The kingdom of God has been the most significant revelation of my Christian life, second only to the fact that God loved me when I was most unlovable and paid an incredible price so that I could enjoy life with him forever.
I had been a Christian for twelve years when I first heard about the kingdom of God. Suddenly all of the pieces began to fall into place. I understood God's purpose, both eternally and for my generation. It brought me amazing assurance and peace, simultaneously igniting intense zeal and passion. I began to understand the Holy Spirit for the first time. It gave me a deep respect and hope for the church. It upended my concepts of authority and government, nurture and responsibility. It humbled me and gave me significance at the same time.
Discovering the kingdom helped me see God more accurately. It was for me a lens that seemed to make everything clearer. It still does. The verse that governs most of what I do is Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When I was a pastor I preached on the kingdom of God 52 weeks every year. That may be a slight exaggeration, but in my mind every spiritual truth springs from its context in the kingdom of God.
The theme of Conference ‘08 last May was The Kingdom of God and Health Care for the Under-served. By all accounts, it was a great conference. Some said it was the best conference in memory. It was my first, and I was blessed beyond my expectations. I had nothing to do with selecting that theme. It came out of the prayerful convictions of the people that made up the Conference Committee from 2007. But it was confirmation to me that CCHF was the right home for me. It may mean different things to different people, but I am happy to be a part of a company of Christians to whom the kingdom means something important.
A few weeks ago I emailed a dozen or so people and asked this question. “Is the kingdom of God as you understand it a significant motivating factor in the work you do with the poor, and if so, how?” It is an honest question. Most of the people that I asked are people that I have never met. They are just part of the CCHF family. The following pages are some of their responses. I hope you enjoy their perspectives as much as I have. Feel free to send me yours.
Executive Director, CCHF
IRENE THOMAS THEVATHERIL
“It is my ONLY motivating factor!”
“I love Jesus because He first loved me. His life was driven by a love for his Father, which meant complete submission and obedience to his Father's will — even to the point of the cross. Because of His compelling, irresistible love for me, my following Him means loving and caring for those he puts in my path, which includes the downtrodden, the outcasts, the 'unwanteds.’
“We are all poor, spiritually or physically. God has called us to be a light, to bring healing and hope in the name of Jesus.”
Goshen, Indiana (via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
“The Kingdom of God has, for me, been the only durable motivation for serving the poor. The other possible motivations - guilt, obligation, and altruism (I have had all three in large doses) - do not endure when I fail to see fairly immediate returns on my efforts. In the long run, my small efforts are no match for the overwhelming needs in this world. Within these frameworks my insufficient efforts lead only to frustration, workaholism, and despair.
"When I finally learned that Jesus came not only to save me, but to establish a kingdom on this earth as well as in heaven, a kingdom through which he will extend his rule into every aspect of this world until it is finally uncontested, it was for me indeed Good News. First, it provided hope. In the long run, the evil around me will NOT triumph.
“Second, it provided a picture of Eternal Shalom that I really liked. Real babies escaping infant mortality. Real crops being enjoyed by those who planted them. Real prisoners being set free. I was never satisfied by the spiritualized ideas of heaven I had grown up with.
"Third, it gave me a role of unbelievable significance. I have a contribution to make to the coming of this Kingdom that will really matter. I can really help move history towards a glorious culmination. What a destiny! This alone has spurred me to action more than anything else.
"Fourth and even more important, this king rules in resurrection power. That means that he has all the resources, all the strength necessary to accomplish the big plan - and even the tiny pieces of the plan which he has assigned to me. I do not have to tackle overwhelming tasks in my own strength. He is more than willing to accept my few loaves and fishes and feed thousands of people.
"But finally, this king rules in such love that he is as concerned about bringing the peace of his rule to the chaotic insides of my heart as he is to the whole world. He wants to bring me good - good tailored in the smallest details for who I am. He does not just want to use me. He has demonstrated over and over His relentless determination to bring shalom to the core of my being - something He seems to want even more than I do.
“All together this has made me love him and want to serve him with all my heart. What I have already experienced of his kingdom in and around me enables me to trust his love, wisdom, power, and promise of Eternal Shalom even at those moments when I do not see good triumphing.”
“I don’t know if I am consciously motivated by the thought of the Kingdom of God on a regular basis, but certainly by its ramifications. Those of us who are dedicated to Christian service definitely live in the world of “now-but-not-yet.” We long to be port of a world where the poor are treated with dignity, where full health is restored, where righteousness is revered and our Lord is honored and praised.
