His Prayer, Our Prayer: Riding On God’s Shoulders
The words of the Lord’s Prayer are remarkably plain and simple, yet as is so often the case the simplest words can reveal the most profound truths. I have enjoyed the story about the two preachers who arrived simultaneously at Heaven’s Gate, one was a country preacher who had spent his years out in a little church in the boondocks. St. Peter asked him “Who is God?” The old preacher replied “God is my Heavenly Father who gave me His only Son and who strengthens me by His spirit.” St. Peter said to him “Enter in—the Kingdom of Heaven is yours”. The other preacher was a professor of theology who was known around the world. St. Peter asked him “Who is God”, and this learned man replied “God is the ground of all being. He is the necessary foundation of all that exists, but we must not make the mistake of thinking that God Himself exists, for if God is, then by His very isness He is limited.” St. Peter looked at him and said “Huh?” Well there is a lot of truth behind the laughter. Plain and simple words can convey the deepest most profound truths. That is true of the Lord’s Prayer as a whole, and it is particularly true of the phrase I want us to consider today. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” We shall come to that, in a moment, after we have prayed…
When I was a little boy one of the things I loved to do best was to ride on my Daddy’s shoulders. He would occasionally sweep into the room where I would be playing, scoop me up in his great loving arms, deposit me squarely on his shoulders and off we would go accompanied by my squeals of delight. I suppose that it is only in retrospect that I understand why I loved that so much. I now realize that the source of my pleasure was the fact that we then went wherever he wanted to go, but we went together; and that from the altitude of his shoulders I got a whole new perspective on the world about me; and that for all the adventure of that rough and soaring ride on his shoulders, there was the security of feeling his hands holding me tight.
That is the image which comes to my mind every time I repeat the words in the Lord’s Prayer—”Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Of course that may well be the most powerful and the most profound phrase in the whole prayer. Entire sermons could be preached on nearly every word. The thought expressed here is so expansive and so explosive that it is pure folly for me to attempt to plumb its depths in a single sermon. Therefore, being desperately aware of my own limitations, I want to try to put the phrase into other words and then share a couple of my thoughts about it. What Jesus is saying to us here is this: “pray that all of the universe will come to know God, obey his commands, do His will, and find His peace.” Now, two thoughts:
First, this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer when wrongly understood always leads to tragedy.
For example there are those who take part of the Lord’s Prayer and try to make it into a battle cry. Bring the Kingdom of God on earth. They, of course, think they know what the Kingdom is. They imagine that they have somehow penetrated the darkest mysteries of life. They have decided that they know what is best for the world and they set out to bring others to their point of view. The results are always tragic. On occasion I receive letters, usually anonymous, in which the writer will cruelly attack a personality or a church or a concept and the letters always end with words like these—”I have been led by God to say this to you.” Or I think of a very beautiful little church in the City of Toledo in Spain. Well, in the confines of that very lovely, very holy place, very unlovely, unholy things took place. A man named Torquemada began the Spanish Inquisition. Here was one, this Torquemada, who twisted and tortured people’s bodies, who inflicted unspeakable mental and physical pain upon people in order to force them to believe what he understood the Kingdom of God to be. Or I recall standing in St. Peter’s Church in Geneva, the church John Calvin served. It was a thrilling moment for me to stand in the very pulpit where the founder of our faith had stood, but then I had a troubling thought which marred the moment. I remembered Michael Servetus. Servetus did not hold all the beliefs John Calvin held and Calvin, unable to tolerate a differing point of view, had Servetus beheaded.
These are the kinds of things that happen when individuals become so possessed with the notion that what they believe about the Kingdom is the only right belief and that they are going to bring it in regardless of the cost. They become so obsessed with it all that they lose any love in their lives and they become narrow, severe and arrogant.
Not long ago I was speaking with a woman in deep emotional difficulties. It seems that her husband had had a conversion experience but it had led him to the idea that the coming of God’s Kingdom depended upon him. So he had turned a withering anger upon his wife when she was not comfortable with every belief that was his and consequently he had practically destroyed a woman he once loved. You can’t tell me that that is what Jesus meant when he said pray “Thy Kingdom Come”.
And there are others who trumpet long and loud that the only way the Kingdom of God will come to this earth will be through good works and social action. So often of late the church has talked of the importance of education, of feeding the hungry, of making medical facilities available in all parts of the world, and what intelligent person would ever argue about the importance of those ministries. Would any of us here say that education is not important? Would any of us here say that it is better to let the sick and the hungry die without help? Of course not. Such efforts to meet the needs of people are terribly important. The church does those things and the church ought to do those things and the church ought never to stop doing those things because the church does those things better than anyone else does those things. But that’s not the real problem. The heart of peoples’ problems is the problem in peoples’ hearts. Education, food, medical advances, those things won’t solve racial segregation or the violence in the Middle East, or the greed that is driving this nation to economic disaster. The problem is in peoples’ hearts and until that problem is solved those other problems will continue to exist.
