How to Live in the Kingdom of God

For the past several years, I’ve hated being ask, “what are you doing these days?” I experience a degree of dread when I feel the question coming. I’ve often wondered why? My life hasn’t fallen apart; everything is pretty much intact, though tough at times.

I recently realized why that question causes me so much consternation. The answer came with the convergence of several conversations: a friend’s talk on vision and fear; another friend asking me where The Noble Heart is going and what is needed to get there; and another friend telling me about the pressures and fears that he is facing.

Being in this world is like being in an elevator when several people sneeze. You’re not getting out of there without breathing in their germs. Your only hope is that your immune system is strong enough to fight it off. Some of the world’s thought-sneezes are:

  • Take what you can get – there is nothing more.
  • You can only do what you can do – there is nothing more.
  • Play the cards you’ve been dealt – there is nothing more.
  • This is as good as it gets – there is nothing more.
  • This is it – there is nothing more.
  • Life has passed you up – there is nothing more.

I find that these God-less thought-germs have settled into my being giving me a continual low-grade fever, causing me to wander and weaken.

I had forgotten:

…That you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors with the precious blood of Christ…”  1 Peter 1:17 NIV

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Rom. 12:2 NLT

…God is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  Eph. 3:20 NLT

That our God will…fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power…” 2 Thes. 1:11-12 NASB

As a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, a citizen of the Kingdom of God, this is the reality that we live in.

  • I have more time, not less time – it’s not over.
  • It’s not over – till the great transition (rapture or death).
  • I have more to offer, not less to offer – perspective, kindness, understanding, experience with God, a weightiness.

I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Phil. 1:6 NLT

  • There are opportunities or situations that await the glory of my life.

So, I will dream again and I will gather a few friends around me to help me dream greater still – In accordance with the God-given glory, weightiness, effect of my life.

I encourage you to strengthen your spiritual immune system by remembering that you have been redeemed from the world’s “empty way of life” and to live in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

And to dream again.

Gary

We are offering two men’s events this Fall to help you discover your “every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power…” 2 Thes. 1:11-12

South East – Georgia Calling Intensive Workshop, Nov. 4-6

West / Mid-West – Colorado Calling Intensive Workshop, Nov. 11-13

For information and registration, click on the event above.

Last week’s ideal plan didn’t translate itself into reality. Instead, life happened. While on an errand, I met a man and we talked for two hours; a friend called to say her father is dying and I went to visit him; and our water main sprung a leak, drenching the basement.

I’m traveling west for a retreat, so last week was filled with dozens of tasks to get ready. I use a planning app that helps me prioritize action items for each day. And then (hopefully) I complete all the items. But  last week I failed utterly.

At the end of that “life-is-full-of-surprises” week, a well-known Christian blogger sent an email describing how “elite” entrepreneurs and executives accomplish their goals by eliminating the competing distractions. I thought, “Distraction-free life-management? Sign me up!

And then I paused: How does it leave room for God and God’s plans?

When Our Plans Go Awry

When Moses led Israel out of Egypt, he never expected the plagues, Passover, and parted Red Sea. When Elijah heard the voice of God on Mt. Sinai, he expected to hear it like Moses did, in the fire, wind, and earthquake. Instead he got a still, small voice.

Because God loves to surprise us. You can’t put him in a box. He won’t fit in your iPhone.

Gideon planned to attack the enemy with an army of 32,000, and God whittled it down to 300; Paul expected to evangelize Asia, and God directed him to Macedonia; and I planned to prepare for a retreat, and God interrupted me with a stranger.

By all means, make a plan; but expect God to disrupt it.

How Can We Know God’s Will for Each Day?

Consider this famous proverb: “Trust in the Lord, not your own ideas; acknowledge him in all your plans, and he will direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5–6 par). Meditating on this proverb produced my paraphrase above and the following simple pattern for getting God’s guidance:

After prayer, counsel, and wisdom: make a plan.
Then: give that plan to God.
Finally: let God direct your path.

Giving our agenda to God means that he will frequently guide us down paths our original maps never envisioned. We trust in God to direct us, not in our own ideas; we especially don’t want to trust our own plans.

Plans are just nice starting points to get us moving.

God’s most common guidance is done naturally: sometimes with disruptions, sometimes through circumstances, and often through surprises. The non-formulaic nature of his guidance means we will take risks, learn through trial and error, and that we remain alert to God’s gentle nudges.

Which is perfectly fine. It means we remain in a conversational relationship with God.

Which was his plan all along.

Sam

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Latest March 22 2016

God wants us to hear his voice; he wants a conversational relationship with us all. Please consider buying my new book, Hearing God in Conversation.

It’s written for both believers and non-believers. Give one to a friend.

I was ten years old the first time I ever heard God speak. It was autumn, a new school year had just begun, and a new fad was spreading among my adolescent classmates.

Cussing.

I was raised in a conservative Christian church where Sunday school teachers taught us the Ten Commandments. The teachers were vague about adultery, and I wasn’t concerned. They were also unclear about coveting, and I felt safe.

They made up for their ambiguity when it came to cussing. Instead of an elusive “Don’t take the name of the Lord in vain,” they precisely taught, “Don’t swear.” And when they said, “Don’t swear,” they meant, “Don’t cuss.”

For us, cussing was a sin on the order of mass genocide.

