Even though I am a missionary who depends desperately on prayer as my team and I serve among one of the largest unreached people groups in the world, I often find my personal prayers to be overly self-oriented. Perhaps others can relate.
As fallen humans, we all struggle with the disease of selfishness, which can extend even to our prayer lives. We can struggle to stop and pray at all. And when we finally manage, we can find our hearts and minds immediately filled with concerns about our jobs, our health, our relationships, and our unmet longings. As a result, our prayers can center simply on our own comfort and desires. And in a world filled with threats from sin, sickness, and weakness, our orientation toward self can easily even give way to anxiety and fear.
Many of us know that the Bible teaches us to orient our prayers toward the glory of God and the coming of his kingdom (Matthew 6:9–10). We may not know, however, how much power might come from such praying. This power rescues us from a narrow life and gives us grace to see God’s will accomplished on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus promises that when we seek God’s kingdom first, our anxieties will fade, and everything we need will be given (Matthew 6:33). We can seek God’s kingdom in many ways, but nothing is more fundamental to this pursuit than simply asking for his kingdom to come in prayer.
‘Your Kingdom Come’
When Jesus offered a pattern of prayer for the church, he taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come as the second petition of six (Matthew 6:10). There is a sequence and priority to the order he gives; thus, praying for God’s kingdom is extraordinarily important. We are right to pray for our own comfort and happiness and daily bread, but we cannot pray rightly for our own well-being or even for others without giving glory to God and seeking his kingdom in prayer.
It is also true that as we seek God’s kingdom through prayer, we will find the deepest comfort and happiness God made us for. As the Dutch theologian Herman Witsius once wrote, “In this kingdom all our happiness is placed” (Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer, 242). We can pray for our happiness and fail to pray for the kingdom, but we cannot pray for the kingdom and fail to pray for our happiness.
When our prayers are oriented toward the glory of God and the coming of his kingdom, true comfort and happiness for ourselves and others will follow. This is because praying for God’s kingdom to come aligns our hearts with God’s glorious intentions for the world and gives us the energy and direction needed to join him in achieving his will, regardless of what difficulties we may face. Such praying enables us to better interpret those difficulties as light momentary afflictions preparing us for an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17), which is to come with his kingdom.
Three Requests for the Kingdom
What exactly are we asking for when we pray for God’s kingdom to come? The answer to question 102 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism provides an excellent summary:
[We] pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and the kingdom of glory may be hastened.
Each of these elements deserves further reflection.
1. Destroy the kingdom of darkness.
First, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed. Here we are acknowledging that we live in the already–not yet kingdom. Christ has won the decisive victory over sin and Satan, and Jesus reigns over all things in heaven. However, Satan remains the active prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), a roaring lion seeking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). His kingdom must fall in order for the kingdom of Christ to be fully established. Praying, “Your kingdom come,” then, is an act of faithful allegiance to the rightful rule of Christ and an act of courageous rebellion against the tyranny of Satan.
Consider the implications of God’s kingdom coming and Satan’s kingdom toppling for missions among unreached people groups. The remaining unreached parts of the world remain unreached because they are, spiritually speaking, strongholds of Satan. They are strongholds not because the people in these places are worse sinners than we are, but because there is powerful and persistent spiritual resistance to gospel proclamation in various forms. These are places where “the demons are deep” (to borrow an expression from my pastor back home), and it seems impossible for God’s church to grow. These are often places where faithful messengers have proclaimed the gospel seemingly to no avail.
In Mark 9:14–29, we see Jesus encounter a situation where the demons were deep, and his apostles failed to cast them out. Jesus gently exhorts his apostles, saying, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” The remaining unreached parts of the world are filled with “this kind.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones expounds upon what Jesus is saying in this passage: “You failed there . . . because you did not have sufficient power. . . . You will never be able to deal with ‘this kind’ unless you have applied to God for the power which he alone can give you” (Revival, 18–19).
“If we want to see unreached peoples reached, we need to pray with impudent persistence.”
If we want to see unreached peoples reached, we need to pray with impudent persistence (Luke 11:5–13; 18:1–8) for Satan’s kingdom to be destroyed and for the kingdom of God to be established.
2. Advance the kingdom of grace.
Second, we pray that the kingdom of grace may be advanced. The kingdom of grace is the kingdom of Christ that we enjoy already in the church. It is the kingdom Christ rules that is not of this world (John 18:36), the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 10:7). As the Dutch theologian Wilhelmus à Brakel describes, this kingdom “redounds to the glorification of God” because it is the place and the people wherein God makes his glory known (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 3:512). This kingdom shines because its subjects are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6). Praying, “Your kingdom come,” then, means asking God to cause the church to thrive in every nation, and especially through the ministry of a multitude of local churches.
We pray for the church to be holy and shine brightly in a dark world. We pray for reformation in doctrine and unity in love. We ask for renewal of the saints and conversions of the lost by the Holy Spirit. We pray for churches to grow and multiply. We do not simply pray for the success of our own local churches and ministries. Rather, we pray that every nation would be transformed through the power of the gospel, proclaimed by the entire church, so that the gates of hell would not triumph against this kingdom of grace (Matthew 16:18). We pray for our family, our neighbors, ourselves, and our enemies. And we do so with reference to the kingdom of grace to which we belong by the mercy of Christ.
3. Hasten the kingdom of glory.
Finally, we pray that the kingdom of glory may be hastened. The English Puritan Thomas Watson explains that the kingdoms of grace and glory “differ not in nature, but degree only.” The kingdom of grace grows into the kingdom of glory. The kingdom of glory is the full and final eschatological kingdom of Christ. It is more than a heavenly kingdom; it is the kingdom of heaven come to an earth made new (Revelation 11:15; 21:1–3).
“Orienting our prayers toward the glory of God and the coming of his kingdom rescues us from the kingdom of self.”
Here, we pray for our Lord, King Jesus, to come quickly (Revelation 22:20). We ask for God’s glory to be enjoyed without the marring of sin and suffering. We ask for a kingdom of peace and righteousness to flourish (Hebrews 7:2). We ask for justice to be faithfully brought forth (Isaiah 42:1–4). We ask for the full experience of these blessings, and that God would allow us to enjoy them even now in part through the kingdom of grace.
Zacharias Ursinus, one of the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, describes the kingdom of glory like this: “There will be no enemies to subdue; but the church will reign gloriously with Christ and God shall be all in all; that is, he will manifest and communicate himself immediately to the blessed” (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 634). We pray for that day to come when we will see our Lord face to face in glorious love (1 Corinthians 13:12).
In God’s mysterious providence, we are invited to take a real part in ushering in this kingdom through prayer. Orienting our prayers toward the glory of God and the coming of his kingdom rescues us from the kingdom of self and all our inward spirals, and it sends our hearts and imaginations soaring into the foretastes of eternal glory. “Lord, let your kingdom come!”