This is a tremendous sentence.
It is the mighty climax of the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, and, like many of the sayings of Jesus, has become blunted by familiarity. Remember: it is a prayer, not a description. It is couched in the optative, which means that it is an earnest desire for something to be so.
Let it be so on earth as it is in heaven.
The request takes you straight into the conflict -the confrontation- between the earth way of doing things and the heaven way. And the heaven way is the way of God.
But answer this question: would Jesus have us pray something that wasn’t possible? Or is it just a wish, a daydream, a kind of pleasant fantasy? A kind of aspirational over-reach, like saying: “Aim for the clouds and you might just skim the trees”?
There’s no reason to think so. The rest of the prayer is so straightforwardly pared down to essentials: “daily bread,” the forgiveness of sins, the deliverance from evil. It’s as if Jesus is giving them one of those “Idiot’s Guides.”
It’s as if he’s saying: This is the stuff you just have to know. The bare necessities. You simply must sort out your worry about food and clothing by learning to trust in a God who provides. You have to deal with the hang-on of sin and guilt in your life, and learn to walk in confident gifted righteousness (“Forgive us our trespasses“) and so forth.
And the Big Picture at the back of all this is not what you think that you might achieve by dint of self-effort and gritted teeth, but what God is doing: “Let your kingdom come! Let your will be done in earth as it is in heaven!”
Really, the two phrases parallel each other. For God’s kingdom to come is for his will to be done here. God’s kingdom is precisely the “location” where God’s will is done perfectly.
Now don’t forget that “heaven” is a way of speaking about the authority of God. Jesus is encouraging us to pray for that authority to be in evidence where we live, and through how we live. Not as the cringing minions of a bully, but as the first-born inheritors of a massive legacy: we walk in the confident assurance of what we possess. We share in the authority of God.
It cuts against the grain of our natural modesty to say so. Winston Churchill once said of Clem Atlee: “He’s a modest man, with much to be modest about.” It’s a truth about all of us. We are completely correct in looking down upon ourselves for our shoddy performances, our poor grasp of integrity and our tendency to mess up at every turn.
But something has happened to us. In Jesus Christ we are new creatures (2 Cor 5:17). We have been declared righteous!
One of the things that blinds people to a true understanding of righteousness is confusion about how we become right in the sight of God. It is commonly thought that our actions are the determining factor in God’s judgment of our righteousness. That’s not true. There is a relationship between our actions and our right standing with God, but right relationship with God produces actions, not the other way around. That is to say, we are not made righteous by what we do.
Righteousness is a gift that comes from the Lord to those who accept what Jesus has done for them by faith (Rom. 5:17-18). The gift of salvation produces a changed heart that, in turn, changes our actions. Actions cannot change our hearts. It’s the heart of man that God looks upon (1 Sam. 16:7), and we must be righteous in our hearts to truly worship God (John 4:24).
The mistake of thinking that doing right makes us right is the same error the Pharisees made. Religion has always preached that if we clean up our actions, our hearts will become clean too. Jesus taught just the opposite (Matt. 23:25-26). It’s through a changed heart that our actions change. The heart is the issue. Actions are only an indication of what is in our hearts. Actions are the fruit the heart produces.
And what’s going on in all this? The will of God is being enacted in our lives on earth as it is in heaven! The kingdom is coming! The authority of God is challenging every counter-authority and declaring its right to rule.
And what is happening in you is a paradigm for the life of the world. Let it be so here! On earth as it is in heaven.
Even as you speak it, the prayer becomes a prophecy. Even so! Come, Lord Jesus!
The whole prayer suggests six areas where the authoritative lordship of Christ is called forth. Why not ponder these areas as you go into your day?
First: FORGIVENESS. Are you living forgiven or is there something that need dealing with? And are you living forgivingly or is there someone whom you must forgive or receive forgiveness from? Lord, move in on my life! On earth as it is in heaven. Complete forgiveness both to me and through me to others.
Second: PEACE. Are you living in some form of stress or anxiety (generally speaking) or in peace? Isaiah 26: 3: “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.”
Third: GUIDANCE. God promises to makes his ways plain and to guide us continually. It’s just part of the package of his being a “good, good Father.” He never leaves us to flounder or wallow in confusion. If you asking, then he will make his point loud and clear. In heaven his will is known and done perfectly.
Fourth: STRENGTH. Just as he will not permit us to falter and become fuzzy in our thinking, neither will he let us stumble in any other way, physically, emotionally, intellectually. He provides daily bread.
Fifth: PROTECTION. He watches over us in times of temptation and provides a way of escape. He delivers us from evil.
Sixth: RESTORATION. Every part of our lives, past, present and future, comes under the remit of his eternal authority. Even the things that you thought were lost and broken forever are capable of redemption.
Allow God’s Spirit to challenge you in these areas today. Rise up in yourself and take authority. God does not want you defeated, or lost or broken, but proud of him, confident and happy and enjoying every aspect of your life.
On earth as it is in heaven.