This life is not big enough. My vocabulary is not wide enough. The understanding I have is not deep enough. Our songs do not reach high enough. The sermons we hear and preach are not passionate or precise enough. Our relationships are not committed enough. My love is not lavish enough.
Enough for what, you ask? Enough in the level of response to the reality of the Kingdom I live in. Nothing we believe, nothing we say and nothing we do is sufficient to reveal the supreme worth of God’s Kingdom and the One who rules it.
For many years I have believed that we Christians habitually reduce the Kingdom of God down to something containable, explainable and comfortable. Typically, we choose a handful of smaller components of the Kingdom and then inflate them to where they define the entirety of the Kingdom for us. If we are truly guilty of this, we would not be the first people. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day made the Kingdom all about the Sabbath. The Judaizers in Paul’s day made the Kingdom primarily about circumcision. The weaker brothers in the churches at Rome and Corinth made the Kingdom about the question of eating meat sacrificed to idols and the drinking of wine. Christians have always been prone to missing the beauty of the Kingdom forest because they get myopic with a handful of spruce-trees in the Kingdom. When I was first converted in the early 1990’s, I kept encountering people who reduced the Kingdom down to the type of worship music they listened to, the bible translation they carried, how often they went to church and what they wore to church when they showed up there. For these people, the Kingdom was also about what they did not do: no movies, no alcohol, no dancing, no facial hair, no poker, and no mowing the lawn on Sunday. The list was as long as it was silly. It took me a few years to realize that these people were not bad Christians, they were just spiritually nearsighted. The larger God’s Kingdom became to me, the smaller these issues appeared on my grid. The King’s throne was shining brightly in my heart and these lesser loyalties that were placed before me became things that I learned to detest. It was not because those things were necessarily wrong in and of themselves – it was because they were elevated by Christians to a place they were not meant to be, and I felt that doing so was a dishonor to my King.
God had imparted to me a Kingdom perspective and it changed my entire approach to the Christian life.
Receiving a Kingdom perspective is, in my opinion, the largest need in the Church today. John the Baptizer opened up his ministry by telling people to repent and enter the Kingdom. Jesus began His public preaching with the exact same message – the Kingdom. If you study His sermons you will find that He preached the Kingdom more than anything else. The first beatitude promises the Kingdom to the poor in spirit (Mt. 5:3). The first petition in the Lord’s Prayer is for the Kingdom to come to earth (Mt. 6:10). The top priority that Jesus assigned to His followers was to seek first the Kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33). When Jesus dispatched the original twelve disciples to begin their ministries, the message He assigned for them to proclaim was “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 10:7). Jesus taught that the reason He spoke in parables was to reveal “the secrets of the Kingdom” to those who have faith (Mt. 13:11). No fewer than ten of His parables specifically mention that they are structured to reveal what the Kingdom is like. Jesus called us to become like humble, innocent children in order to enter the Kingdom (Mt. 19:13-15). He later stated that powerful and wealthy people will not likely make it into the Kingdom (Mt. 19:23-24). He rebuked the controlling, hyper-religious Pharisees for shutting the door to the Kingdom of Heaven in the faces of those who desired to enter in (Mt. 23:13). The Kingdom was the primary thrust of what the Son of God proclaimed on earth. If we are honest, the primary message of Christians today is not the same as Jesus and the Apostles. Our message seems to be, “Ask Jesus into your heart so you may go to Heaven when you die.” Jesus Christ never preached that. While it is true that one must surrender personally to Jesus as Lord of one’s life, our making going-to-Heaven-when-you-die is woefully misrepresentative of the message of the early Church. They proclaimed the King and His Kingdom.
So here is what I am asking myself…and also asking you: are we reducing the Kingdom of God down to a one-size-fits-me pullover? I have watched people flee fuller expression of the Kingdom because it did not fit within their comfort zone. I’ve seen otherwise good men draw back from open Kingdom doors because they would have to enter those doors alongside of others who didn’t share their little-k kingdom particulars. I am convinced that the Kingdom of God is so immense that there is not a single person alive today who has the fullest and most precise grasp of all that the Kingdom entails. Ultimately, the Kingdom is about the King Himself. When our thirsts and hungers are directed toward Him, we will loosen our grip on those lesser aspects in the Kingdom. Everything in God’s Kingdom is good, but not all of it shares equal importance. If we make those lesser things to become the primary things, we will misrepresent the King to anyone who happens to be observing us. In the end, I know I have room to grow and, candidly, I am enjoying the process of releasing the lesser in order to lay hold of the greater. May the words of the Apostle Paul compel us to press deeper into the Kingdom when he once wrote, “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of what you eat or what you drink, but in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).”
Paul says here that the Kingdom is not situated in the external, temporal matters of living. No, the Kingdom is expressed in ever increasing participation in our internal inheritance as it is made active by God the Spirit.
And I want more of that.