlessly I have forgiven you, then you would have seen how minimal your efforts are.” Let us imagine how God’s kingdom would manifest itself in the framework of such reality! Here are people who do not judge or presume to pass sentence on others because they keep Jesus’ command, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1). These are forgiving folk who are generous, who set others free and release them from all accusation! Here poverty does not reign, but inner riches, amplitude and freedom! People of righteousness are an incredible means of healing for this world.
Peter was a good and God-fearing person. Therefore he was willing to forgive his brother seven times. That means something. But Jesus said, “That is not sufficient. If you follow me, examine your heart, examine your soul every day. Whenever you keep others imprisoned in accusations and do not let them go until they have paid you back, like the unfaithful servant (Matt. 18:28-35), you are not a man of God’s kingdom.”
God’s kingdom is joy
God’s kingdom is joy. Who wouldn’t want joy in his life! Unfortunately, joy seems to be a poor relation in a great many Christian lives. This goes so far that sometimes people look askance when there is loud laughter or exuberance. I often experience this because one of our sons has a permeating laugh. When we are out together we tend to be boisterous. This draws attention and can be contagious. But especially in believing Christian circles people often stare at us disparagingly. Their attitude does not allow happiness to spread, but would rather be suited to let our laughter freeze on our faces. In John 15 Jesus explains his heart’s desire to his disciples: namely that they should love each other and remain in him, the vine. He summarizes it by saying, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (15:11).
The goal of God’s kingdom is joy! God is a God of joy. He wants our hearts to be joyous and filled with life! A person who is happy sees God’s glory and beauty and opens his heart for God’s character to come in.
So we are to be men of joy. But this isn’t entirely easy. We must ask ourselves what the source of our joy is. What normally makes us happy? Success, of course. I myself am glad about my family, our community and the myriad relationships God has given us. I am happy over many things. We are all content with what God gives us. And that is good. We are also pleased about our gifts, just as the 72 disciples were when they returned to Jesus after applying the Holy Spirit’s gifts: restoring the dead to life, healing the sick, leading men to faith. This delighted them and they reported back to Jesus: “Lord, look what we have accomplished!” And Jesus said, “o.k..” He didn’t say, “That’s wrong.” But he observed that the spiritual success and the gifts God had given the disciples had become the source of their joy. Therefore he said, “No, don’t rejoice in this” (Luke 10:17- 20).
Why not? If we draw our joy from relationships, family, material posses- sions or gifts, we are poor because this can all be taken from us. A financial crisis can evaporate our possessions instantly. If there is war, our family and friends can die. God allows these things. His goal for us is endlessly higher and more wonderful than merely that we feel as good as possible on this earth. He wants to transform us into the likeness of his son. He wants to give us an inheritance which is indestructible and cannot be taken from us.
Therefore Jesus says to those of his disciples who hear his words and want to accept the challenge, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37).Whoever loves anything he has or is more than he loves Jesus is not worthy of being his disciple! Will we take up this challenge? Is it true of us that we could lose father, mother, children, wife or husband without losing confidence in God or beginning to criticize and question his motives?
The joy which Jesus gives is based on him alone. He says, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). In other words, we should rejoice that the father knows us, that we are called to inherit the kingdom; that we are called to be transformed into the likeness of his son. We should exult in a future which no atomic bomb can destroy! Nothing that happens in this world can destroy what has come from God’s heart to ours. But if Jesus is not the precious pearl, the sole treasure for which we would leave everything else, then the devil can dry up the source of our joy at any time and we will become inwardly impoverished.
Men of joy are a great encouragement for the world. Just imagine that in the midst of all this world’s troubles we draw from a well of joy which the world does not have. People should see that in spite of unemployment, illness or family problems we never lose hope because our well of hope is deeper than anything in the world. We should be recognized as those who have joy and a future which nothing can take from us. This should awaken hunger, longing and thirst in others. People around us should taste something of God’s kingdom because they will sense that such a joy, composure and peace cannot be of this world. Thus God’s kingdom should be in the midst of us.
Your kingdom come!
When we pray “your kingdom come” we sometimes do not want to face how radical that kingdom is. God’s kingdom is incredibly profound, for it is not of this world. It is not normal. It is an exception. God’s kingdom cannot be put into an intellectual framework. If we attempt to intellectualize it, it loses its power.
I will close with two thoughts.We are not called to accomplish what others can also do. Being nice is good, but not sufficient. Being friendly, certainly; but it is not enough, either. We are called to the new commandment in God’s kingdom, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 1:34). Everything which we do and are should ultimately be done solely out of love for Jesus (1 Cor. 13). The command of God’s kingdom does not tell us to be friendly with those who are friendly to us. But: “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you and do good to those who are miserly and unjust to you” (cp. Matt. 5).
This is God’s kingdom – impossible to realize in this world! Can we live this way? Friends, we must confess that this is a process, a discipline. It is a transformation into the likeness of Jesus. Thus we will become men of peace, righteousness and joy. I will give you some good news: If we realize that we are all really inadequate, that we have all failed and keep on failing, then God knows it too. He has absolutely no illusions. He thus told us in the Old Testament: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’” (Lamentations 3:22-25).
Every morning God’s mercy is new! Therefore when we are disciplined and transformed, we may know that we can have a fresh start every morning. God does not imprison us in yesterday. That is divine mercy. God tells me every morning, “Come, today we’ll start all over, even though you failed yesterday, even though you betrayed me yesterday, even though yesterday you expressed everything else except my kingdom. Today we will make a new start. My mercy and my faithfulness are forever new.”
What an incredible God this is! He is the only reason for our hope. Because God is the God of mercy, he can take even those who are absolutely nothing, who bring nothing, and transform them into men whose lives make his kingdom tangible and visible in this world. When we pray “your kingdom come” I want to encourage all of us to reach for this with our whole hearts. We covet his kingdom to come in us and through us, wherever we are. We long to become men of peace, righteousness and joy according to God’s heart. We aspire to be men who are radical in love, in forgiveness and in generosity. We crave to become men who invest everything in order to bring joy to God by desiring only one thing: to become more like Jesus.