In the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9–13), Jesus helps us understand where our requests should begin. After establishing that God is our Father who is as compassionate as he is capable, Jesus reminds us that God’s power aims to advance his agenda, not ours. Jesus shows us that Christian prayer begins with longing for God’s presence before his provision.
All of the requests at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer are godward. Take a look: Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9–10).
This removes man from the center of the picture. It displaces our needs and desires, reminding us that the most important things about prayer are not what God gives us by way of his possessions, but what God gives by way of his presence. Throughout the Bible, the people who gain peace and security in this life are the people who long for God’s presence more than his possessions. Jesus teaches us this in his first three petitions.
First Petition: God’s Honor
“Hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9) could better be translated for our ears, “I pray that your name will be honored.” In the Old Testament, when people lived against God’s will and design, their wicked deeds were said to profane the name of God.
To pray “hallowed be your name” means being concerned more with the advancement of God’s reputation in the world than your own. It’s praying that God himself would protect his name from being defamed and obscured, so that people don’t accept a wrong picture of him or reject a distorted picture of him.
God’s name is holy. Nothing can change that reality. We’re simply asking him to work in the world so that his name would be treated as such.
The glory of God has come into the world in the person of Jesus. “Hallowed be your name” therefore means praying that everyone would respond appropriately to Jesus. The world we live in is as unimpressed with God as someone who stays seated when the bride walks down the aisle. This is because they’re blinded to the glory of God as revealed in Jesus (see 2 Cor. 4:3–6).
So we begin prayer by pleading that God’s glory would be seen and submitted to in the person of Christ. The beauty of this petition is that we’re asking God to do what he already wants to do.
This request sets the tone for the rest of the prayer. All that we ask of God must flow from this all-consuming desire.
Second Petition: God’s Kingdom Come
“Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10) is a prayer for the success of the gospel in the world. We know the gospel has changed us, so we plead for God’s kingdom to be extended through the gospel going out to the ends of the world.
We’re tired of the world we live in, and we long for something better. We want to experience the fullness of the Beatitudes. We long to be where God’s rule is recognized and adored. God has promised this will happen, and his promise stokes our longing.
When a dad promises his daughter that he will take her to Disneyland, the child knows this trip isn’t a matter of if, but when. In her eagerness to receive the fulfillment of her dad’s promise, she constantly asks, “When are we going? You promised!” This is what it’s like for us to pray “your kingdom come.”
We cannot serve two masters. Likewise, two kings—us and God—cannot coexist. Someone’s rule and ambitions have to die. As Christians, our agendas have in fact died, and it’s glorious because ours would have killed us (Gal. 2:20). Praying “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” unifies us because it helps us long for his kingdom. It keeps us from back-biting, from jockeying for position, from longing to establish little kingdoms of our own.
Third Petition: Your Will Be Done
“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) further develops the second request for God’s kingdom to come. We long to see God reign here on earth in the same way he already reigns in heaven.
We don’t want people to submit reluctantly to God’s rule. We want them to joyfully submit because they’re convinced he is good. We pray for God’s will to be accomplished on earth however he determines, even if it means our suffering, sacrifice, and death.
Establishing God’s kingdom on earth means displacing lesser kingdoms, which is what churches do through their gospel work. Local churches, after all, are outposts of God’s kingdom. So praying that his will would be done means praying that God would continue to establish his gospel work through local churches.
This prayer for God’s presence to be seen and enjoyed is quite startling to a world that prefers for God to be an absentee Father that just sends a big child support check each month. Because we’re sinful, we would prefer God to give us our demands while demanding nothing in return. We love to set the agenda. But Jesus teaches us here that God’s presence precedes his provision. His agenda is far better than ours.
When our local churches pray and live in light of these first three petitions, it’s attractive to the watching world because we display a different picture of what God is like. It shows the world how ineffective its kingdoms are. It strengthens our witness.
John Onwuchekwa (MA, Dallas Theological Seminary) serves as pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
Content taken from Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church by John Onwuchekwa, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187,www.crossway.org.