My friends, people standing together cannot bring the Kingdom of God on earth unless and until those people in and of themselves have experienced the Kingdom in their own hearts. You see Jesus Christ is the Kingdom. He said it Himself. To be in Christ is to experience that Kingdom. That Kingdom is not a territory. It is not a social program, however noble that program may be. It is not even an attitude or a state of mind. It is rather a commitment—a full-blown unconditional commitment to God in Jesus Christ.
Do you know the name “Dorothy Thompson”? She was one of our greatest journalists in the 1930s. She was a tough, hard-eyed, realistic commentator on life in our world. She had been brought up in a Methodist parsonage to believe that the real problems of humans and the answers to them were finally spiritual. Listen to what she says because it says a lot. “There is only one effective revolution in this world and that is the revolution represented by the evangelical idea of conversion; that people see when they have been wrong, that a light dawns upon them and that they change their ways.”
I think what Jesus is saying to us at this point in His prayer is this: “Pray that you shall be changed, that God’s will shall become your will and that when you are changed in your heart, then you can change the world.”
And that leads me to my second thought: This phrase in the Lord’s Prayer when rightly understood always leads to triumph.
Understand me please, to ask God to take control of your life and to use you to help him build His Kingdom is not the easy way out. There is a fellow named Larry Evers who was a successful actor in New York. And then he decided that he wasn’t serving God as he should and so turned and walked away from all the fame and riches of Broadway and he became a clown. Now he travels about the country. Hotels put him up on a complimentary basis. Christian merchants provide him with toys and flowers and he visits hospitals and children’s rehabilitation centers, and homes for troubled youth. He looks upon children as symbols of the world’s suffering and he ministers to them in beautiful ways. He pours himself out in a ministry of entertainment and testimony to them. He has given up everything he possessed to become a clown for the sake of Jesus Christ. And you may say, “Oh, it would take a real clown to so totally give himself to the Lord like that.” But is Larry Evers a clown?
Douglas MacArthur said to us at the end of World War II; “I need ten thousand missionaries in the Far East.” We said “That is foolishness.” We didn’t send them. And so soon instead of sending missionaries, we had to send Marines. A missionary back then cost ten thousand dollars a year, a marine costs a thousand dollars a day. Who is the clown? MacArthur said, “Send Bibles, all you can lay your hands on.” We didn’t send them and as a result we have had to send bullets and bombs. Who is the clown? MacArthur said to us then, “The people of the Far East need the Gospel.” We didn’t take it seriously and consequently the oriental soil is stained with the blood of their boys and ours. Tell me, who’s the clown?
There are people today who are saying that the church is an irrelevant appendage to society, and that commitment to Jesus Christ is just foolish fancy. Don’t be too quick to buy that line. A letter came to our church the other day. It was addressed to the First Presbyterian Church, Orlando, Florida. That was all it had, but it was delivered. Of course, that is what happens when you have been in the City for more than 100 years. The letter was from a woman up north who was trying to find some information about one of her ancestors who had been a member here. She began the letter like this, “I am writing to you hoping that the church is still there.” Well the church is still here and the church will always be here. The Church of Jesus Christ will always be in this world. Why do you think the churches of Eastern Europe are popping out all over the place like spring flowers after the melting snows? Why do you think that in Russia, where they said for years that they had stamped out all forms of religion, but now just a few weeks ago they voted, actually voted, and declared the church as the institution in Russia which they respect the most? Why do you think that French reformer said to the King of Navarone, “Sire, it is given to the Church of Jesus Christ to receive blows rather than to give them, but I would remind you that the Church is an anvil which has worn out many hammers”.
My friends, when we take our stand for Jesus Christ in life, when we commit our lives to His Church, when we pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we are tying ourselves to the only thing in this world which will last. And that’s not foolishness. Of course, I must not mislead you. When you pray this prayer and make this commitment, you open yourself to suffering and hardship. When Jesus prayed that God’s will be done in His life, it cost him the cross. But remember please that the way of the cross leads ultimately not to tragedy but to triumph. That’s the way it was for Jesus and that’s the way it will be for us.
So the army surgeon walked into the field hospital tent during the war. He said to the young soldier whose arm he had just amputated, “Son, I am sorry you had to lose your arm.” And the boy through a mask of pain replied, “Sir, I didn’t lose my arm, I gave it.” Just so when we pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we don’t lose ourselves to Jesus, we give ourselves to Him. And when we give ourselves to God in Jesus Christ he scoops us up in His great loving arms, deposits us squarely on His shoulders, and then we go where he wants us to go, but we go together; and we see life from a whole new perspective; and even though the ride sometimes may be rough, we can feel the secure grip of His hand upon us. My beloved, to be able to go through life riding on the shoulders of God in Jesus Christ…that’s not tragedy, that’s triumph!