By J.R. Miller
The answers to some prayers come at once. Even while we are speaking to God--the thing we ask for is laid in our hands. The answers to other prayers, however, are delayed. Sometimes the delay is for the schooling of the suppliant's faith, or for the discipline of patience. Sometimes the answer is one which in its very nature, could not be given at once. If in the early summer, as the first buds are appearing, one kneels in his orchard and prays that his trees may bring forth abundant and luscious fruit, his prayer could not be answered until the later summer or autumn. Fruits must have time to ripen.
Then there are prayers whose answers may begin to come at once--but cannot be granted in fullness and completeness at any one time, because the blessings that are sought are progressive and can be given only gradually. The prayer, "May Your kingdom come," belongs to this class. It was not a sudden coming of the heavenly kingdom to earth, that was in the mind of Christ when he gave this prayer to his disciples. He did not mean that they should ask for the letting down of the throne of glory from amid the splendors of heaven--to some locality on earth.
The petition contemplates the ultimate bringing of all the hearts and lives of God's redeemed people, under the divine sway. But the subjugation is a moral one. It is not such submission to Christ as King as takes place when one nation is conquered by another in war. The conquests of this kingdom are not made by force; they are moral conquests and are made by love. "Your people shall be willing--in the day of your power," ran the ancient word of hope. Not until men love God--can they be in the kingdom of heaven. "If you love me, " said the Master, "keep my commandments."
The coming of the kingdom of God, must therefore be gradual. One by one, men are saved by Christ and become his subjects. The surrender cannot be made fully and perfectly in a moment--but must be progressive. They go on from strength to strength. The inner man is renewed day by day. Jesus calls us to him to learn of him, and the learning takes all our life.
Thus it is that the prayer, "May Your kingdom come," has been receiving its answer every day since it began to be offered. The spiritual sway of Christ in this world, has been extending continually. Especially in recent years, has its progress been wonderful. The work of Christian missions during the nineteenth century has been stupendous.
No doubt it seems to many even now, that the answer to the petition has scarcely begun to come. Still is the world full of violence and strife. The great nations yet resort to war for the settlement of their disputes. Wrong and injustice prevail. The poor are oppressed. The weak are crushed. Foul sins stain the story of daily life even in communities where Christian civilization has done the most for the uplifting of society. When we look abroad and see the evil that still exists, we are apt to ask whether, after all, the world is any better than it was when Jesus taught his disciples to offer this petition. Yet this question is easily set at rest. The Prayer has been wondrously answered already.
"If God," says one, "had not heard this prayer, going up from tens of thousands in all ages--the earth would have been a den of iniquity!" We do not know from what depths of depravity this pleading, offered continually by loyal hearts, has saved the world. Nor do we begin to realize what Christianity has wrought in the world, in the countries where it has had power. If we would know how far this prayer has been answered, in what measure light has conquered darkness, to what extent the kingdom of God has advanced among men--we have but to study the world as it was in Christ's day--and compare with this the condition of society in the countries where Christianity has produced its best fruits. Or we need but to contrast, for example, the civilization of England and the United States--with the debasement of the worst heathen lands, to see that the world is immeasurably better than it was at the beginning of the Christian era.
Still, however, even the best and holiest parts of the earth are far from the perfect realization of the blessing sought in this petition. Everywhere sin still abounds, and wrong, injustice, crime, and cruelty are found among men! Even in the purest church and in the sweetest home--the kingdom of God is not yet fully come. The prayer in large measure--has yet to be answered, for it will be answered perfectly only when the life of heaven shall rule without hindrance or resistance; when truth, righteousness, and love shall prevail everywhere. Until then, we should never cease to breathe to our Father the petition, "May Your kingdom come."
We desire also in this prayer--that the kingdom of God may come in our own individual life with more and more power. Indeed this is the sense in which the prayer should be made first of all. The part of the world for whose surrender to God we are immediately responsible, is that which is in ourselves. Our prayer for the coming of the kingdom in other lives, is not sincere and can have no power with God--if we do
not seek to have it come in our own life. Joan of Arc, when asked what was the secret of the victoriousness and unconquerableness of her white banner, answered, "I send it forth against the enemy, and then I follow it myself." When we send out the white banner of such a prayer as this--we should be careful to follow it with our own life.
While we ask that the kingdom of God may come in us--we should make sure that its coming be not hindered--but in every way promoted, in us. This means that we should leave our sins, our grasping and greed, our jealousy, our resentment, our selfishness and pride, and whatever in us is unlovely and unholy--and that we let into our life whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely.
The kingdom of God can have its perfect realization in us, only in heaven. But it must begin in us here--or we shall never find ourselves ready for heaven. Jesus said that he who believes on him has eternal life. The present tense contains a wonderful revealing--that the life of heaven begins in the heart of every follower of Christ the moment he becomes a true Christian. It may begin in a very feeble way--only a desire, a resolve, a decision of surrender--yet it is a germ of the life of Christ; it is a little seed of heaven planted in a heart; it is life, eternal life. "The kingdom of heaven is like into leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, until it was all leavened." This little germ of eternal life, hid in a heart, will work its way through the life until the whole being has been assimilated to itself. The kingdom of heaven is come in us, therefore, only in the measure in which our life has come under the sway of its spirit.
There never is a day, therefore, for any of us--when we do not still need to pray this prayer. Who of us has yet the kingdom of God now in him--as it might have come, as it may yet come? Who of us now has this kingdom rule in him absolutely, yielding to God's sway every part of his being, bringing into subjection to Christ every thought, feeling, desire, and affection? That is the way to the highest possibilities of grace. We do not know what God could make of us, what he could accomplish through us, if only we would offer this prayer out of our deepest heart, and then follow it with the complete devotement of our life--body, soul, and spirit--to him!
Whatever there may be disheartening to those who pray this prayer day and night, because of the delay of the answer--we know that ultimately the triumph will be complete, that the kingdom of God will come in full and glorious power, and that all redeemed men will yield to its blessed sway, when "the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever!"
There is a series of parables in which our Lord called his friends to faithfulness in watching for his coming. When he will come--no one can know. It may be in the morning; it may be at noon-day; it may be in the evening. He would have us always ready, that his coming may never surprise us. It is not the watching of idle gazing, that will please him--but the watching of diligence and faithfulness in duty. If we but keep ourselves in the love of God, and do well our allotted tasks as they come to our hands--we shall do our part in bringing the kingdom of heaven in its power, and shall be ready to welcome the King whenever he may come!