Just before Jesus began his ministry, he was baptized and the Spirit came upon him. The Spirit then led him to the desert for some training and to be tempted by the devil. Jesus returned from his forty days in the desert and launched his ministry with this statement:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”–Matt. 4:17
Dallas Willard has a helpful interpretation of this statement by Jesus:
“Rethink your life in light of this new reality, that the Kingdom of God is now available to you.”
You see, our beliefs are formed indirectly. What that means is that what you are exposed to and the experiences you have form your beliefs. Since your beliefs are the railroad tracks of your life, meaning that they determine your actions, they are pretty important. The scary thing about beliefs is that you don’t even have to be aware of them for them to run your life. Aware or unaware, your beliefs will determine your trajectory.
When Jesus came on the scene, he understood this reality: that beliefs control our lives and that it is common for people to take the beliefs and values of their parents, their friends, their culture, their country, and just run with those.
So Jesus is actually doing a very loving thing. He’s saying:
“Friends, stop for a second, I have some news. There is a new Kingdom available to you. In light of this new reality, rethink your lives.”
For example, one of the core questions that everybody has an answer to, whether they’ve consciously thought about it or not, is: What is the good life?
This question is a very important one. I personally believe that the answer to this question determines the majority of our decisions. With that, I also think there is a pretty standard answer to that question that the majority of us in America are pursuing… it’s called the American Dream.
Whether I’m right about the American Dream being the answer to the question or not, that’s irrelevant. The reality is that everybody has an answer to the question, “What is the good life?”
So what is the Kingdom of God? I actually think it’s something that is rather difficult to get our arms around.
There are many ways to try and define it, but one that has been helpful for me is that the Kingdom of God is: the range of God’s effective will. Said another way, the Kingdom of God is: where what God wants done, is done.
Think of your favorite movie that involves a king. Most of the examples I think of have evil kings which is a bummer, but can you think of one? I always think about Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, Braveheart, or Tangled. And yes, I enjoy all three of those movies :)
Once you have that king and kingdom pictured, let’s think about how a kingdom operates:
Whatever the king wants done, is done. He says the word, and people hop to it.
There is a territory or boundary to the kingdom.
There are other kings and kingdoms- competing kingdoms.
In the movies I think about, there is usually battle over territory.
What can we learn about practically living in the Kingdom of God by thinking about how kingdoms operate related to the four points above? Here are a few ideas:
Obedience or submission to the king seems to be a big deal. Doing that with an evil king would be tough, but ours is inherently good, and he tells us that he is our Father.
With that, it seems pretty important to get to know the king so we can understand what he wants done. With the Christian life, that involves becoming familiar with his voice.
In regard to territory, with the Kingdom of God being the range of God’s effective will, this is how I see us applying this reality of operating within a kingdom. First, we are submitted to the king and pursue an interactive relationship with him. Then, God’s first move is to expand his Kingdom in our own hearts and souls. From that inner transformation, and as we grow as a Kingdom person/ Kingdom citizen/ Kingdom soldier/ a follower of the King (you choose the label that’s most helpful), we ask him and listen for the ways he would like us to expand his Kingdom (his territory) in our circles of influence. We first partner with God to bring an internal expansion of the Kingdom within us which naturally leads to partnering with him toward an external expansion.
Finally, while the Kingdom of God is “near” and “available”, there are also other competing kingdoms near and available. This brings us right back to #1 and #2 and making sure we know the proper King and are submitted to his Kingdom. The reality is that the number one thing in competition with the Kingdom of God is our own kingdom, let alone all the other kingdoms that are competing for our submission. This leads us back to the statement Jesus started his ministry with which is the invitation to “rethink our lives” in terms of the kingdoms to which we are submitted.
So Jesus starts his ministry by proclaiming the availability of the Kingdom, and that this is very good news. Then he spends the rest of his days explaining how this kingdom works, teaching how we can submit our own kingdoms to this new Kingdom, demonstrating the power and resources that are available to us, and ultimately commissioning us to look after this Kingdom and expand it.
Are you still with me? :) I know that has been a lot of kingdom-talk.
My hope is that this has been helpful in understanding practically how the Kingdom of God relates to our everyday lives, which is the purpose of this new series.
In an effort to make this Kingdom of God stuff practical and help us actually get this to the pavement "on Monday morning", what I would like to do with this “Rethink Your Life” series is look at some of the common values, beliefs, and habits we have as Americans and re-think those in light of the values of the Kingdom of God.
My hope with this series is that we can gain a better understanding of the Kingdom, and more importantly, learn how to practically live in the Kingdom in our everyday lives.
I believe this invitation from Jesus to re-think our lives now that the Kingdom is available is an exciting and important invitation.
And I don’t know about you, but I want the Kingdom of God to be more than just something I read about in scripture. I want to experience it and partner with the King in expanding it.
Some experiments to get us thinking before we dive in and begin to rethink our lives over the next 5 weeks:
How would you answer the question, “What is the good life?” Take some time and write it out. This will be worth your time, I promise!!!
After you’ve done #1, set aside 10-20 minutes and ask Jesus this question, “Jesus, what is the good life?” Then listen and journal his response.
What are your questions about the Kingdom of God? Write them out.