Saturday, March 28, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 33, Thy Kingdom Come - Entering the kingdom

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! (Mark 10:23-24 NASB)

We are currently studying the model prayer and are looking at the kingdom of God in us. In this post, we look at the issue of entering the kingdom of God.

As Jesus was heading out on a preaching journey, a man ran up to him and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life. This man had kept the law, but knew there must be more. Jesus loved the man and told him what he didn't really want to hear. "There's one thing you're missing. Sell everything you own and give it to the poor, then come follow me." Jesus knew the man was rich and that his hold on his possessions was preventing him from embracing the things of God. 

Hold here just a minute and let's consider the story further. This rich man encounters God, wrapped in flesh. He speaks with God (Jesus) and tells Him he wants eternal life. The man's accustomed to buying and selling, and he knows how to make a great deal. He doesn't call it this, but he is actually considering a transaction with God (Jesus). He wants eternal life and is asking what it will cost him. Jesus tells the rich man it will cost him everything he has. That's a hard blow for the man, but Jesus makes it harder. Give it all away, then come with me. This is a man who has spent his adult life buying and selling, making deals. He has property. If Jesus would allow it, he could make a great deal with the property, netting a terrific profit. He might be willing to sell his property and put the money in the bank, but just give it all away? Without even trying to make a good deal?

The rich man listened carefully to Jesus. He wanted eternal life, and he wanted it a lot, but he loved his stuff and wanted the things of this world more. In fact, he counted the cost and chose to keep his stuff, his wealth. He knew there was more to life, but decided he didn't want it bad enough to do what it would take to have it. He walked away from Jesus. When the man was gone, our Lord looked at His disciples and told them, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!" The disciples were surprised, but Jesus repeated His words. 

Jesus didn't mean there was anything inherently wrong with wealth. The problem is not with having wealth. The problem is in placing our trust in that wealth. The rich man could not imagine life without the "cushion" that wealth provides. He could not imagine joining his life with Jesus and giving up the assurance of money for his next meal or a comfortable place to sleep at night. He not only couldn't envision life without money, he was not willing to take the risk.

I really prefer having a bank account sufficient to meet my needs. I prefer having a full storehouse. There is something really exciting, however, about trusting my Lord enough to allow Him to meet my need on a daily basis, rather than months in advance, that is truly wonderful. He is faithful. 

There is a difficulty in this walk of faith, however. Trusting Him to meet my daily needs requires that I make a serious effort to be consistently, constantly faithful. It requires that I allow Him to sort out which of my perceived needs is a true need and which is a want. It requires that I abandon my wants to Him and allow Him to give me "the desires of my heart". As a society, we tend to think that God will give us whatever we want. Instead, what He gives us is a change in desire. His desire becomes my desire. His desire, however, is not likely to be for material things. Instead, what He desires for me is righteousness, holiness, the fruits of the Spirit. When He gives me the desires of my heart, righteousness, holiness, and the fruits of the Spirit become the things I desire, as well. 

Righteousness, holiness, and the fruits of the Spirit are not incompatible with material wealth, but they don't guarantee it, either.

In a way, the walk of faith is a kind of transaction. I "purchase" eternal life by giving Christ my life here on earth. The problem is that my earthly life will never be enough to repay the gift of sacrifice Christ has already given. That's where mercy and grace come into the equation. Our Lord offers His life for mine. Give Me what you have, He tells me, and I will pay the rest. It is the most unbelievable giving possible, and I cannot fully comprehend it, but I trust it. 

The rich man's problem was not his wealth. His problem was that he held so tight to his wealth that he couldn't embrace the cross, and it cost him a relationship with Jesus. It's easy for his problem to be mine, as well. I prefer comfort. I prefer a healthy bank account. When my trust is in my own ability to provide for myself, there is no way I am willing to take a step of faith, following Christ in unexpected ways or unplanned opportunities. 

It is only when I give my expectations, my abilities, my desires to Christ, without reservation, that the real fun begins. It is then that He begins to unfold His desire for me and reveal His plan for me in a richer way than I could have ever imagined. It is not necessarily easier, but it is a path that is sweeter than expected and filled with incredible peace. 

The way to enter the Kingdom of God is to follow Christ where He leads. To follow, I must first make a choice. Will I trust Christ with everything or not? Will I stop clinging to this world and it's comfort and grasp my Savior with all that I have, putting my trust completely in Him? Will I follow when the path looks unexpected to all those around me? Will I follow when it requires all that I have accumulated? Will I follow or not? That's the question we all must answer and on which our eternal destiny hangs. 

We have a choice to make. Will we choose the way of the world or the Journey of Joy and the Path of Faith? There is only one way that leads to eternal life. Let's choose well.