On Earth as it is in Heaven
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9-10)." Jesus could have ended the prayer right there, as far as I’m concerned, as it captures the essence of life in the gospel.
“Life in the gospel:” what that means to me is knowing both how to worship God and how to love and serve our neighbor (mission). In just a few lines, Jesus managed to weld worship and mission together. Worship and mission in one breath—what a concept. Is it just me, or do worship and mission seem to run on parallel tracks in many churches? The worshiping, dancing, singer-types do don’t ever seem to compare notes with the missioning, active doer-types and vice versa. But if the church is going to play a role in the transformation of the world, worship and mission have got to come together.
Consider worship for a moment. Jesus instructed his disciples to salute God in prayer this way: “Our Father. . . .” Now today, many of us are used to calling God “Father,” so it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. But in Jesus’ day, it was not only novel, it was scandalous. Calling God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, “Father?”
Begin, Jesus said, with ‘Our Father’ . . . not so much to distinguish God as Father from God as Mother, but to distinguish God as loving Parent from God as impersonal deity or demanding boss or distant judge or inaccessible Ruler. Go ahead, dared Jesus, when you pray, call the Lord God, maker of heaven and earth, “Our Father.”
Pray too, “Our Father in heaven,” not to say that God isn’t also roaming the earth, but to say that where God dwells peace, justice, mercy and love also dwell. That’s where God is, and when you pray, instructed Jesus, pray, “Our Father in heaven, where peace, justice and love reside . . .
. . . hallowed be your name.” Yes, call God “Our Father in heaven,” instructed Jesus, but we also need to remember that we are in the presence of ultimate greatness, of fatal glory, for who can set their eyes upon the Lord and live? At the same time that we’re given permission to address God as “Abba,” we are also taught to pray, “Hallowed be your name.” This is worship. Jesus taught his disciples that when they pray, they begin with worshipping the living God, our Abba, who art in heaven.
And immediately after worshiping God, Jesus instructed his disciples to pray what we’d call today a missional prayer. He said to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done right now on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s a prayer of hope for God’s kingdom to come and to come quickly.
Now this begs the question, what is the kingdom? Several passages in Revelation give us clues in response to this question, such as chapters:
- 7:9-10, where all tongues and tribes and nations are gathered together for worship;
- 19:1-8, where worship happens after the announcement of the fall of Babylon;
- and 21:1-5, where God wipes away every tear, and pain and mourning and death are no more.
We’re instructed to pray that that kingdom come—God’s kingdom of peace, justice, healing and wholeness for the throngs of people who’ve been redeemed from all tribes and nations. But we’re not just called to stand around waiting for the kingdom. The missional prayer continues: “Your will of peace, justice, healing and wholeness be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Implied here are several missional activities:
First is the activity of evangelism—because how did all of those people get to heaven, those people who were so numerous that when they sang they sounded like many waters and mighty thunder peals (Rev. 19:6). How did all those people become a part of the heavenly choir unless they heard and responded to the good news at some point in their lives? Jesus’ prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven,” implies God’s people doing authentic evangelism right here, right now on earth as it is in heaven.
It also implies activities of social transformation—because how else could the suffering and pain and tears in Rev. 21 have been abolished unless the good news was demonstrated by God’s people today among the poor and oppressed in the world? When we take part in feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners, catalyzing a development project, being a voice for the voiceless, marching for peace, counseling the despondent and so forth, we are loving our neighbor, and thus providing glimpses of the coming kingdom right here, right now on earth as it is in heaven.
And thirdly, implied in Jesus’ prayer are activities of reconciliation and healing—because how else can all the tribes and nations be gathered together in Revelation and not only not be killing each other, but in fact, worshiping together unless the good news of Jesus today was actively dismantling the dividing walls of ethnicity and race? When we strive today, not to be a black church, brown church, white church, but to be the black-brown-white church of Jesus Christ; in other words, when we engage in reconciliation and the healing of the nations, we provide a glimpse of the beautiful diversity of humankind that constitute the ultimate citizenry of the coming kingdom right here, right now on earth as it is in heaven.
Evangelism, social transformation, and reconciliation: these constitute what it means to live out God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” The fact that Jesus instructed us to pray this way after hallowing God’s name more than implies that our mission—authentic and holistic—must flow out of our deep and intimate relationship with God.
This is what I strive to be: a lover of God and a truly good neighbor in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, doing God’s “will on earth as it is in heaven,” and thus serve as a signpost of God’s coming kingdom of peace, justice and love. Will you strive with me?
archway photo by Tony Hallas. Used by permission. See more like this at www.astrophoto.com.