“But seek first for his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
The kingdom of God has come definitively in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Although it will come fully only when Christ returns in glory, it is truly present here and now, available to all of us as our highest good and ultimate happiness. As Paul says, the kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). It is worthy of our deepest desire. Yet is the kingdom of God, in fact, our deepest desire?
Answering this question requires an honest assessment of the heart. The human heart has multiple desires. Most often, the heart’s desires are for good things: security, comfort, recognition, success, health, and friendship. Yet these things are not worthy of our deepest desire. To make them the object of our deepest desire would not only be idolatrous but also futile. Although the things we desire may be good, they are ultimately incapable of satisfying us because they are passing. This point has been made painfully clear to us over the course of the past year. Despite our illusion of control in modern society, we and everything around us are temporal and uncertain, capable of being lost in a moment. The kingdom of God, on the other hand, is an eternal reality. “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,” the psalmist says (145:13). Only that which is everlasting can satisfy our deepest desire.So how do we become people who desire the everlasting kingdom of God above all else?
We fall more in love with the gifts of God than we do with God himself.
The thought of Augustine of Hippo (354–430) is helpful on this question. Augustine was a perceptive student of the human heart. He understood the basic problem of the human heart to be disordered desires: simply put, we love good things too much. We fall more in love with the gifts of God than we do with God himself. The ultimate remedy to this problem is conversion. Through faith in Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit orders our disordered desires and makes God the object of our deepest longing. Augustine was fond of Romans 5:5 on this point: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” The Holy Spirit transforms our hearts in such a way that the love of God and God’s kingdom becomes the love around which all our other loves are oriented.
Yet, for Augustine, the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is not a one-off event. Rather, it is an ongoing process that is nurtured by the practices of the church, not least of which is the Lord’s Prayer. Around 411, Augustine wrote a letter to a Roman widow who had asked him how she should pray. In the letter, Augustine pointed the woman to the Lord’s Prayer as the model for all prayer. The Lord’s Prayer was recited at every service in Augustine’s church in North Africa, and he urged his people to recite it daily in their homes. In his comments on the second petition of the prayer (“Your kingdom come”), Augustine states that when we say these words, we do not convince God to do what he otherwise would not do: that is, give us his kingdom. Rather, with these words, “we stir up our own desires for that kingdom” (ep. 130.11.21). The petition helps us focus on what is really worthy of our desire. Moreover, the petition exercises our desire. Just like the body is strengthened through training, so desire is strengthened through prayer. Thus, for Augustine, if you want to desire the kingdom of God more, keep praying the words “your kingdom come” and you will in fact come to desire it more. By saying the prayer over and over again, you are formed into the kind of person who really does strive for the kingdom above all other things.
The implication is significant. If we are going to be formed into people who really do desire the kingdom of God above all created things, we must press one another to participate in the practices of the church, like the Lord’s Prayer, on a consistent basis. The Lord’s Prayer—recited together in our services, in our small groups, and in our homes—is a great means by which the Holy Spirit directs our longing to its proper end: the everlasting kingdom of God. Without faithful participation in the practices of the church, like the Lord’s Prayer, we will inevitably become people who love in a disordered way—that is, people who attach our deepest desire to created things that can never truly satisfy. In order to desire rightly, we must pray rightly. And that begins with saying the prayer our Lord taught us to pray.