WHAT IS OUR FIRST CONCERN?
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
The Lord encourages us to be spiritual people and, for instance, talk to Him. He urges us also to be active in this world and, as spiritual people, thus be useful. We cannot be conscious of the Lord every moment of our day. And we cannot be talking to Him constantly. What the Lord asks us to do is make the quality of our spirituality and our relationship with Him our first priority, our first concern.
We could get through this life never considering the true source of our thought and desire. But by taking the time and making the effort, as we are doing now, to look more deeply into the causes of things, we have a different point of view. [The following is taken from Heaven and Hell n.228] We notice that all the power that we have is from our understanding and will. We then realize that our understanding and will–our intellect and our intention–are our spiritual man. It is when we think something that our mouth and tongue speak it, and it is when we intend something that our body does it. Now, according to the Word, our will and understanding are ruled from within by the Lord through angels and spirits. Therefore, so also are all things of his body, because these are from the will and understanding. We are told that, without this influx from heaven we cannot even move a step. This is what the Word means when it tells us that by ourselves, on our own, of ourselves, we can do nothing. In fact, this has been known for ages. Since Abraham’s day people have been praying that God may send His angels to lead them, direct their steps, teach them, and inspire in them what to think and what to say.
How do we make that prayer dominate our life? What difference will it make? We want a reason to live as though we really want the Lord’s will to be done on earth, in our lives.
Consider for a moment your sense that the kingdom of the Lord is within you, that it is a spiritual entity. This idea likely reigns in all your life. Most obviously, you do not walk around looking for it. This was a new idea to those who listened to Jesus. But we know it rather intuitively. And since the last judgment 250 years ago, and the second coming of the Lord in the revelation of the Heavenly Doctrine, people have easily entertained this notion. We have now been given the details of His spiritual kingdom. We can seek to establish the particular operating systems of heaven in our lives here in a corresponding fashion. And so we learn to do things like overlooking faults to see the good within a person. We seek common spiritual ground with people, and not just external connections. We value all the moral virtues because we know they are eternal, compared with the successes and pleasures of life on earth. And so on.
This is why we are to make it a daily habit to talk to the Lord and ask that His kingdom come to our earth, our thought, desire and so our action. Our first concern is that His goodness and His truth reign in our lives. As our knowledge of the Lord’s kingdom is more and more a part of our thinking, and more and more our desire, deeper levels of our mind are opened. We become rational people, seeing the application of the deepest truths and the impact of the most basic love. Our plans and our desires are then ruled by the spiritual principles and intentions of the angels, who have theirs from the Lord Himself.
Achieving this connection to the Lord requires that we accept His will over our own. There is a wonderful description in the Writings that helps us realize this. Some children in heaven were gathered around Swedenborg one time when He was conscious of the spiritual world. He was given to read the Lord’s prayer, and he noticed the reaction of the children, which was obvious in their faces, as is always the case in the spiritual world.
He tells us this story. “The nature of their tender understanding was also shown to me when I have been praying in the words of the Lord's Prayer. At such times they flowed into the ideas that made my thought from their own understanding, which was so tender that they understood scarcely anything more than the meaning of the words. Yet their ideas present in that tender understanding were capable of being opened even to the Lord, that is, even from the Lord; for the Lord flows in best of all into young children's ideas, from things that are inmost, since nothing as yet has closed their ideas, as is the case with adults. No false assumptions have been adopted to prevent an understanding of truth, nor a life of evil to prevent the reception of good, and so to becoming wise.” (Arcana Celestia n.2291)
Do you remember this stage of life? Recall a moment in your early life when you were happy. What was most important to you at that moment? A child’s world, when he or she is loved and cared for by loving parents, is a mirror of the Lord’s kingdom and the acceptance of His will. There is a desire for relationships. What is known is less important than what is done. There is sensitivity to emotions and an insight into people’s states.
The fact is that we all passed through this stage. I remember a time when information skill became really important to me. It was when I wanted to be able to tie my own shoes. I remember the frustration of having to ask someone else to tie them. Being able to tie my own shoes meant that I was free to go outside all on my own. Which I did, much to my mother’s consternation when I did it at 5 AM!
All the little bits of earthly information that our brains are gathering give us more and more independence. We are able more and more to enter into freedom of choice, and become fully human: radically free. And able to assert our own will, creating our own world, inventing our own point of view, making up our own operating rules for our lives.
All along, we have been talking to the Lord, often saying “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” Can we honestly and courageously look for ways to implement that request? The Lord invites us to learn truth from His Word first so that we may identify and then strive, if necessary, to put aside the false ideas and evil desires that blunt the effect of his love upon our lives. His end in view is that His truth will so rule our thinking, intention and acting that His love will make our earth be an image of heaven, and so that we will manifest His love on the earth all around us. The Lord is promising a return to that more tender, spiritually alive and aware life. That is His will for us. It is His end in view.
Amazingly, that glorious, free and delightful kingdom already exists! That is why we are told to pray now, not waiting for the kingdom to come in the future. Our praying is establishing it on the earth. We are to “ask in prayer, believing,” (Matthew 21:22) not “Ask in prayer, after having seen it happen!” To accept the Lord’s will for our lives, to have His kingdom be our first concern, is not to describe to the Lord what you want your life to look like, but to ask Him what His earth looks like and to be made an inhabitant of it.
