Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On putting the kingdom first

I've been thinking about the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples to pray, recorded in Matthew 6. It occurs to me that we almost never pray this way, at least when we pray in groups. When I was a small group leader, we always had a prayer time, and I always asked people about their "prayer needs." Putting it that way is practically an invitation to think of prayer as self-absorbed pleading before God. And that's what we did. We prayed for healing, for jobs, for relationships, for emotional health, for safety on journeys, for communication skills, relief of stress and on an on.

None of that was exactly wrong. That is not my point. But notice how Jesus teaches us to pray, and then think again about how we prayed in our small group. Here's the Jesus prayer:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
There are ten lines in this little poem-like prayer. The first five embody a longing for the Kingdom of God. That's what the whole first half of the prayer is about. Only then does the prayer turn to immediate personal needs of the one doing the praying, and I would add they are as much spiritual needs as temporal.

Note: the prayer is not an encouragement to self-absorption. It is not a litany of personal needs. More importantly, it puts first things first. The need above all other needs, the supreme subject of prayer, we might say, is the Kingdom. "Your kingdom come." The personal prayer requests (such as "daily bread," which is a far cry, by the way, from praying for prosperity) come after, and within the kingdom context.

I learn to understand my real need, when I see this prayer aright. When "your kingdom come" becomes the primary point--the overarching context--of my prayer, I will long for that coming whether I have a job or not, whether I'm sick or well, etc. I will readily pray for work and health, of course, but not apart from the prayer for what truly matters--God's kingdom.

In our small group, we rushed right to the second half of the prayer, with hardly a thought for the kingdom of God. My guess is that if we will set our minds on the kingdom, it will change the way we pray for ourselves.

What say you?


Milton Stanley said...

I say you're exactly right, and I'll be linking to your post momentarily. Peace.

nAncY said...

"...as we also have forgiven our debtors."

Iin this part i find myself asking to be forgiven...but...to be forgiven as much as I have been forgiving. So, it leads me to introspection on who i may need to forgive. I find it very humbling.

Erin Hope said...

this seems right on.
Jesus prayed in the same context as when he told us the whole thing about the lilies of the field....

It just makes me wonder what that really looks like.

Bob said...

Yes, Jesus always seemed to focus people's attention on things "out there," not so much the self and all its clamoring needs. In fact, I would say that the gospel's impact on the soul is to quiet the clamoring, taking the focus off self, and turning it outward, first to Jesus, then to "the world." Our relationship to the world changes drastically from one of many competitors for "the good life" to intercessors and messengers.

jeff weddle said...

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you. There is no problem having personal requests, but as you say, seeking the Kingdom is the means by which we receive, not simply by being self-focused. First things first!