Praying for the Kingdom with Grace and Impatience

Not long ago I preached on the Lord’s Prayer, actually just its first line: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6.10). And I explored the question, “What is required of us to pray this?”

Murillo, Bartolome Esteban.La Cuisine des Anges.1646You can read a little of the sermon below, and I would be happy for your thoughts and interaction, but let me highlight first a couple resources I found quite rich. Telford Work’s book Ain’t Too Proud to Beg was a happy surprise and the most engaging book on the Lord’s prayer that I have read.  Timothy Bradshaw’s Praying as Believing: The Lord’s Prayer and the Doctrine of God  has not received the attention it deserves (small British publisher), yet it is a great example of first rate theology written for the church. Brueggemann’s collection of prayers, Awed to Heaven: Rooted to Earthecho the same impulse I see in the Lord’s prayer, an impulse that jostles me out of complacency toward a living awareness of the drastic incompleteness of the “time between the times”. A time that requires us to pray with grace and impatience.

To speak of God’s “grace” is to put feeble words in the service of describing the infinite goodness and love of God which reaches out to his creatures prior to their own reaching (Ephesians 2:4-5; Romans 5:8). To speak of God’s grace is to speak of God’s capacity to initiate and complete his work of restoring a broken world and reconciling alienated people. As the kingdom of grace, it does not come because we pull it into the world, but because God unceasingly works toward its consummation with Christ’s return.

Yet, we get the wrong picture altogether if we forget the unique shape of God’s ongoing activity. God chose to create a world in which his ordinary, inadequate creatures – you and me – are invited to participate in the drama of God’s kingdom activity. He invites us to discover and play our role, a role that always follows after at a distance, but a genuine role nonetheless.

So we might say this: to pray “Your Kingdom come, your will to be done on earth and it is in heaven” is to confess a tension that requires of us not only grace – that God’s kingdom comes by his power alone – but impatience as well.

To pray with impatience is to recognize and confess that things are not as they should be, and not as they will be when the kingdom of Christ comes in its completeness. To pray with impatience is to be more dissatisfied than I am afraid most of us are – or at least I have been.

In a world broken and marred by sin – full of pain and confusion and our lives brimming with so many unfinished sentences – praying “Your kingdom come, your will be done one earth as it is in heaven” requires of us  and fosters in us a growing dissatisfaction with the world as it stands. To hunger and thirst, to long and to ache for the kingdom to come is to pray as the same grace and impatience that the Psalmist did  “How long O, Lord?”

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9 thoughts on “Praying for the Kingdom with Grace and Impatience

  1. Thanks Kent for this…I really needed this reflection. I would only add to these great words that praying the first line is more than a simple hunger and thirst for the coming kingdom to be realized; it is a confession that we are wholly incapable of bringing about God’s kingdom ourselves; it is a confession of complete humiliation before a Sovereign and omnipotent God who, through grace, carefully reveals Himself and brings about his purpose.

    Thoughts?

    Oh, no a different note, I sent you a package in the mail and it should arrive on Saturday – enjoy the goodies.

  2. Yes; but there is also an impatience even in the Lord’s Prayer, with the job religion and God – or his representatives on earth – are doing.

    “How long oh Lord,” before God honors his covenant obligation, to bring the kingdom of God to this physical earth, “soon,” “at hand,” “quickly,” in a “generation.” As was promised two and even three thousand years ago.

    For that reason, I’m very interested in … seeing to it that the kingdom discover a very real, physical, and far more effective presence here on this material earth.

    Simply negating the old covenants (cf. Kyle on Wright?) does not necessarily seem the right way to go, fully. For me, linking Christianity to real science and technology, seems far more effective.

    I’m interested in the covenant relationship that places obligations on two parties, not just one, as all covenants and contracts do: if not on God himself, then his ministers. As well as believers.

  3. That’s right Griffin; required of us in praying the Lord’s prayer is both grace and impatience. In praying this I confess that “[God's] is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever” (an affirmation of divine agency) and, at the same time, in praying “Your Kingdom come, your will be done” I confess the kingdom’s great “not-yet” and this should lead toward some kind of engagement/partnership in God’s working toward kingdom-consummation.

    The key, for me, is placing the proper stress on God’s agency in bringing the Kingdom to completion. This is not to say that human cooperation is superfluous. Rather, when God’s freedom and his power to grant creatures a freedom of their own is marked out according to the Biblical testimony a particular picture comes into view: creaturely freedom is given to humanity, properly their own as creatures, and therefore not in competition with divine operations in the world. To accept such a view of divine/human cooperation is, in my view, to allow the biblical testimony to have sway rather than scientific or philosophical accounts of causality (this framework sometimes called “transcendence agency”). We can talk then about grace and impatience without conflict: Yes, God will consumate his Kingdom and, yes, God has created such a world in which he invites the cooperation of his people.

