Being Kingdom-Minded

Note: This post was originally part of a blog series called “52 Weeks of Simplicity”. I got so distracted that I never completed the series!

I have noticed the strangest urge within me. Every time I sit at my desk with my Bible open, in preparation for sermon work or Bible study, a small voice goes off in my brain demanding that I check the current feed on Facebook or Instagram. When I sit reading, my mind immediately goes to a thousand tasks that I have before me. But when I engage in any of those tasks, I long for the quiet focus of silence and solitude.

Have you struggled with a similar thing?

We live in a world of constant noise and distraction. There is always something to tear us away from what we focus on in any given moment. Images flash before us, ever changing what we are thinking about or reflecting on. Music provides an endless soundtrack to life; we find it in malls, in banks, in hospital waiting rooms. The frenetic pulses of the world we live in, like a migraine that won’t end, eventually takes it’s toll on us.  The world views slow, methodical, focus a detriment and multitasking a virtue. We say things like ‘I wish there were more hours in the day’, or ‘If I only had a few more hands’ or ‘please stop the world I’d like to get off!’ We feel exhausted and tired because of the ceaseless pace of the world we live in.

Is this there a way to break out of this type of life? Can we combat the overexposure of sights and sounds, the barrage of messages highlighting self-indulgence, and that internal sense of being overwhelmed? Can Jesus lead us into a different way of living?

Jesus points us to a life of unhurried grace. He calls us to not worry over “what we shall eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Instead of running after the things of the world, the things the heavenly Father knows we need, Jesus calls us to seek first the kingdom. When we do this, Jesus promises that all those things we tend to stress over will fall into our lives. They will be “added to us” if we but set our eyes, hearts, and souls toward following the Kingdom.

Like you, I have grown up with this verse. I have sung it as a hymn in churches many, many times. Yet I never really thought about what that verse points us to. What does it mean to seek first God’s kingdom in our lives? How do we go about this? And how does living for or in the kingdom of God, differ from living for or in the kingdom of this world?

Have you ever seen the movie City Slickers—starring Billy Crystal and Jack Palance? In this movie, Palance plays an old rugged cowboy named Curly, while Crystal acts the young mid-life crisis-baring city person. Crystal’s character is in awe of Curly because, as Curly’s life makes sense. He seems undistracted and singly focused. In the central scene of the movie Curly, with cigarette dangling from his mouth, says to the burden-laden Crystal, “You city folk are all the same. You spend 50 weeks tying knots in your rope and then think two weeks up here will untangle them for you. None of you get it. Do you know what the secret of life is. This. (Curly holds up his finger) One thing. Just one thing.’ With one speech Curly seems to disarm the frenetic distractions of the world.

Hollywood, of course, takes it’s typical turn and suggests that everyone must find their “one thing.” Unfortuantely, what this means is that everyone is called to seek his or her kingdom. The movie never really explores the glaring irony that seeking his own kingdom was what got Crystal discouraged in the first place. How do you define your “one thing”, when you feel lost and do not know where to look?

Jesus makes a stark difference between two fundamentally opposed manners of living. There is the way of seeking the kingdom, first and foremost in our lives; and there is the way of ‘The Pagans’. The way of the kingdom is unhurried, focused, and diligent. The way of the kingdom is to follow the path that Jesus hold out. We do not find the kingdom; we do not create it or produce it. The kingdom erupts around us. It is a gift of Jesus we are invited to enter, enjoy, and participate in.

This is contrasted with the way of the pagans—the way of the world. The way of the world is to run around in an intolerable scramble, trying to achieve that which we are worried about, yet can never fully receive. The way of the world is to find the clothes that make the man, to win with the most toys, and to keep up with the Jones’. Of course, whenever we believe ourselves to have procured our ultimate goal, we find it hollow and fleeting.

Jesus tells parable after parable about the centrality of following his Kingdom; it is a person searching for a rare pearl, a woman searching for a lost coin, a shepherd searching for a lost sheep; a father searching for his lost son. The kingdom of God is to be that which redefines all of life. Unlike life according to the world—telling us we are to flit about in ten thousand directions at once, chasing everything and finding nothing; a simple, kingdom focused life arranges all actions, duties, and tasks around one unified and definitive principle and goal—life in the kingdom of God; life as a disciple of Jesus.

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Are you feeling spiritually discouraged? Do you feel you would like a fuller, deeper, richer spiritual life, but don’t know where to start? Do you find yourself echoing the deep cry of Asaph? Sign up to receive my monthly encouragements and you will receive “9 Questions to ask when you are feeling Spiritually Discouraged.”

