Disappointment and the fear of disappointment are probably the biggest reasons I struggle with prayer. Either I look into the past and remember the litany of “unanswered prayers” or I don’t ask for fear that it won’t happen. Better to rely on my own strength and deal with life as it comes than to put my life into God’s hands and lose all sense of control.
This has “worked” to some degree because I am rich. I live in a society where my safety is pretty much a given. I have the ability to earn money, so I have never feared the lack of food, money, or shelter. I am healthy and have health insurance, so I don’t live with the fear of death. So why pray? I can deal with life as it is even with it’s minor disappointments. Better to live this way than to go out on a limb and discover that prayer doesn’t “work.”
I believed that life was about maximizing pleasure and minimizing risk. Pray doesn’t work well if that’s your life goal. But what if life was about something better? What if Jesus came to show us a new way to be fully alive? I believe he did and the blueprint for such a life is contained in two commands that he called “the Great Commandment.”
Matthew 22:37-38 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Scott McKnight in his book, the Jesus Creed, points out that the Lord’s Prayer is what prayer looks like when you love God and love your neighbor. When I began to grasp this, the Lord’s Prayer and prayer in general took on new meaning. Take the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus gave his disciples to teach them how to pray.
Matthew 6:9-10 … Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
For Jesus, prayer always begins as an expression of love for God. Because we love God, we long for others to see him and worship as he deserves and so we pray, “hallowed be your name.” Because we love God, we want we he wants and so we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We lay aside our hopes, dreams, and concerns and in love submit our desires to His desires.
Central to Jesus’ mission and teaching on earth was the kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? The Lord’s Prayer tells us: the kingdom of God is the place were God’s will is done. God’s kingdom is fully established in heaven, for there the angels perfectly obey his will. The kingdom is breaking into our world as we speak. It is already here in the sense that Jesus entered our world, died for our sins, rose from the dead and gave us the Holy Spirit so that the guilt of our sin might be paid for and the power of our sin might be broken. This is why Jesus said “the kingdom of God is within you” in Luke 17:21. There are people all over the world who, through the Holy Spirit, have experienced the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and have dedicated their lives to following King Jesus by making him known to the world and by fighting the effects of sin in all its forms whether it is sickness, war, poverty, abuse, environmental destruction or suffering.
But we cannot say that the kingdom of God is not here in its fullest sense. This world is still racked by evil and so we are instructed to pray, “your kingdom come.” Saint Francis had this in mind when he prayed, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.”
This is a scary prayer, at least for me anyway, because my mind swirls with plans and dreams for the future. Jesus asks us to lay those aside and pray, “God, I just want what you want for the world.” Imagine the trust it must take to let go of our mortgages, our uncertain economy, our family struggles and say to God, “your kingdom come, your will be done.” What if you are facing cancer? What if you have children that is in peril of destroying their lives? What if you don’t have the money to pay your bills? How can Jesus realistically expect us to surrender to God’s will in this way? To put it more bluntly, how can I know that God will take care of me if I devote myself to him?
Let’s listen in for a moment to the prayer Jesus prayed to his Father the night of his betrayal just hours before his crucifixion. He has an agonizing choice before him. Jesus is under no obligation to go to the cross. He can walk away and all of humanity would be destroyed as we deserved. The only reason he is considering it is because he loves his Father and he loves us. Jesus understands the depth of this sacrifice. The sweat pours drip off him like drops of bread while he prays, thinking not only of the pain of crucifixion, but especially the agony of the words “my God, my God why have you forsaken me.”
We sometimes forget that Jesus in addition to being fully God, was also fully man. He will experience the anguish of the cross in every humanly possible way. Yet, when the time came, he surrenders in love to the will of his Father:
Matthew 26:42 Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.
How can we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done”? Only when we realize that Jesus prayed it first. In prayer, we give ourselves to the one who proved his love for us by laying down his life for us. As John, the disciple Jesus loved, tell us, “we love, because he first loved us.” May the love of Christ become real to us, so that we might have the courage to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done.”