  4. But in your example, creaturely freedom and work, often seem on a side track; almost irrelevant. We will leave God to do what he will … and when, is his business, not ours. God handles the “transcendent” things, we handle the rest. But this is a dualism, a god vs. man, transcendent vs. human bifurcation. Which seems to let us a little too quickly, off the hook; with no real responsiblity. And without vital ties to the divine.

    Theology should not be a perpetual deferment of responsiblity. No matter how comfortable that is.

  5. That is certainly not what I am saying. God is completely and utterly sovereign over the world and its affairs – this is a repeated refrain through Christian scriptures, and that sovereignty (as the power and freedom that is God’s alone to possess) should be read as allowing for creaturely freedom; God wills this to be. This freedom is, as given by God, genuine and non-illusory but (importantly) freedom of the creaturely, finite kind; it is not infinite, unbounded. The participation we experience in the drama of redemption is then real participation – “he has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18b) – but should not be seen as depleting the reality of divine reconciling activity in the world – “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself … Therefore, we are ambassodors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:18a, 20). With such a vision in mind, our prayer is for God to inaugurate his kingdom according to his infinite ability to do so and for him to foster in us such impatience that we participate in its coming through discipleship and seeking justice.

    Both are equally present in the scriptural narrative and, in my opinion, it has only been with the shrinking of our biblical imagination by the constraints of certain notions of causality that we find it difficult to talk about divine and human freedom in this register. These thoughts are certainly not new to me (see, Aquinas, Barth and more recently, J. Webster, W. Placher, K. Tanner, R. Hutter).

  6. Here’s my problem: the “not yet” of the material kingdom.

    Here, we commonly excuse the non-appearance of a timely material kingdom -“soon”; at hand; “quickly” – by invoking a transcendental God. Suggesting among dozens of other things, that 1) God’s time is not the same as ours (as did Peter). Or that 2) we already have a kingdom of the spirit.

    Or you could say in other words, as many have, we have a kingdom of sorts, in a transcendent way; in a vague participation in transcendence. Yet transcendence is almost by definition, indefinable. So that our participation in transcendence, per se … ? Is problematic. And not quite therefore a solid explanation for … the non-appearance of a physical kingdom.

    In many ways, of course, Jesus is said to be spirit meeting “flesh,” and “reconciling” all this; the material and transcendental kingdoms. Yet at the same time, many agree that this reconciliation neverthess, whatever its other virtues might be (salvation, etc), did not quite produce the promised full material kingdom after all. So that a sort of “Second Coming” will be necessary, before the full promise of God is realized.

    Which means that the kingdom of “transcendence,” is however, not quite a viable apologetic, for the “not yet.”

    To be sure, transcendence has some usefulness on its own; I might disagree with you here and suggest it is the final grounds of human freedom. Though for now we are constrained in our freedom, by other practical considerations, “covenants,” and so forth. (Q.v., Kyle’s parallel discussion).

    In any case though, while I rather like transcendence in general – its philosophicality, its evocation of ineluctiblity and inscrutibility (SP?) – at the same time, again, I’m not sure its a valid apologetic, for the not-yet. Or that it is even a realistic, “here already.”

    Unless perhaps, we use it as an evocation of very, very great freedom, from dogmatisms.

  7. 1) Or in simpler words, a kingdom of the imagination or spirit, is not enough. It does not completely fulfill what the Bible promised.

    2) Which means in turn, that the non-appearance of a full physical kingdom, is a very, very serious shortfall; a sign of really problems, even errors, in traditional theology.

    3) And finally, if there are many such errors, then it would not be honest for preachers to present traditional theology, as the true word of God.

    As a common attempt at a solution to this: our preachers are often very modest and hesitant, very oblique, and non-dogmatic about what they say. At the very least, preachers should always hesitate to preface their remarks with any statement to the effect that “the Lord said” this or that.

    (As indeed, parts of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah began to suggest?).

    Generally theologians are fairly good at this; televangelists are not.

    • Griffin, I have been pretty tied up these past few weeks so I have not been able to keep this discussion going with you. I am not sure we are going to get far on this one: you and I see things pretty differently here.

      I don’t agree that, as you say, the non-appearance of a”full physical” kingdom entails a “sign of really problems, even errors, in traditional theology”. To speak of the already and the not-yet of God’s kingdom is simply to echo Jesus’ own teaching on this point and to reiterate that just as God chose the time of the Kingdom’s inauguration in Jesus so he choses the time of its consummation in Christ’s return. There is no failure here nor the waning of hope for a very physical kingdom indeed.

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