A time to unplug – the discipline of Retreat-taking

The other day my wife introduced me to a new word; Nomophobia.  Nomophobia is the fear of being away from one’s mobile phone.  It is that sense of internal restlessness felt when you find yourself ‘with nothing to do’ and without the comfort of online communication.  I wonder if you have experienced the almost visceral compulsion to pull your phone out of your pocket the second you sit on the couch, or at the dinner table.  Sadly, I have.  This goes far beyond the desire to connect, or record important events of life.  Nomophobia speaks to the way we mediate the matters of life, self, and identity via the small screen we carry in our pockets.

This isn’t just about our schedules, or the call to constant availability/connectivity. We may tell ourselves that we need to be continually within arm’s reach of our phone, because this helps us navigate the contours of our busy lives as expediently as possible, but this doesn’t explain the almost visceral need to pull our phone’s the moment we sit down upon the couch.   Expertly navigating the busyness of our life does not explain the need to live-stream on Facebook or Instagram our dinner plates.  These things speak to something much deeper; a force of distraction from perpetually keeps us away from our true self and our true life.  After all, expertly navigating the connections of life may make us feel more efficient with our time, schedules and relationships, but it still leaves us perpetually busy and distracted.  A filled vessel is still a filled vessel no matter how we arrange those things that fill it.

What can be done about this?  How can we recalibrate our spiritual center, and find ourselves able to withstand the apparent horror of turning our phone’s off?  Well one discipline that cuts against the grain of modern life is that discipline of Retreat-taking.  Retreat-taking demands that we put down all the complexity, connectivity, and inherent busyness that fills up our modern lives.  Everything that defines ‘regular’ life is put aside, so that we can become reminded about the ‘life that truly is life’.

If we wish to remind ourselves of our God-given identity, then we must put down all that clutters both our internal and outer spaces so that we may be open to the Spirit of God in our midst.  Taking a time of retreat, by which we remove ourselves from the regular stuff of life is a powerful way to re-connect with God’s presence around us. Yet to do this we must leave things behind.  We must leave our electronics unplugged, our schedules at home, and our cell-phones off.  Undoubtedly some, even in reading this, will experience a quickness of breath or a wave of anxiety.  Yet does not this speak to your fundamental need to engage in this discipline?  Taking a retreat necessitates that we resist the desire to fill up our time with the trappings of worldly life.  These but tie us to all that clutters our lives. In retreat our time belongs to God alone. We submit to God’s directions and initiatives.

There are many ways to be ‘on retreat.’  One can go on retreat for a month, a week, or a few days.  The length of time will differ based on the retreat you feel God leading you into.  Retreats can be guided by a director, or can be personally administered; they can be done individually, or as a member of a group. Periods of silence often play and important part in taking a retreat.  The discipline of taking a retreat, however, is not dependent on mountain chalet’s and weekends of solitude. One can take ‘mini’ retreats as you go through our daily tasks.  What would it look like end our day by sitting in silence for 5 minutes?  What if we refused to answer any email after dinner?  When our schedule contains a block of time unoccupied, what if we saw this as an opportunity to sit in a nearby park and, as Jesus encourages us, ‘observe the lilies of the field.’

The basis of taking a retreat is hearing the loving invitation of Jesus to ‘come away with me to a quiet place and get some rest.’  Retreats lead us into a time of re-creation.  By turning off the noise of the world around us we give ourselves the opportunity to re-hear God’s messages of love and grace.  It is important, then, to have no expectations about our times of retreat.  Demands regarding ‘how it should be done’, and ‘what we should get out of it’, even ‘how we should feel at the end’ are unhelpful to us; they are undue pressures that remove our soul from the sanctity of our moments away.   To fill up our retreat with preoccupations about the ‘right actions’ the ‘right response’ or the ‘right feeling’ do nothing but diminish our attentiveness to the voice of the Spirit and the presence of Jesus. In the end, after having a time ‘unplugged’, you may not actually feel like things have changed for you.  But that is a lesson itself, for in that feeling we learn that we can step away from the demands of life. The burden of being life’s master does not reside with ourselves; we can put our lives into bigger hands.
Taking a Retreat is a powerful discipline for it forces us to physically live out our internal desire for spiritual vitality.  We physically remove ourselves from the demands and complexities of our lives to enter an intensive and focused time with God.  In this we create the internal space needed to receive nothing but God’s presence and voice in our lives. A retreat calls us to spend our time doing less, even though the world continually bombards us with messages demanding that we do ‘more’.  Retreats call us to stop, even though the world tells us we must always be on the go.  Retreats call us to listen to God’s voice instead of the multiplicity of noises that can too easily fill up our lives.  The Apostle John says ‘there is no fear in love.’  May we all put aside those fears that keep us tethered to busyness of life around us, so that we can be filled with the love and grace of God anew.

