FOCUS – Kingdom first
Not long ago, I sat in my living room feeling worn. I had a pile of books I was studying, and a “to do” list that could have wallpapered the room. My kids wore mismatched socks, as the laundry sat in heaps in my closet. The phone seemed itching to ring for the eleventh time that night. Brimming with self-pity, I looked at my peaceful husband (who is never stressed) and sighed, “Why does God require so much of me?”
I returned to my books, all of which concerned the activities and theology of the Old Testament prophets. I began to read about Ezekiel, whom God required to lie on his left side for 390 days, followed by 40 days on his right side. (Ezekiel 4: 1 8) He was to perform this deed as a symbol of the punishment of the Hebrew people 390 years of punishment suffered by the nation of Israel, and 40 years of punishment suffered by the nation of Judah. The punishment was in response to the people’s continual rebellion against God. Ezekiel himself had not rebelled against God, yet he was to bear their guilt so that, by his visual imagery, the people might be roused from their spiritual slumber. And Ezekiel submitted himself to God’s demands.
My thoughts immediately turned to God’s injunction to the prophet Hosea: “Take a promiscuous wife and promiscuous children, for the land has been promiscuous away from Yahweh.” (Hosea 1:2) Again, just to prove a point, a man of God was forced to do something astonishing and distasteful with his life. And he did it.
After reflecting on these things, I turned sheepishly to my husband. “I didn’t really mean what I said a few minutes ago,” I said. “I have a great life.” In my experience as a corps officer, God has yet to charge that I demonstrate his principles to our congregation through some bizarre deed. But if he does someday, I wonder how I will respond. Will I immediately begin to carry out his will, or will I run, like the prophet Jonah?
Biblical prophets did not lead easy lives. They were often obliged to do strange things and proclaim depressing messages. They were not popular people, and they were sometimes even mistaken for madmen. I doubt many young Israelite children hoped to grow up to be prophets. And yet, there is a surprisingly small amount of whining found in the stories of most of the prophets. Their submission is almost incomprehensible.
One must deduce that the prophets were less concerned with their own welfare than with the welfare of God’s chosen nation. I fear that such a selfless approach to life is almost entirely foreign in modern churches. Christians today place great emphasis on getting blessed. To be blessed is wonderful, and even (thank God) inevitable. But shouldn’t our personal blessings be secondary to our work for the extension of God’s Kingdom? I can’t help but think that God would have snatched us up to Heaven the moment we were saved if all he wanted to do was bless us. But he left us here, as his workers. His hands. His feet.
What would happen if we put the Kingdom of God first, just as the prophets put God’s chosen nation first? What if every Christian said, “God, I will do whatever you need me to do to extend your Kingdom. My personal comfort and desires are not an issue”? If we could dispense of our own plans, our own egos, our selfish ambitions, we could concentrate on the real business of Christians: to win people to Christ and disciple them so that they may mature as Christians. Then they, in turn, would win people to Christ, and on it goes.
Imagine if the woman who aspired to be a surgeon became a nurse instead, only because God told her she could impact more lives that way. Imagine if the “couch potato” turned off his television and reported to the homeless shelter every night because God told him he was needed there. Imagine if a group of teen-agers decided they would rather assist with Adventure Corps than go to the movies on a Friday night.
Each Christian is a part of the mission to extend the Kingdom of God. Each has a role to play. Will it be fun? Not always. Will it be comfortable? Not likely. Will it be worth it?