One day while playing school-yard tag, I tagged my girlfriend, Diane, and she shouted, “Shit!” I felt a shockwave race through my body, as though I’d been hit in the gut with a sledgehammer. Forty-five years later, I still feel that visceral punch, and I can exactly picture the playground gate where Diane cussed. I gasped for air but nothing came.

Looking back, it seems silly that a cuss word could cause such a shock, but it did. I expected God to cast down a lightning bolt and burn Diane to ash. The thought almost paralyzed me.

But not quite. I leaped back seven feet in case the bolt went wide.

But Nothing Happened

And then . . . nothing happened. No lightning bolt. Not even a firefly. I felt as shocked by the absence of righteous retribution as I had been by the cuss. Maybe more.

My juvenile understanding of Christianity was simple: God blesses good people and he punishes bad people. In my unsophisticated ten-year-old mind, blessing meant being cool and punishment meant being uncool. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the foul-mouthed kids became cooler while the clean-speaking kids grew uncool.

The wicked flourished while the righteous were trampled.

I decided that God could not exist. Oh, it took a week or so of watching the wicked prosper, but there was no doubt in my mind. God didn’t exist. It was all a cruel hoax.

The next day I unleashed the filthiest mouth in the city of Detroit on my classmates. I said things even the wicked feared to say. (They still harbored some fear of God, but I knew better.) The “sh” word was cussing for kids; I dropped f-bombs like hardwood forests drop autumn leaves—and I didn’t even know what the f-word meant.

I was a poet in profanity.

Then, at the end of that day, alone in my bedroom, God spoke to me with a fierce, undeniable, and certain clarity. But all he said was, “Sam, I am real, and you don’t understand.

Knowing God

God wants us to know him personally—he wants a personal relationship. But we mostly want to know direction: “Should I take this job or that job?” We want information; God wants a conversation. We want to know answers; God wants us to know him.

When God spoke to me, I was deeply moved, but not by his answer to my question, why do the wicked flourish? God never even hinted at an answer. I was moved because I had heard his voice. I had begun to know the person of God, not just facts; I had met him.

God always gives us what we most need, but he doesn’t always give us what we think we most need. Our deepest need is to know God. More than answers, inspiration, information, or guidance, we simply need to know God. That’s why Paul prayed,

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Eph. 1:16–17).

Knowing about God just isn’t enough. We need to hear God from his own lips.

Forty-five years ago, my girlfriend cussed, God spoke in the absence of lightening, and it changed my life.

Sam

I recently feel a need for action, practically (selling our house, helping a ministry I support, promoting my book) and humanly (a friend in divorce proceedings and other friends with health or financial woes). A season of doing has descended on me.

But where should I best invest myself?

There is no shortage of advice. Recently, resources I used to like for their insights have transformed themselves into Giant-Task-Lists. Books, blogs, and conversations bombard me with action-items, strategies, and plans:

  • Last May, an author sent me 26 emails (twenty-six!!) urging me to sign up for his “Three Principles for Successfully Building a Tribe.”
  • A friend told me of his Four-Step action plan to make a church more mission minded.
  • A house-stager made a Two-Page list of exactly what to do to make our house “Pop.”
  • And in one week, a blogger I used to like offered: (a) Six Steps to Becoming Happy, (b) Five Keys for Achievement, (c) Seven Steps to Getting Unstuck, and (d) Eight Secrets to Escape Exhaustion. (My escape from exhaustion began when I quit reading his blog).

Despite the verbal bombardment of tips and techniques for doing, God has also been speaking in a quieter voice, with a single thought that seems more invitational than edict. It’s this:

The Life of God begins to work in me at the moment of my inability.

What Does It Mean?

I have a set of natural skills on which I rely: I can balance a checkbook, understand technology, and talk comfortably with strangers. Self-Help material expanded my skill set to include scuba diving and writing a weekly blog. (And right now I’m studying Shoe-Tying for Dummies.)

But these same skills also create in me spiritual confusion. Because when I’m relying on them, I don’t think much of God. Like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, my natural abilities act agnostically: they look at the world without a resurrection.

The Apostle Peter was naturally assertive, but his kingdom service proved sterile until his natural boldness died, was buried, and was reborn into supernatural boldness.

Worse yet, our innate expertise naturally creates discord. In one of Peter’s infamous blunders, he exclaims, “Those other disciples may all desert you, but I never will!” (I imagine the Disciple John thinking, “What am I? Benedict Arnold?”) And the Apostle Paul’s inborn zeal led him to persecute, imprison, and kill.

How many times have you witnessed an inherently disciplined person disparage a naturally born, but disorderly, artist? (“Why can’t you just be more like me?”)

It is only through inner spiritual resurrection that the life of God begins to work in us.

Good, Better, and Best

In spiritual matters, that which is good is the greatest enemy of that which is best. Our weaknesses look to God, but our inborn competencies live perfectly happy without him.

Let’s avoid the agnostic divisiveness that come from resting in innate skills instead of resurrected boldness. It’s not what we do that counts, not nearly as much as what God does through us. All it takes is the funeral of our trust in ourselves.

So what do I hear God calling me to do? Instead of falling prey to more internet click-bait of Three Keys, Seven Steps, or Five Secrets, I sense God calling me to this One Invitation:

The Life of God begins to work in me at the moment of my inability.

Sam

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You’ve probably heard of my new book by not, but just in case you need a reminder: God wants us to hear his voice; he wants a conversational relationship with us all. Please consider buying my new book, Hearing God in Conversation.

It’s written for both believers and non-believers. Give one to a friend.