 

Choosing Simple

We live in a world of constant noise and distraction. There is always something to tear us away from what we focus on in any given moment. Images flash before us, ever changing what we are thinking about or reflecting on. Music provides an endless soundtrack to life; we find it in malls, in banks, in hospital waiting rooms. The frenetic pulses of the world we live in, like a migraine that won’t end, eventually takes it’s toll on us. According to a 2011 paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, It only takes a person 4 seconds become uncomfortable with a silence in conversation. Personally, I have noticed the strangest urge within me. Every time I sit at my desk with my Bible open, in preparation for sermon work or Bible study, a small voice goes off in my brain demanding that I check the current feed on Facebook. I wonder if you have ever struggled with a similar thing? Even if we are unaware of it, we are used to something else always going on, demanding our time and our attention. We live in a world where slow, methodical, focus is a detriment and multitasking is a virtue. Because of this we say things like ‘I wish there were more hours in the day’, ‘If I only had a few more hands’ or ‘please stop the world I’d like to get off.’ We feel exhausted and tired because of the ceaseless pace of the world we live in.

Is this there a way to break out of this type of life? Can we combat the overexposure of sights and sounds, the barrage of messages highlighting self-indulgence, and that internal sense of being overwhelmed? Can Jesus lead us into a different way of living?

In her book, Abundant Simplicity, Jan Johnson describes the message of Jesus as a radical denunciation of a life lived ‘in bold print’. Jesus points us to a life of unhurried grace. He calls us to not worry over “what we shall eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Pagans run around after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ I have grown up with this verse. I have sung it as a hymn in churches many, many times. Yet I never really thought about what that verse points us to. What does it mean to seek first God’s kingdom in our lives? How do we go about this? And how does living for or in the kingdom of God, differ from living for or in the kingdom of this world?

Have you ever seen the movie City Slickers—starring Billy Crystal and Jack Palance? In this movie, Palance plays an old rugged cowboy named Curly, while Crystal acts the young mid-life crisis-baring city person. Crystal’s character is in awe of Curly because, as he says ‘your life makes sense’. In the central scene of the movie Curly, with cigarette dangling from his mouth says to the burden-baring Crystal, “You city folk are all the same. You spend 50 weeks tying knots in your rope and then think two weeks up here will untangle them for you. None of you get it. Do you know what the secret of life is. This. (Curly holds up his finger) One thing. Just one thing.’ Of course, here, Hollywood takes a turn and it is suggested that everyone must find their one thing, but until then, what Palance talks about is very much like the type of life Jesus is pointing us to.

Looking back at what Jesus says in Matthew 6, it seems that Jesus makes a stark difference between two fundamentally opposed manners of living. There is the way of seeking the kingdom, first and foremost in our lives; and there is the way of ‘The Pagans’. The way of the kingdom is unhurried, focused, and diligent. The way of the ‘Pagans’—the way of the world—is to run around in an intolerable scramble trying to achieve that which we are worried about yet can never fully receive.

The way of seeking the Kingdom is different, because the rule of God in our lives becomes the one thing that our lives are directed toward. Jesus tells parable after parable about this very thing; it is a person searching for a rare pearl, a woman searching for a lost coin, a shepherd searching for a lost sheep; a father searching for his lost son. The kingdom of God is to be the sole focus that redefines all of life. Unlike life according to the world—telling us we are to flit about in ten thousand directions at once, chasing everything and finding nothing; spending week after week ‘tying knots in our rope’—a simple, kingdom focused life arranges all actions, duties, and tasks around one unified and definitive principle and goal—life in the kingdom of God; life as a disciple of Jesus.

It seems to me that to living out this singular, simple, kingdom-focus will have dramatic effects in how we live our lives. But maybe that’s what Jesus wants. Our life in the kingdom isn’t to be so internal that even we forget what it means! The kingdom of God should effect how we interact with the world around us. It should change how we speak, how and what we purchase, how we serve one another.

Over the next little while I will be exploring what this singular, simple, kingdom-focused life will mean, both to my inner heart of devotion and faith, and also to the various outward way that we engage in the world around us. I invite you to take this journey with me, and even offer your own insights and suggestions.

What is one outward thing you can do to ‘simply’ your life? Remember ‘Simplicity’ should be defined as a single-hearted focus on Jesus and his Kingdom.