"Even though the world around us doesn't look much like that, the glimpses of the Kingdom that we see in others (and ourselves) push us onward. We know how the world should be, and revel in these opportunities to get a peek at how it will be. That keeps me going.”
“The kingdom of God is our home where we have our citizenship and passport - but we do not live there. We are exiles and aliens and sojourners in the world. Our physical milieu is the kingdom of this world; our spiritual milieu is the kingdom of God.
“But what does this mean? I wake up every morning in this world. The teeth I brush, the roads I walk on, the books I read are all in this world. The rich people whose very riches oppress, and the poor who ore oppressed, are all part of this world system. If I live and work on the poor side of the rich-poor divide, I do that because it makes sense to me. It seems “right”.
“So then comes the question: is the kingdom of God a "motivating factor” for that choice? The kingdom of God cannot be a ‘motivating factor’ that we isolate and measure. It is the sail we grow in; the air we breathe. it is what gives meaning to whatever work our hand finds to do (Ecc 9:10). And as we do that work, the kingdom of God challenges it...The kingdom of God refines and redirects our best efforts — but we should not play games. They are our efforts.
”We may be citizens of the kingdom of God, but we are born into this world. Yet the world we live in is like Plato's cave: all the things we live with — the shapes, the activity are but shadows on the wall. The real things are outside the cove, in the kingdom of God. And the more we become aware of that, the more we will change what we do in the cave, and the more odd it may seem.
“In fact, the kingdom of God has everything to do with riches and poverty, justice and injustice in the world. If I immerse myself in that kingdom, and I find that I must modify what I am doing in this world, it may begin to look like the kingdom of God was a "motivating factor". It will look that way to people who want to understand behavior, who want to know the “factors” so they can measure and harness them. But the kingdom of God cannot be harnessed. In evaluating Mother Teresa's work, some in the secular world find that it falls short of their standards: how does it help the poor to be with them as they die? How does it empower them? Working inside the cave knowing what is outside sometimes does seem odd.
“So I will answer a somewhat different question: What does the kingdom of God mean to you in your work? The answer: everything.”
...the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matthew 11:12)
ROBERT REX RECORD
“Acts 1:3, '...He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.’ The summary of Jesus’ last 40 days of ministry on this earth is the kingdom. While restoration, reconciliation, total depravity, predestination, etc. are all important topics for us to internalize and live out, the kingdom is in many ways the summation of these.”
"God’s kingdom is not only a place. It is his rule, reign, and government. Eternal and omnipotent in nature, his dominion stretches from heaven to us. This is why we pray, ‘Your kingdom come...‘ We are ushering His control into our daily existence. At every point we are establishing systems that radiate the will of our benevolent king. This is the unshakable kingdom.
“You ask, does the kingdom motivate my involvement among the poor? I must ask in reply, how could it not? I am its subject and the willing herald of my king. While others talk about liberation theology, I am coiled to proclaim ("reveal conspicuously') the King and his Kingdom. He alone has both the power and the authority to bring order to the chaos that exists in our communities. This is true of our wealthy communities as well as those that struggle with poverty.
“Practically, the kingdom motivates us to engage in incarnational ministry and community development. More than just another mercy ministry, we are fixed on the establishment of God‘s rule in the earth. Planted in the hearts of men, women, and children, this rule grows so as to choke out racism, greed, murder; and poverty. It compels its subjects to develop right systems in the arenas of housing, healthcare, education, recreation, and economic development. We must lead the charge because the charge comes from within us.”
Crescent City, Florida
The kingdom of God is a motivating factor for everything I do - - - I wish every moment of every day. As you know, the kingdom is here and is coming in its fullness with the return of Christ. We as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ are entrusted with the kingdom of God. Matthew 21:43 says that the kingdom of God was to be taken from the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and given to a nation that would generate fruit consistent with a people indwelled by the Holy Spirit. We must constantly be vigilant not to ignore such a responsibility. God help us not to miss the ever present kingdom—for it con be so hard to see when my eyes are on ME.
l really don't separate working with the poor with ‘just working”. The fact of the matter is that I always wanted to help people spiritually. I've learned that practicality often can or should precede spirituality. My ministry as a PA gives me a foothold into lives that may have otherwise been too guarded to let me in. It would be impossible to only seek to help people spiritually and disregard the total state of the person. The kingdom of God on earth can be summed up by loving God and loving people. Where am I in that sentence? It's not about me. It's not about you.