The life you were meant to live

We cannot understand the kingdom of God without acknowledging a certain kind of life. In the teachings of Jesus, the life and the kingdom are almost interchangeable, and at the heart of his description of the kingdom is the promise of John 10:10. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

What is this abundant life? I believe the blueprints for life in the kingdom are written on our hearts. This is why we long so deeply for it. I believe the plans for the abundant life are written in our desires.

I am not referring to our surface desires. I want a new car and a vacation in the United Kingdom, but I don’t think God created me to drive a comfortable car or tour the sites of Arthurian legend. These desires are like breadcrumbs, which, if we choose to examine, will lead us to our deeper desires, the seeds of the abundant life. If we examine our surface desires and ask what we really want, we will discover a longing for love, for joy and for peace. We will find a desire to use our gifts and to use them for something we feel strongly about.

Imagine that for a moment – a life defined by love for all God’s creation, a life full of joy regardless of circumstance, a life marked by a peace rooted in the foundation of your being. Can you imagine? That is the life we are called to. That is the life we were created for, and it is the life that is available today, in part, for disciples of Jesus.

Of course we live in the tension of the “already but not yet.” The kingdom is both a present and a future reality. But let’s not neglect the present for the sake of the future. Let’s also be clear the abundant life is not financial wealth. Jesus warned that physical wealth is dangerous (Matthew 19:24). And it does not mean a life without pain. Jesus promised we would face trials (John 16:33). The abundant life is simply the life we were created to live. It is a return to Eden, a return to God’s original design for all of his creation. It is the restoration of the relationships damaged in the fall. Shalom means wholeness and peace in our relationship with God. It is the healing of our relationship with ourselves, others, and the rest of God’s creation.

Next: Relationships in the kingdom?

Did Thoreau go into the woods to find the kingdom of God?

Understanding the kingdom of God is important for a disciple of Jesus because it was one of his most frequent topics. His ministry was marked by an announcement of the kingdom’s presence and a description – in both his teaching and actions – of what the kingdom is. Jesus’s description of the kingdom leaves me with four key characteristics. The kingdom is represented in a certain kind of life. That life is characterized by restored relationships. Jesus is regularly breaking the common Jewish understanding of God’s kingdom by declaring it is available to all, not just the descendants of Abraham, and participation in the kingdom requires a response.

Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom and eternal life are deeply interwoven. Over and over he speaks of life (as he did with kingdom) as the desired outcome of his work. In John 10:10 Jesus teaches that life is the reason he came. He came so that we might experience life, and not just plain old boring life, but abundant life! He teaches about the two roads, one that leads to destruction and the other that leads to life (Mt 7:13-15). His followers asked and he taught about gaining or inheriting eternal life (Mt 19:29, Mk 10:17). Eternal life and the kingdom of God are practically interchangeable in the teachings of Jesus. This is because eternal life is life in the kingdom.

I believe deep within each of us is a longing for the kingdom life. Pascal refers to the “infinite abyss” within each of us that can only be filled with God. Augustine said our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. Our hearts are yearning for the life we were created to live. There is desire bubbling within each of us to live a certain kind of life, a life of love, a life of joy, a life of meaning, and we can see this desire percolating in our music, movies, and literature.

When I was a kid, I had a deep love for stories of adventure. I read stories about dragon riders and Greek heroes. I systematically worked my way through every King Arthur book in the Woodstock Public Library’s collection. Arthurian legend and stories like it continue to fascinate me. A farmer’s nephew chooses to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Jedi Knight. A bored, disenchanted computer programmer discovers that he is “The One,” or a nerdy high school boy gains the proportional strength and agility of a spider.

These narratives follow similar patterns. An ordinary individual discovers he or she has an extraordinary purpose (The Matrix, Star Wars, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings) or someone wakes up from the ordinary to a more deep and meaningful life (Dead Poets Society, Braveheart, The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life). Stories like these captivate us because deep down we long for them to become our story.

Many of us today lead what Henry David Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” We are searching for the life we were meant to live. If we are honest, we feel like our lives should be something more. We have a whole host of unmet expectations. We expected more from adulthood, marriage, parenthood, and our faith. We are longing for the abundant kingdom life.

Next: What is the abundant life?

 

When is the kingdom of God?

Let’s start with the kingdom’s presence. Understanding the kingdom’s presence is critical if this conversation is to be anything other than academic. When Jesus teaches about the kingdom, he talks about the kingdom’s character, and its presence. In fact, the presence of the kingdom is one of his most consistent statements. “The time has come; the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). He sends the twelve apostles to announce, “the kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 10:7), and he teaches us to pray God’s kingdom be present on earth as it is in heaven (Luke 11:2). Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom is consistent; it is here. Even his actions, the miracles in particular, demonstrate the kingdom is breaking into the present.

The kingdom’s inauguration is really the heart of the Gospel. The good news is not that we can go to heaven when we die but that the kingdom life is available now. It is true we wait in hope to experience the full realization of the kingdom, but it is not true that it is wholly absent from our current experiences.

Jesus said his mission was to bring kingdom life to earth. In John 10:10 he said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full,” not, “I have come that once they die they may to go heaven and begin eternal life.” Paul doesn’t teach that anyone who is in Christ will become a new creation after death. He writes, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Jesus came to bring kingdom life, and this life doesn’t have to wait until heaven to begin. Jesus intends for us to live the abundant kingdom life now.

We do wait for the full manifestation of the kingdom in the future, but the future reality of the kingdom does not mean it is wholly absent here and now. The kingdom is available but not yet in its fullness. Theologians call this inaugurated eschatology. The work of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection has begun the process of the kingdom breaking into this world.

Many refer to this as the “already, but not yet” aspect of the kingdom. We wait in hopeful anticipation for the full realization of the kingdom, a day when evil will be defeated, when there will be no more tears, no more death, no more pain. (Revelation 21:4) We wait for the day when all of creation will be restored. But the kingdom there is also a present today. The presence of God dwells and works within us so we might take on the character of Christ, and with Christ’s character, we are able to live and act according to God’s will. And isn’t that the kingdom, the place where God’s will is done?

I am over emphasizing the presence of the kingdom. I admit it. But I am hoping to correct decades of overemphasis on the kingdom’s future elements. Understanding the presence of God’s kingdom is critical. If we define the Gospel as what one must do to be received into heaven, there is no basis for discipleship. If, on the other hand, we understand that the heart of the gospel is God’s kingdom breaking into the present, we will understand discipleship is the means of cultivating the kingdom’s presence in our lives and the world. Conversion is not the end. Conversion is the beginning, the birth into a new life. Acts of love, like caring for the poor and oppressed, are the natural overflow of the transformed life in the kingdom. If we don’t get this, we assume eternal life begins after death and salvation will have no impact on our everyday lives.

The kingdom of God is present and available now, this moment. Not when you get everything together, not when you die and go to heaven, but now, today. The result of Christianity, the reason Jesus came, is for puffy clouds and winged babies with harps. The mission of Jesus was to being the kingdom of God to earth, so that following him would allow us to participate in the abundant kingdom life now.

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