Many years ago, I stood at the checkout in a liquor store in my hometown. I was bringing home the sparkling cider for our family’s Christmas dinner.
The woman behind the register asked: “Are you 21?”
I stammered a moment. “Well, yes, I am. But I don’t need to be. This isn’t alcohol.”
She looked, laughed, and waved me through. “Bottle sure looks the same. I didn’t notice. Merry Christmas!”
I could have presented an ID for my purchase—but it wasn’t required. I, or anyone, was freely allowed to buy that celebratory bubbly bottle and take it home.
Often, we feel like prayer is this kind of requirement—an ID we must present before we get what we want. We look at it as a hoop we need to jump through. Facts we have to memorize do for a test.
What if prayer is none of that? Neglecting prayer isn’t something to beat ourselves up over, as we might if we’ve failed the test. At the same time, it’s something to be sad about if we miss it. The truth is, like sitting with a best friend or wise mentor, if I neglect the conversation, I’m missing all the goodness of my relationship. There is a delicious bubbly, celebratory conversation to be had freely. It’s my choice if I want to take it or treat it as an ACT test to fret over.
As we continue this exploration of prayer (begun in my previous two posts) the next lines of the Lord’s Prayer are:
Set the world right; Do what’s best— as above, so below.
(Matthew 6.10, The Message)
Or in more familiar terms:
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Honestly, how often do we come before God and just say those words? “God, please do what’s best.” Don’t we usually have our own list of things that we think are best? I know I do. We tend to come to God with our plans and wishes and ask him to bless that. Yet one of the first things Jesus teaches us is that our hearts need to want what he wants more than what we want. We need to come to God not with our list but by asking God, —“What’s on your list?” God, do what’s best. How can I be of service in that?
Of course, when we look at Scripture, we know what’s on God’s list. It’s encompassed in that first line—“Set the world right.” God’s list is all about reconciliation of all things and putting the world back the way the Creator intended it. “Set the world right” isn’t a metaphorical concept. It’s really what God wants—things righted in the way they were always meant to be.
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is a plea for all of God’s goodness to be the priority of our daily lives. The purpose of prayer in these lines is this: To ask that God’s priorities be our priorities.
Once we’ve taken the first steps in prayer, listening to God, and knowing who God is and what is on his heart, we already know what his will is. We’ve seen it as we listen and learn. We know that when we say this line—“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—exactly what we’re asking for. So the question is—how much do we mean it?
Do we really want God to set the world right—because we know that’s going to mean upsetting quite a bit? The world is very wrong, and often the church is right there with it. We know the status quo is not God’s will being done on earth. We also know that we often benefit from the status quo. So praying this line is an exercise in self-denial. It’s a check of our obedience. It’s testing to see if we are willing to submit our will to God’s.
It’s not some out there, cosmic idea.
Yeah, I think it would be a good idea if your will was done on earth, God. Somewhere on earth. You know, where things are really bad and people are being exceptionally stupid. Out there. On earth. Vague gesture.
It’s a request for God’s will to be done right here right now, in my heart, and in my life, starting in my neighborhood. Let’s be honest—sometimes I’m really bad and exceptionally stupid. It’s not all “out there.”
God, make your priorities my priorities. Mold my will in service to yours. Help me to give up the things on my list if they’re not on your list. Give me a heart that cares about the things in the world that are not set right. Give me the courage to partner with you to set them right.
That’s what we’re asking when we pray this line of the Lord’s prayer. It’s radical. That’s why I like to hear it in a translation we’re not used to hearing it in—so that we recognize the crazy upside-down world that Jesus is asking us to pray for and know what it all means.
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.