As an avid outdoorsman, I have been sickened by finding discarded plastics and non-biodegradable trash at over 10,000 feet in beautiful mountains almost inaccessible to the public. I have been disappointed by the amount of garbage, much of non-biodegradable plastics, washed up on our beaches or found embedded in fish that I've caught from the oceans. Look around our cities, our roadways, our public lands, and our public parks. You are likely to find indiscriminately disposed of garbage, discarded furniture or tires, and dangerous chemical products.
The earth is sick. Our world — with its violence, political hatred, terrorism, poverty, sexual abuse, human trafficking, and military conflict — is even sicker. Our world is broken. We know it is broken. The scriptures declare that our world is in "bondage to decay" and "groaning" waiting for redemption (Romans 8:21-22). All around us, we have the testimony of our fractured world from what we see in politics, the environment, relationships, nationalities, violence, and sexual abuse. Only documenting our problems, however, isn't a solution.
Abandoning the earth and being free of this world is also not a solution. We are called to follow Jesus' example. He left the safety and security of heaven to enter our world to redeem it. He sent us into the world to follow his example and work to redeem the world (Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:19-20). While on earth, while on in the world to redeem the world, Jesus taught us to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10).
When we pray for God's kingdom to come and his will to be done " on earth as it is in heaven," we are declaring that things here on earth are not as they should be. We believe that they certainly are not what they one day will be when Jesus returns. We acknowledge that we live in the gap between our fallen world and the original design of our loving Creator.
When we pray for God's will to be done "on earth as it is in heaven," we are longing for that glorious day when earth's redemption fully occurs. We are praying for the day God fully adopts his earthly children into his glory (Romans 8:18-25). We are praying for the glorious dawning of the new heavens and earth (Isaiah 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-2). Until that day, we are also pledging by our prayers to be his partners in bringing redemption, right now, here on earth. We are committing to close the distance in the gap between "on earth now" and "on earth as God wills it to be" — "on earth as it is in heaven"!
So, what should we do to be partners in the redemption of our world?
How do we bring the ethics and behaviors of "the kingdom of heaven" down to earth?
Where do we begin?
Jesus demonstrated how to bring the "kingdom of heaven" down to earth. He showed us what it looks like when the will of God for our world reigns:
But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28).
Jesus' disciples witnessed this in-breaking of "the kingdom of heaven" when the Lord brought good news to the poor, cared for the weak, valued the young, found the lost, released those held captive, brought sight to the blind, set the oppressed free, made the lame to walk again, cleansed those with leprosy, raised the dead, included the outsider, and welcomed every seeker.[NOTE] Throughout the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), we meet Jesus bringing God's kingdom to earth for people caught in the brokenness of our world.
In addition, Jesus frequently taught about the nature and purpose of the kingdom of heaven in his earthly ministry. He called his disciples to seek the kingdom above all over things (Matthew 6:33). The Lord taught the values of that kingdom throughout his ministry.
- Jesus called his disciples to him and gave them instruction on kingdom living in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), his most famous teaching.
- He called his closest followers to share these values with others (Matthew 10:1-11:1; 28:18-20).
- In another set of lessons, Jesus used parables to speak about the mysterious power and value of the kingdom to grow and bless (Matthew 13:1-53).
- In still another block of his' teachings, Jesus taught the values and behaviors of living in fellowship as his disciples and part of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-19:1).
- In another collection of Jesus' teachings, the Lord addressed the enduring nature and the high value of his coming kingdom. He instructed his disciples always to be ready for the kingdom to dawn in its fullness. He then spoke about his coming in glory to bring the full realization of the kingdom along with its inestimable blessings (Matthew 24:1-26:2).
In this last section of teaching, Jesus concluded with a parable. He wanted to help folks understand who would enjoy the blessings of the kingdom when it dawned in all its fullness. He taught that these people would be those who demonstrated the values of the kingdom while living on earth before it dawned fully in all its glory with his coming (Matthew 25:31-46):
- They fed the hungry.
- They gave water to the thirsty.
- They welcomed strangers.
- They clothed the naked.
- They cared for the sick.
- They visited those in prison.
This list sounds remarkably similar to how Jesus lived in this world because that is the Lord's design for his people on earth.
