Saturday, May 03, 2008

Your kingdom come

by Nathan Brown

Last year, a couple of weeks before a weekend speaking appointment, I was asked to present a workshop on the subject of prayer, in addition to the other meetings of the weekend program. As a fan of prayer but not necessarily an expert, being assigned the topic stretched me to think about the nature of prayer and how to explore the topic with a group of young people.

It seemed that prayer as a spiritual practice was best practised, rather than merely talked about. And so a one-hour workshop grew around actually taking the time to pray in a variety of ways, interspersed with a few personal reflections on what prayer is and why it is important in the life of the Christian.

It was a great experience. A couple of hundred young people praying together in complete silence is an incredible sound and was a highlight. But perhaps the aspect of prayer that has had the most continuing influence was the rediscovery of one of Christianity’s oldest practices—reading prayers. In the workshop setting, we simply read together the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13, slowly, thoughtfully and prayerfully, letting Someone Else’s words speak through us and into our lives.

It’s a practise I have continued over the months since. Regularly in the mornings on my way to work, I have let the words of the Lord’s Prayer point me toward “our Father,” repeating the familiar lines carefully, tasting the reverence and relevance of the requests, and allowing the words of Jesus to echo in my mind. And I have got into the habit of repeating this at other times of the day and in other settings.

But there are a couple of lines, I often get stuck on, that my mind pauses on as I take in the context in which I might be praying the prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as in heaven” (see Matthew 6:10). As the sun rises on a new morning on my way to work, it seems almost poetic. But in other situations, these words are more jarring.

And so it was that I found myself praying this prayer from time to time during a recent visit to Cambodia. But what does it mean to pray “Your kingdom come” amid the chaos of rush-hour traffic in downtown Phnom Penh, where the Hummers and Mercedes mix with cyclos, street vendors and beggars? What would change if the prayer, “Your will be done,” was answered amid the dust, the smells and the people of a small-town marketplace? How is “Your kingdom come” evident in an out-of-the-way village where knowledge of the God—whose kingdom it is—is all but absent? How does “Your will be done” have any significant reality when just 70 children out of the tens of thousands of orphans in Cambodia can be cared for in the small orphanage we visited?

Somewhere like Cambodia is a daunting context in which to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.”

But Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (see Matthew 13:31). And perhaps the greatest benefit for us in praying a prayer such as this is to begin to see the small things that just might be glimpses of that reality.

One morning, we were visiting a nearby landmark with a group from the orphanage. We had explored some ancient temple ruins and a little of the surrounding jungle, and were heading back for lunch when we caught up with a group of the smaller children, who had been playing together. As we fell in with this group, one of the little girls—perhaps four years old—reached up and took my hand. Immediately, I had to shorten my stride to make it possible for us to walk together. And so we did, until we arrived back at the rest of the group.

Sometime ago I came across a definition of Christian living:

“a little faith and two outstretched hands . . . reaching up to take the steady hand of Jesus and reaching out to steady someone else” (Russell Rathbun).
And perhaps this is part of what it means to participate in the kingdom of God in so many of the tragic contexts of our world—a little faith, two outstretched hands and a willingness to break our stride, our busyness, our hurry, our agenda so as to be able to walk with another person for a time in our respective lives. And perhaps together to pray, “Your kingdom come.”

1 comment:

  1. In discussing the Gospel Commission, a close friend recently asked me, "Charles, would you be willing to give up your identity, your culture, your language, your comfort zones, your "Americaness" to reach someone for Jesus?

    I have yet to shake that question. Nathan, your post and that awesome quote by Rathbun has re-reminded me of that very probing question. It's back on the front burner again, where it should be!

    Thanks, Charles (Armed2Win)