I sat on a flimsy plastic stool, the same sort I’d propped on to eat street noodles a few days before. My eyes were closed, elbows resting on knees as I sat in a small circle of praying Christians. It was a little oasis during my week, a moment when I could relax my guard and enjoy the presence of other believers. I was enveloped by the prayers spoken into the room. There was peace here.
The middle-aged man beside me was praying, asking for the Lord’s protection, for provision, for wisdom in our work. He stopped suddenly. A pause? A moment for thought? An abruptly ended prayer?
I was confused when I opened my eyes slightly to peek at his face. It was contorted with emotion, his mouth tight, brow furrowed. The corners of his eyes were wet. What had he said that evoked such overwhelming emotion?
He continued, his voice thick. Father, let your Kingdom come in this place.
I’d heard these words oft-repeated in the Lord’s Prayer but never with so much desperation. Never before had I seen this petition for the Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” to bring a grown man to tears. I’d never thought its implications could be so profound. I couldn’t shake it.
I took his prayer with me to the streets of that remote corner of Asia: Father, let your Kingdom come. When I returned home at the end of that summer, I took it to the halls of my small Christian college, where so many of us were plagued with depression and perfectionism: Father, let your Kingdom come. It followed me to Central America, to rooms filled with sleeping foster children: Father, let your Kingdom come. It came with me to New England, and I carried it with me as I walked down our tree spotted street into town: Father, let your Kingdom come in this place.
Along the way, I’ve found this prayer shaping me, as our prayers so often do. It wasn’t merely a request thrown to the heavens. It became a moment in which I positioned myself for God to mold me. It was a moment in which He met me.
You can only pray that prayer so long until you start asking questions about what the Kingdom of God looks like or how we recognize its coming. When we pray “let your Kingdom come,” it’s only a matter of time until we start asking what role we play in that request.
I grew up in a tradition that largely understood the Kingdom of God as a future other-worldly reality. It was about the salvation of souls, and it was something to be escaped to when the Kingdom’s King returned (or when I went to heaven when I died).
But over the years, as this little prayer burrowed deeper into my soul, I began to meditate on what it meant for heaven to come to earth. The hope of New Creation captured my heart. I began to long for and keep my eyes open not only for the Kingdom that is not yet, but also the Kingdom that is already breaking into our world, the Kingdom I have been welcomed into, the Kingdom I am an ambassador for.
In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright describes our current actions as signs of the Kingdom that has arrived in Jesus and foretastes of all that is to come. We are to be “new-creation people here and now, bringing signs and symbols of the kingdom to birth on earth as in heaven. The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation to birth even in the midst of the present age.”
We long for the day when the Kingdom comes fully and finally to earth. But until then, we embody the nature of the Kingdom and seek to bring its marks to our spheres of influence. We seek justice and reconciliation, truth and peace, freedom and wholeness, the restoration and healing of bodies and of souls. We work and “build for” (Wright’s language) the Kingdom precisely because of our deeply rooted hope that our prayers for the Kingdom to come will one day be answered completely.
I’ve learned that praying for the Kingdom of God to come to earth as it is in heaven is not a prayer that can remain in the seclusion of a prayer closet. We carry it with us when engage in the work of reconciliation or when we care for trafficking victims. It’s there when we care for the homeless and welcome the poor, when we fight to protect the dignity and life of all humankind. It surrounds us as we have spiritual conversations with a non-Christian friend or we disciple a fellow Christian into a deeper understanding of God’s love for them. It leads us as we seek the good and flourishing of our neighborhoods and cities. It’s a prayer we pray on our feet.