The full monty

Matthew 6:5-18 - Read if you have time to take in the whole story.

The continental option

Matthew 6:9-13 - Read if you only have time for the key episode.

One shot espresso

Matthew 6:10 - “May your kingdom come soon, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (NLT)

All great stories, as screenwriter Aaron Sorkin suggests, are driven by the interplay of intention and obstacle: “Rather than tell the audience who the character is, I like to show the audience what a character wants. It all boils down to intentions and obstacles. Somebody wants something and something is standing in their way of getting it. They want the girl, they want the money, they want to get to Philadelphia - it doesn’t matter, but they have to want it bad. Something formidable is standing in their way, and the tactics that character uses to overcome the obstacle is going to define who the character is.”

This philosophy has created some of the most compelling dramas of the past two decades, from A few good men and The west wing to The social network and Steve Jobs. The power of these stories lies in what it is that their protagonists want, and what they will do to overcome the obstacles in their way. “I worship at the altar of intention and obstacle,” Sorkin says.

What Sorkin doesn’t say, but could, is that this is also the best possible way to read the Bible. The narrative arc of the Bible tells us what God wants and what he will do to overcome the obstacles. Two verses in scripture, one from its beginning and one from its end, tell the story. In Genesis 3:8-9, we see God walking in the coolness of the garden he has made, looking for the man and woman he has placed in it to share it with him. In Revelation 21:3, a loud shout is heard echoing through the heavens, declaring: “God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” In between these two verses, a story unfolds that demonstrates two things beyond doubt: the depths of God’s intention - he wants nothing more or less than to walk with his human creatures in the world he has made for them - and the lengths he will go to overcome, even by his own death, the obstacle created by our refusal to trust him.

“Are there places you have ignored or even hated that God is calling you to love?”

People in their places

This beautiful narrative, the greatest love story ever written, is about people and it is about place. God wants to be with people, and he wants to be with them in the place he has made for them. The first of these is a familiar theme in our churches. We often speak of God’s love for people, of his desire to be intimate with them. The image of the prodigal son restored to the love of the father is one of our strongest pictures of the gospel. We are less confident, though, in describing God’s love for place. So when Jesus comes, declaring his intention to fulfil the purposes of the Father, we miss the central pillar of his message. It is on Earth that the kingdom will come. God will not only restore people. He will restore the place he first made for them. God loves places as well as people, and his deepest love is for people in their places.

Once you see this connection, you realise how much of the Bible’s story is about exactly this. Abraham is promised not only a vast family, but a land (Genesis 12:1). Jacob encounters God and proclaims the place where it happens as the meeting point of Earth and heaven (Genesis 28:17). Moses is called to lead the people into God’s promised land - liberation will come through relocation (Joshua 1:3). Joshua is promised every place where he sets his foot (Exodus 3:8).

When Jesus comes to announce the ultimate fulfilment of God’s promise, he describes it as a kingdom that arrives when the will of the Father is once more done on Earth (Matthew 6:10). The phrase “on Earth as it is in heaven” is the centre of this prayer and of this chapter. We could even go so far as to say that it is the very centre of the mission of Jesus.

Even after his resurrection, when he needs to explain to his disciples that God’s promises are not exclusively centred on Jerusalem in the way they had thought, Jesus shows that it is not because there is no place in God’s thinking, but because every place is now included; to the very ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). So powerful is this promise that Paul, once he grasps it, is able to speak of the planet itself “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” while it waits for the completion of God’s plan (Romans 8:22).

Blessed are the placemakers

The coming of God’s kingdom to the Earth offers a different picture of the future than many Christians have been used to, but it does much more. This is not just about eschatology (theology of the end times). God’s love of place should shape the way we live, love and lead in the here and now. It will mean:

  • That love for God’s world is not a secondary, peripheral aspect of the gospel, but the expression of its very heart. This is good news for new generations that do not share their parents’ and grandparents’ dismissal of creation care. Have you told the young people and children you are working with that their love for the material world is not a distraction from God’s plan, but an expression of it?
  • That God has plans and loving intentions for all the places we inhabit. Transformation is for people, but it is not for people alone. God’s kingdom is expressed when his presence and peace - the Old Testament writers called this ‘shalom’ - come to the homes and neighbourhoods we live in.
  • That we reflect the heart of God when we work at his side as place-makers - those who serve the purposes of their maker by shaping the places he has given them, according to his will. This can be expressed in everything from our prayers and worship, declaring the heart of God for our localities, to our practical actions, working with others for the peace of the cities God has placed us in (Jeremiah 29:7).

“God will not only restore people. He will restore the place he first made for them”

Place your feet

Here are five things you can do with children and young people to help them - and you along with them - explore and express God’s love for the places you inhabit together.

  1. Open your heart. Let God’s passion for place stir you alongside his passion for people. Are there places you have ignored or even hated that God is calling you to love?
  2. Pop the question. Sometimes we miss an answer because we fail to ask the question. So ask: what does God want for our town, city or neighbourhood? It is always the will of God for the will of God to be done, so what is his will for this place?
  3. Let them dream. One of the greatest  blockages to transformation is our own blocking of our imagination. We don’t dare greatly because we don’t dream wildly. Can you encourage those you lead to imagine how things could be and how things will be when the kingdom comes?
  4. Think with your feet. Joshua was promised a vast land, but to receive it he had to put his feet in it. Why not walk around the places you are praying for, and let your words and dreams come alive where God takes you?
  5. Pray with your ears. What is the cry of the human heart in your locality? Can you hear it? Transformation begins when we hear the heart of a place and hear God’s promise for a place. When you can listen to the voice of God and the voice of your neighbour, you have begun to pray the prayer Jesus taught.

May the peace of God abide and rule in every place the Holy Spirit leads your feet.


NT Wright says: “It is central to Christian living that we should celebrate the goodness of creation, ponder its present brokenness, and, insofar as we can, celebrate in advance the healing of the world, the new creation itself.”


Teach me, God, to take my feet to the spaces I am called to. To stand, to sing, to earth your purposes; to pray for rain and see your reign.