While we pray for the kingdom to come, we must also display the life of the kingdom. That kingdom-life must show up in our lifestyles, our fellowship with each other, and our care for our lost and broken world. Jesus intended for his followers to extend his ministry. He wanted his disciples to pray for God's kingdom to come. He also wanted his disciples to display what life is like when it is lived "on earth as it is in heaven."
Jesus' life was the in-breaking of God's kingdom on earth, and his disciples live to extend the impact of that in-breaking of the kingdom on earth. Until the gap between "as it is in heaven" and the way it is on earth closes, Jesus has a job for us to do. We are to live redemptively on earth for heaven's sake.
Making it Real: On Earth As It Is In Heaven
by Doug Peters
Let Heaven Win!
I grew up in a small church that sang long songs! If the author of a song went to the trouble to write four, five or six stanzas, we felt obligated to cover them all — regardless of tune or tempo! And one song on our "Top 40" began with the phrase, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through…" The chorus repeatedly chimed, "And I can't feel at home in this world anymore." Although our small church was vocally challenged, we certainly sang it with all our hearts. But the problem I noticed was that we didn't really believe it — at least not by our actions.
At our worst, we were too comfortable and cozy with worldly ways. Many of us were trying to lay up lots of treasures down here below the blue! Surely, we needed more of a heavenly perspective! But most of the time, and at our best, we chose to violate our song's mantra because we were really trying to live into God's will and make life on earth as it is in heaven!
For now, our home was here, on this earth, and we were actively working to make it better. Although we sang as if we were all just sitting around and waiting to die and enter heavenly eternal glory, at our best, we were trying to live like heaven on earth!
The truth of the matter is that our Creator has placed us here on this earth. And the only life anyone of us knows to this point is lived out here with the rest of God's creation. Yes, the Holy Spirit indwells us, but the Spirit lives within us here, in our created bodies and on this earth! So maybe the goal of our life is not just to escape this world and flee to heaven?
The unified story of the Bible is a story of creation, fall, and redemption. And if we read it closely, we learn that our redeemer seeks to restore creation and not just write it off. This world is where the life we've been given exists, and it is where God wants his already, but not yet fully realized, kingdom to keep coming.
God challenges us to get on board and invest in the already coming kingdom in the here and now! May God's kingdom come, and God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven! As Michael Wittmer says, "We are earthlings, for heaven's sake!" (Heaven Is a Place on Earth, 2004, Zondervan, Grand Rapids).
To pray for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven admits that life on earth could be better — much better! The gap between the earth we know and the heaven we imagine often seems insurmountable. About the time we get a glimpse of God's glorious in-breaking kingdom, the evil, injustice, poverty, and pain that largely define life on earth obscures the heavenly vision. In those times, it's like life on earth is as it is in hell!
But we keep praying! We long for the reversal of the curse. We yearn for the healing and hope of heaven to bind up the brokenness of our families, our cities, and our world. We want to pray with eyes closed tightly, but this prayer keeps our eyes open to our world's suffering. It's a prayer for the vision to see what God sees — to be brokenhearted for what breaks God's heart.
One doesn't genuinely say this prayer without being drafted into the service of seeing God's will done on this earth. You cannot pray this prayer and be satisfied with the status quo. The way things are is not the way things will be. And the people who truly believe are the ones who will join in God's renewal and restoration project.
Daily Practice of Prayer:
Let heaven win:
Among my circle of friends…
In my school…
At my workplace…
In our church…
In our neighborhood…
In my finances…
Holy God, May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven — Let heaven win!
Daily Reflection after Prayer:
Life on Earth As It Is In Heaven — If heaven wins today:
What will be my family's priorities?
How will the atmosphere of my workplace change?
How will our schools be different?
My bank statement will…
My neighbors will know…
Our church will…
Before pursuing the call to ministry, Doug graduated from Midwestern State University and worked in electrical engineering at Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. Sensing God's leading to serve the church in a full-time capacity, Doug attended Abilene Christian University (BA, MS, M.Div, and D.Min) and has been in ministry since 1989. Doug most recently held the Chair of Preaching and Ministry at Oklahoma Christian University. Doug and his wife Sheryl have two adult daughters, Lauren and Alani. He has served churches in Winters, Arlington, and Conroe (Houston area), Texas. He is also a resource support for Interim Ministry Partners and a dear friend of Heartlight.