This third petition of the Lord’s Prayer is an expression of longing that God the Father’s reign extend over all things. It’s a curious petition, considering we profess faith in God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent. That means His reign must already extend over all of His creation. Yet, it is obvious that things are not as they should be. You don’t have to be religious to see that. The old-school Marxist also decries the injustice he sees in the world. There is, therefore, a tension between the reality that God is already Lord of all things and the reality that things in the world do not yet acknowledge it. Jesus instructs us to pray this petition because Our Lord knows that it is beyond our power to impose His reign on the world ourselves. Ultimately, He must bring it about.
And this is what we resist. The Lord God is sovereign over all things, but the human heart mysteriously remains disputed territory. On the road to Damascus, when Saul of Tarsus (St. Paul) encountered the risen Christ, Our Lord said to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). Goads were sharpened sticks that farmers would use to prod livestock, to get them to move as they plowed the field. Sometimes, a cow or ox would respond to the prodding with a kick against the goad, which would end up being more painful to the animal than the farmer’s prodding. Saul’s persecution of the early Church was his resistance to Christ’s call for his conversion, and ultimately it was hurting Saul. We kick against the goad too when we cling to sovereignty over the world (even in the name of God), wanting it to be our kingdom, made according to our liking, even as we pray “Thy Kingdom come.” To decry the disorder and the madness, the injustice and depravity that we see in the world around us, but not the presence of all those things deep within, is to betray the petition and to kick against the goads.
Only the Lord God is sovereign over all things. Every social order and structure that exists in the world is subject to His judgment. As His subjects, we have a responsibility to protect and foster all that is good in the social order, and to resist and correct those things that contradict what we know to be the Lord’s desire for us and the things that offend the dignity with which He made us. But to pray this petition in good faith, we must express it as a desire that His Kingdom extend to the deepest depths of our being. We pray it recognizing that His creation is one single whole, and that our hearts are part of the fallen world, part of the fallen order, and that we need Him because we are helpless against our own fallenness. He must reign over our hearts if He is to reign over society because they are all part of the one Kingdom of God.
Around the turn of the 20th Century, the Times of London posed a question to a number of well-known contemporary writers, and asked them to write a response to it for publication in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the paper. The question was: “What’s wrong with the world today?” The newspaper received many lengthy responses that pontificated on the great questions of politics and economics and the challenges facing society. In his response, G.K. Chesterton simply wrote: “I am.”
When we acknowledge this, we begin to pray “Thy Kingdom come” with greater understanding and greater trust, that the Lord God who loves us will be kind and merciful to us as He ushers in His Heavenly Kingdom.