One sign that we are actually entering into this process will be a temptation battle. All sorts of reasons His will cannot be accomplished, cannot be done now, or here or by me, will come to mind. This is exactly the way evil spirits control us. A devil rarely can simply tell us what to do. Only a person already immersed in an evil life can be enticed by what is obviously evil. Rather, the evil spirit subtly reminds us of the reality of our will and our freedom to choose. We become conscious of the facts of life, and the Lord’s influence becomes invisible to us. His connection with the earth through heaven and through the open levels of the human mind is hidden by our own concerns, worries, fears, and by our evil desires which now take center stage.
Jesus experienced the exact same process. We read about it in John 17. Jesus is in the upper room with His Apostles. The last thing that happens before they go to Gesthemene is that Jesus prays, apparently for all of them to hear. This is noteworthy because it gives us all a sanction, as it were, to offer such prayers publicly. Jesus speaks very personally, which is not our current style. And we are not to slavishly do everything Jesus did, some of which is unique to Him. But we might consider enlarging our practice.
Jesus is asking that the kingdom would come to the earth. He describes it as being populated by those who know the glorified Jesus Christ and thus the Father. He mentions all the work He has done to gather these people, and now He is turning it all over to His Father. He is acknowledging that His earthly, finite work is done. His first concern now is not that of His maternal, frail and mortal human, but that of His Divine Human, being in its final stages of formation even as He spoke.
Every time you ask that the Lord’s kingdom come and that His will be done, you are ready to make an honest self observation of what pulls you, what you delight in. You are ready to observe what gives you pleasure–even perverse pleasure, like anger or revenge. Turning all of that over to the Lord is a victory of spirit over flesh, of His kingdom over your self-made one. You experience the mature human state of spirit ruling the flesh, of your internal man controlling your external. You gain a bit more wisdom, as you are better able to see the ends present in your understanding and will.
As Jesus said, His kingdom is within you. We must resist the natural inclination to see the kingdom as this building, as this worship, as the programs offered here. His kingdom is present here in what you bring to this building, this Sabbath, the events here. The Lord promises that He can reign, through His angels, and through us, so that His kingdom is near because you are bringing it to the earth, you are the means for His will to come.
As you pray for the Lord’s kingdom and for His will to come, you are practicing the process of regeneration. You are responding to the Lord’s invitation to come. You are coming to the Lord in prayer because you thirst for His truth and love. You are responding to the Lord’s invitation to read and meditate on His Word. You are priming yourself to struggle (and sometimes fail) to manifest the Lord’s love. You are asking the Lord to show you examples of His kingdom so that you may support them. You are asking the Lord to show you what He considers threats to His kingdom, and for the wisdom and strength to counter their influence. You are telling Him you want to be a model citizen of His kingdom, able to deflect evil, excuse others errors, take responsibility, and accept His providence with equanimity.
The Lord’s prayer opens with the recognition that He is the source of our life and is to be the most important person in our life. We are to recognize that every single human on the planet shares that relationship. The very next thought we are to have, He says, is that there is this perfect world that is established by His will that is available to us for the asking. It is His good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We copy His model and say, “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Lessons: Psalm 40:4-8
Mark 10: 42-45
Arcana Celestia n.3796: “It is the mark of someone wise to be aware of which ends are present in himself. Sometimes it does seem as though his ends are selfish when in fact they are not, for the human being is such that in everything he considers how it affects himself. This he does regularly and habitually. But if anyone wishes to know the ends he himself has in view he has merely to take note of his feeling of delight - whether it is on account of his receiving praise and glory, or whether it is on account of his performing some unselfish service. If it is the latter delight which he feels, genuine affection is present in him. He ought also to take note of the varying states he passes through, for those states cause his feelings to vary considerably. A person is able to find these things out in himself, but not in others, for the ends in view to anyone’s affection are known to the Lord alone. This is why the Lord said, Do not judge, lest you are judged; do not condemn, lest you are condemned. Luke 6:37.
“The reason the end makes the affection what it is - that is to say, genuine, spurious, or false - is that the end is the person’s actual life. Indeed a person has as his end in view that which constitutes his life, or what amounts to the same, his love. When the good of the neighbor, the common good, the good of the Church and of the Lord’s kingdom is the end in view, a person’s soul is in the Lord’s kingdom and so abides with the Lord. For the Lord’s kingdom is nothing else than a kingdom of ends and purposes directed towards the good of the human race, 3645. Angels themselves present with a person are nowhere else than within his ends in view. To the extent that someone’s end in view is such as that which exists in the Lord’s kingdom, angels take delight in him and join themselves to him as a brother. But to the extent a person’s end is himself, angels depart and evil spirits from hell draw near, for in hell no other end in view reigns. From these considerations one may see how important it is to find out and to know where one’s affections originate; these can be known from nothing else than one’s end in view.”
The Church of the New Jerusalem
845 Congress Ave
Glendale, Ohio 45246
October 24, 2004