Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done: Growing into the Prayer Jesus Taught Us
A conversation with Mark Charles and John D. Witvliet on the phrase "Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done" from the Lord's Prayer, as part of the series "Growing into the Prayer Jesus Taught Us."
John Witvliet [00:00:06] Let’s move next and talk about the next petition, which is “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That is such a big-scope prayer, Mark. And I wonder what your reflections are as you grow in praying it, especially over these last months and years.
Mark Charles [00:00:28] This is actually where it becomes the most challenging for me. It’s because I would literally leave my watching the sunrise, especially here in DC; I watch it when it comes up over the Potomac River. And where I watch it there's this beautiful walk where I can walk for miles right along the river. And frequently . . . I would go for a walk along the river just after the sun came up. It's still very quiet. It's still pretty peaceful out there. And I found myself literally five minutes after I just sat with Creator giving incredible gratitude and heartfelt, sincere gratitude for what I was experiencing and able to be a part of, I would find myself five minutes later walking down this path in a very heated debate with if not literally screaming at God. And I couldn't understand the disconnect. And part of what I was looking at, and when I look at this prayer and I look at how frequently we pray, especially in the Western church, Jesus’ prayer here is very big: “your kingdom come, your will be done.” It's fascinating. We don't see Jesus petitioning God for individual needs and specific circumstances that he might experience throughout the day—“God, I pray for Peter's . . . mother-in-law, I pray for . . . the leader of the synagogue down the street.” He's not lifting up all of these little petitions. He's praying these bold, big prayers that are hard to kind of pinpoint what's being answered and what's not. And he's really laying all of these things at God's feet. And I know for myself as a Christian raised in the church, I've been taught to bring a lot of these individual petitions before God on a regular basis. And I found that what that can do is it can lead almost to a sense of holy anxiety: I have to pray for these things. I forgot to you know, I forgot to lift up this individual need or that individual person or this thing around me. And actually that would cause anxiety, or it would make me focus on, again, things around me that I couldn't necessarily control.
And so I did a few things with this section of the prayer and with my own prayer discipline. First of all, Jesus says, “Your kingdom come.” And that makes sense. He was living in Israel, and Israel had been a kingdom for a long time. They knew kings; they knew kingdoms; they knew all the things that went with that. Again, my experience—I was walking away from a sunrise. For a long time I was living on the reservation, almost the furthest thing you could get from a kingdom. And I recognize I don't relate to God first and foremost as a king. That's completely outside of my context. I relate to God at the foundational level, as Creator. And so instead of saying “Your kingdom come,” I began to say, “May your creation flourish. May your creation that you put in place, that you put us here to steward, that you provided, and you are the one who controls the seasons and you're the one who causes the sun to rise. May what you put in place continue to work and may it continue to flourish. May it continue to do what you intended for it to do. And then, in the place of “your will be done,” I actually would say “your will be done,” but what I began to do, and this is how I begin to combine my very Western, individualistic prayer sessions with how Jesus seems to pray much more globally and even communally—not that he didn't pray for people individually when he was there; we have a few examples of him praying for more specific things—but here, when he's teaching his disciples to pray, he's praying very big and very bold and very broad. And so instead of lifting up all of the needs, to pray for this need over here and that need over there and this person over there, I would literally, as people I've committed to praying for them, as they would come to my mind, I would just pray, “May your will be done in their life.” And that's it. Leaving it at that. Not “I'm demanding you do this one thing” or “I'm expecting you to do this exact thing” or “I'm not going to be satisfied until this thing happens.” I literally just pray, “May your will be done in their life.” And I found that what that does is it allows me to allow God to be God, Creator to be Creator. My knowledge is limited. My experience, my faculties are limited. My knowledge is limited. Even if what I think may be best for someone, I don't know what's truly going to be best for them. And so by praying it more generally, “Creator, this person's on my mind today. I see the way that they're struggling. I see the way that they have this challenge. May your will be done in that.” And by keeping those prayers much more simplistic, it allowed me to leave those things in God's hands and it helped me from allowing my day and my emotions of the day from being controlled by what was going on or not going on in these individual situations all around me. And I found it led me to being able to find my joy be much more consistent instead of being brought really, really high and really, really low all the time. But I'm just like, "May your will be done,” and allowing the timing and what the will is, and all of that, just leave that in Creator's hands. And I found it actually allowed me to be committed to lifting people up and to have integrity of yes, I know what's going on and I'm praying for you, but to allow Creator, to allow God to be the one to deal with the minutiae, the details, that if I get into those, it leads to a holy anxiety as compared to a much deeper peace.