In the model prayer Jesus gave us, He encouraged us to pray and declare, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But what does it look like when that prayer is answered? What does it mean to live in the kingdom of heaven whilst still being a citizen of this broken earthly kingdom? What kind of lifestyle do we live once we are fully devoted to Jesus Christ? Heaven functions very differently to earth, so what it is like to live in what the New Testament calls the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven?
These are important questions because learning how that kingdom functions is one of the primary mandates put upon us as believers. Heaven is supposed to be a present tense reality, something that’s discernible, measurable, understandable and able to be experienced. The kingdom of heaven is meant to have an impact on how we view reality and how our values are established. The more we discover and experience this practical expression of the kingdom of heaven and the more we learn how to build and organise our lives around the central values of that kingdom, then the more transformational we will become as we impact this earthly kingdom.
I think more than any other part of Scripture, this prayer represents the heartbeat of Jesus for our lives. This is His heart’s desire for each of us – that we will radically impact the world around us as we live out His mission on earth – a mission which can be summed up in the words: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” When Jesus told us to pray this it wasn’t just a pipe dream or a plan to keep us spiritually minded and occupied until He comes back. This was a strategic military assignment in the war against God’s enemy and the ruler of this broken world.
It actually falls into the category of an apostolic prayer. What is an apostolic prayer? Well the word ‘Apostle’ means ‘sent one’ but it’s so much more than that. The concept behind this word came from the Roman army where they would send a military leader into a land that had already been conquered. They would send this military leader in with a team of architects, language specialists and all the experts required to re-design the appearance of this city or sometimes a whole nation. They would redesign the roads, the way the cities functioned; their business principles; they would teach the people the language of Rome and they would continue to do all this until that city actually looked and functioned like Rome. Why? So that when the Emperor came he would feel at home.
So when Jesus says to pray “on earth as it is in heaven,” it’s that apostolic prayer. So herein lies the challenge to us. Is it possible for us to have homes, churches, cities and even nations in which Jesus feels at home? Places that function like the kingdom in which He has dwelt for eternity? You see, “on earth as it is in heaven” is not some waffly philosophical concept, it’s an apostolic directive to bring heaven to earth and to transform our surroundings so that this world functions like Jesus’ world; so that the reality of heaven progressively becomes the reality of this world. That is our mission. That is our calling. That is the only reason we are still here!
Now as we embrace Christ’s mission and our calling, it is really important we understand that everything in heaven is connected to one thing and that is the presence of God. The greatest reality and highest value in heaven is the presence of God. So we can’t really pray, “on earth as it is in heaven,” unless we are devoted to learning to recognize and value the presence of God. In other words, I can’t just pray that because I want to see cancer healed. I can’t just pray that because I want to see marriages restored or businesses succeed and all those things are appropriate expressions of heaven on earth. The central reality and dominant experience in the kingdom of heaven is the presence of God. He is everywhere and His presence has an effect everywhere.
So in the face of that reality, it is interesting to note how all over this world every Sunday millions of God’s people gather around a sermon. They sing, they worship, they pray, they share fellowship but the pinnacle of modern pastoral ministry is the preaching of the Word – the sermon. That’s how it has been for hundreds of years. That’s why in so many of our old churches and cathedrals the pulpit is elevated high above everything else – representing the priority of the Word of God as brought to us in teaching just like this.
But if we go back in history and look at God’s gathered people we see that Israel camped around the presence of God and as such they emulated the kingdom of heaven more than the modern Church! If we really want to know how to live in the kingdom of heaven, then we need to return to those roots and that reality. We need to learn how to be tethered to that one supreme value above everything else: the presence of God.