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It seems that when most church goers talk about “the kingdom of God,” they typically have in mind the eternal heaven they will one day enter through faith in Jesus. The kingdom is conceptualized as that future time and place where we will enjoy God’s presence in an unhindered way.

But is that all that is included in the kingdom of God? Is that, in fact, how Jesus spoke about it?

What do we do with Jesus’ announcement that in his preaching the kingdom of God was at hand, within reach (Mark 1: 15)? When Jesus sent the twelve out to minister, they were told to proclaim the present nearness of the kingdom of God (Matthew 10:5-7); the same commission is given to the seventy sent out later (Luke 10:1-11). In speaking of his own ministry and the demonstration of power over demonic powers, Jesus asserted that the kingdom had “come upon” his hearers (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). In Mark 9:1, Jesus promised some of his disciples that they would see the kingdom of God come in power. Jesus could even insist that the kingdom of God was there, in the midst of those gathered around him (Luke 17:21).

I am not saying there is no future dimension to the presence and experience of the kingdom of God. I am only trying to listen well to Jesus and what he says about a present experience of the kingdom that does not await us in some far off and distant future. And seeing that present reality of the kingdom breaking into this world gives a fresh understanding to what Jesus taught his followers to pray.

Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9-12)

In encouraging his followers to pray for the coming of the kingdom of God, I do not think he is asking them to beseech the Father to bring in the culmination of all things and to establish the eternal state. That is, of course, something to long for. But I do think this prayer is more about the breaking in of God’s kingdom–God’s rule, his presence, a manifestation of his grace and goodness and glory and power–in our day and time, in the here and now.

This is a call to pray for the kind of life-changing ministry seen and experienced in Jesus’ own life to continue to expand and be extending through our lives. If the kingdom is present and evident and tangible in and through the life of Jesus, then to pray this kind of prayer is to ask for God to do those kinds of things through his people as well.

How different it is to pray for the coming of the kingdom if we realize that we are asking for a present, ongoing, manifestation of God’s grace and power and goodness . . . and not just a request for God to hurry up and usher in eternity.

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