“People are prepared for everything except for the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared to go on breaking their backs plowing the same old field until the cows come home without seeing, until they stub their toes on it, that there is a treasure buried in that field rich enough to buy Texas. They are prepared for a God who strikes hard bargains but not for a God who gives as much for an hour’s work as for a day’s. They are prepared for a mustard-seed kingdom of God no bigger than the eye of a newt but not for the great banyan it becomes with birds in its branches singing Mozart…”
I’ve been thinking about the kingdom of God a lot in the past few months. I was thinking about it yesterday while I was in the prayer room here on base, looking out the window at three tall pine trees, each with a bird perched on top. I thought about the small ways I’ve let God in my life and how He’s taken those tiny openings and led me into something huge. How it’s like Narnia’s wardrobe: it’s bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside.
The further I go on this journey with Jesus, the more astounded I am by His character and by His kingdom. What is His kingdom, really? That was such an abstract concept for me until this year, when I finally started to ask myself that question. I began to open my Bible and speak to it like a magic mirror: Show me the kingdom of God! It wasn’t hard to find once I started looking. I knew it was important because Jesus said that THIS is the good news…that the Kingdom of God is near. That is the Gospel.
I never stopped to think about that until my year in Norway, when someone pointed out that the Scriptures record Jesus preaching the Gospel. But isn’t the Gospel that Jesus died for your sins and rose again? Apparently not. The Gospel, the Good News, is that the Kingdom of God is near! Then what is the Kingdom of God? I went to the passages I remembered, like the ones in Luke – the Kingdom of God is like a treasure in a field, the Kingdom of God is like a pearl of great price, it’s like a mustard seed growing into a huge tree, it’s like yeast making bread rise.
Er…what? Okay, so it’s valuable? So it’s powerful? So it’s unassuming? But what is it? I’ll confess – I still don’t know. But this is the closest I’ve come to understanding it, and it might sound a little too simple: the kingdom of God is the character of God animating our thoughts and actions and words. I like that. Because I know that God is compassionate, faithful, loving, powerful, and always good. He’s all about justice and peace and freedom and healing. He likes to take care of those who can’t care for themselves, like the orphans and widows and strangers wandering through foreign lands, pale and homesick. He lifts up people who fall and gives food to the hungry. He loves without asking for anything in return. He forgives a thousand times a thousand times.
Wow. I want to be a part of that kingdom! Jesus told a story about what the kingdom of God is like: one day, a man wanders into a field and finds a treasure beyond his wildest dreams. He sells everything he has to buy that field. When you start to try to figure out the kingdom of God, and you unearth the truth little by little, it becomes as irresistible as the greatest treasure you could dream of.
But it’s still abstract. How can I make this more concrete, how can I grasp it? One way that has helped me is comparing the Kingdom of God with the way things work in this world. It is so different. And the more I compare, the more I realize that you can’t have one leg in each kingdom. It’s not like standing on the equator line with one foot in each hemisphere, or that place in the U.S. where you can be in four states all at once. No, it’s more like trying to be a monkey and an apple at the same time; or at the bottom of the ocean and the top of Mount Everest. You just can’t stretch that far.
But even if you decide to strike out for the Kingdom, the world doesn’t want to give you up. It’s greedy; it likes to stack up its pawns just to say it owns them. The world still owns me in many ways, and I’m not proud of that. I was born here, and all my life I’ve believed I’m a citizen of this kingdom. I’ve lived by its values and been shaped by its culture. I want what it wants, I’m ashamed when it tells me to be, I’m proud when it says to be. My life path has been mapped out for me by the world. So now that I’m deviating, everything is on red alert. I can’t go too far without something in the back of my mind saying, Are you crazy!? You can’t do that! I’m slowly learning to say, Says who?
The other day I felt discouraged about how far I still was from being totally “sold out” for the Kingdom of God. I’m like the man who found treasure in the field, and yet even as I sell all my possessions to buy the field, I doubt the treasure’s existence. And as I part with some of my most cherished items, I feel the pain of loss and think, if I really believed that treasure was there, would I feel such pain in parting with these dusty trinkets?
However, I found encouragement in Jesus’ cryptic words about the Kingdom being like a mustard seed. I thought about how He planted a tiny seed in my heart last year, a small desire for His Kingdom. And if it goes like He says it will, that seed will grow into something larger than I could have imagined, bearing fruit and giving shade and beauty. He put a small amount of yeast in me, and He won’t stop until I’m fresh and fragrant bread, broken to nourish and comfort others. I love this line from one of Brennan Manning’s prayers: “When all I can do is want to want you, take my crumb of faith and break it like bread to feed thousands, beginning, by your mercy, with me.”
What is the Kingdom of God? Ask, and you will receive…
By the way, I started this piece back in Norway, and it’s been on my mind all summer. Finally finished it enough to put it up. Even though I wrote it in pieces, hopefully it’s not too disconnected! Do you have any thoughts about what the Kingdom of God is like? Share! Discuss!