Jesus said, “Pray like this,” but it gets complicated when His list doesn’t match yours.
Back in grade school, I was tasked to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. As I completed one recitation after another, I began to think of it less as a prayer than some kind of sacred manifesto. There wasn’t much in it I could ever imagine myself praying.
I had logged some mileage in the juvenile prayer category, like the time I prayed desperately a dog that had escaped from our yard wouldn’t get struck by a car and killed. Fifi had run off as if shot out of a cannon, and seemed hell-bent on ending up under a semi. Amazingly, in less than sixty seconds, she came back.
On another occasion, I had prayed to pass a pop quiz so that when the teacher scanned her grade book, reading scores out loud to the class, I wouldn’t be humiliated with an “F.” I had known more about Himalayan sewer systems than I had anything on that quiz. I squeaked by with a “D,” and was secretly elated.
Later my prayers turned to romantic interests when, in the ninth grade, I prayed for a particular girl to like me. This time God answered me with a stone cold “No.” The girl went on passing me in the hallway, as though I were a wall locker or a water fountain.
These were the things that occupied my petitions. However, in the midst of such childhood prayer adventures, I don’t recall ever having been concerned with the contents of the Lord’s Prayer.
Even as a born again adult I rarely found myself hoping for the kingdom’s appearance on this earth, because the idea of it disrupting all my personal hopes and dreams felt vaguely unpleasant. I did hope for the Lord’s return in a theoretical sense, but didn’t want it to occur before I could be married, or had children, or had a chance to visit the Grand Canyon, or write a book, or plant a church.
We’ve all realized from time to time that God is interested in some things foreign to our own interests. We have our prayer topics and He has His. But without heavy input from Him, we pray evilly, or at least amiss. We generate words like steam in a Turkish bath, exhausting ourselves. We sit befuddled, not knowing what to say, and are occasionally bored with our own recycled petitions.
God Himself must teach us to pray.
When Jesus instructed the disciples, He provided them with a template—the so-called Lord’s Prayer. It was supposed to guide us through a comprehensive set of concerns that addressed God, the world, ourselves, others, and the devil.
These words furnished a navigational menu of sorts, meant for careful handling, not rote recitation. They were supposed to lead us into deeper places, and so they promise to inform, even educate our prayers, giving shape and intelligence to them.
I went on reciting the Lord’s Prayer for years, as though it were the Boy Scout Oath. And then one day, I slowed that prayer down, and was struck with the phrase, “Your kingdom come.”
I understood the theological implications related to the kingdom of God, and knew some eschatology, but it’s hard to say you want something or are even interested in it until you actually pray for it. And I couldn’t say I had ever prayed for the kingdom like I had that runaway dog, or to be liked by the pretty girl.
I doubled back through 1 Kings, the quintessential Old Testament book of kingdom glory, and mounted a slow, prayerful handling of it up to chapter 10.
In the positive specifics, Solomon is there as a foreshadowing of Christ, whose kingdom has amazing abundance (4:20-28), whose wisdom is comprehensive and transcendent (4:29-34), and who commences the great building project of the temple for the glory of God’s name, as Christ also undertook in the grand building of the church (5-6).
By chapter 10 this kingdom picture opens into such excellent glory that the nations get drawn into it, as represented by the Queen of Sheba. When she had heard the wisdom of Solomon, and seen the temple, and the glorious order and greatness of it all, she was smitten: “there was no more spirit in her” (10:5).
Taken carefully and prayerfully, with all the sights and descriptions so rich with New Testament significance, I also began to feel “there was no more spirit” in me.
And it all lies encapsulated in the phrase “Let your kingdom come.”
I wanted that kingdom. Now when I pray for it, I realize it is something magnificent, whose dimensions are grander and more exciting than anything else. It is both here and yet currently under construction, and we have been highly honored to participate in its building. I pray that my neighbors would be sucked into the glory of it, and that I would be a profitable man in it.
It’s not that I shouldn’t pray about succeeding on my diet, or being a better husband, because the Bible does say, “Cast your cares upon Him.” The point is that I am capable of praying in a divinely educated, inspired way that rises above the ground vegetation surrounding myself. I can enter God’s garden, too.
Learn more about this practice in my new workbook, Presence: Praying the Scriptures to Encounter the Glory of God.