There was a time when I understood the Kingdom of God to be the place where Christians go when they die. Therefor it was very exciting moment when as a young Christian I realized that it had much more to do with life on this earth than I had previously thought.
This is how it happened: I had been for some time resisting the call of God to a greater level of obedience and dedication unto Him. In fact my resistance led me to a very low place and a lower moral lifestyle than ever before. But family and friends had been praying for me and several from my former church reached out to me.
Before I thought I could be faithful to God without attending church. Now that I had made such a wreck of things, I was ready to give it a try again. One night after serious soul searching, I understood the great patience that God had for me. It broke my heart to realize that I had so taken for granted His great love and concern for me! At that point I poured out my heart in repentance and asked for His forgiveness. What a relief I felt in that moment of absolute truth about myself and God!
It wasn’t until the next morning that I experienced the full result of that time before Him. It seemed as if the world itself had changed! The sky was bluer and the grass was greener! The problems in my life did not go away, but that did not matter. Everything was fresh and new! It was like I had entered into entirely different dimension! I had experienced His salvation at 12 years of age, but this event was so much more dramatic. Now what I had heard about our future home in heaven was confirmed by this foretaste of heaven that was real to me now!
It was then that I developed a greater appetite for the Bible as God’s very Word. So I started reading the New Testament from the beginning, the Gospel according to Matthew. Then I came to chapter 3 where John the Baptist and then Jesus Himself in chapter 4:17 began preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Likely because of recently experiencing this heavenly dimension I stopped reading. I thought, “If the kingdom of heaven was near then, where is it today?” Could it be that the kingdom of heaven was more a state of being than a physical location? Could it be that the riches of His kingdom were not material, but were His very attributes? Could it be that Jesus wanted us to begin experiencing this kingdom even while in this life, and on this earth?
In my excitement, I began calling other older Christians and telling them of my “new revelation,” only to find that they were already there ahead of me. They also pointed out other passages that confirmed my suspicion. In Luke 17:21 Jesus said that “the kingdom of God is within you,” and in Romans 14:17 Paul said that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost!”
That was forty years ago, and I have never gotten over this experience. It has marked me permanently. But there was much more to come! During this time I was in great financial trouble, with no end in sight. If you have ever been there, you may have found what I found — that your mind can become so clouded that you tend to make decisions which only increase the problem.
So, reading along in Matthew, I found Jesus taking about me and directly to me. In chapter 6:25-34, He addressed worry over material needs and how to rid ourselves from it. After showing how foolish worry really is, He instructed us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (our physical needs) shall be added unto you.”
At this point I had nothing to lose. My methods were getting me nowhere. I thought, “this just might work. I am going to devote my energies to seeking the kingdom of God wholeheartedly,” as I then understood it. To me that meant absorbing myself in the Scriptures and prayer, continuing to attend my church, and trying to take in all that was presented there. It also meant being submissive to those older, more mature believers who had been on this road long before me.
That is not to say that I became careless or irresponsible with my finances. In fact, the Lord fulfilled His part wonderfully, by sending me financial counselors and extra part-time work. The change was that I laid this burden aside, and took His yoke upon me! Amazingly my bills were paid in a matter of months, but more importantly my faith was being more firmly planted. The Scriptures were being opened up to me by both my pastor at church and my uncle that hired me for part-time work! I would never go back to that state if ignorance and foolishness again!
This was just the beginning of a life-long pursuit of discovering what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God, one that continues to this day!
The Increase of His Kingdom
The impression I had as a child was that Christianity was a losing movement. It was a win for those of us who would eventually go to heaven, but there was nothing to really look forward to in this life. The Good News of the Kingdom of God changed all that. Now I saw in the Scriptures that there were many benefits in this life for the believer, and there were many cases showing that the movement itself was gaining ground in the earth.
Sadly, I have since seen two directions that people in this perspective have taken which trouble me. The first was that the kingdom became spiritualized or intellectualized into irrelevance. That is, that it is all in my head, or in my personal level of tranquility. In some, I have seen the quest for tranquility evolve into a retreat from reality which Jesus would have never condoned.
Even worse, the “Kingdom Now” has in some circles become an obsession with possessions, material possessions now, in this life. Even though God does promise blessings in this life, I want to be clear that when I speak of the Kingdom of God, that is not at all what I am talking about.
There is personal peace for those who live in harmony with the reign of God over the earth. There is also room for success in earthly ventures. In fact God’s first command to humanity was to be fruitful and multiply in the earth! However, a self-centered existence is 180 degrees in the opposite direction of the one to which Christ would lead us (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23).
My earlier focus on personal peace with God was always connected with His intention to extend that peace throughout the entire planet. Christianity is not a losing enterprise, even though it may appear to be so at times. In order for His Kingdom to increase, we must first participate in that advancement through our prayers. This is no small matter. It is the foundation for all Kingdom activity! (Matthew 6:10, Luke 11:2).
Men and women of God from many diverse times and backgrounds have helped my understanding of God’s Kingdom, challenging my thinking on many levels. Do I fully understand what God has in mind regarding His Kingdom? Not likely. But I have enough to motivate me to encourage others to get involved with the purpose of God for their lives, so we all can see an increasing demonstration of His reign on this earth!
It always comes through His power and authority, but He in fact intends to exercise that power through his people. To the extent they have yielded unto Him, they can truly demonstrate its reality. When we respond to the reign of God we are changed, and in turn become agents of change for the world around us.
What a privilege! What an opportunity for life and that more abundantly, in Christ!