The older I get the more convinced I become that as “rich” Americans, you and I are at a tremendous disadvantage to experiencing the depths of the Kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate. Jesus of course is the one who famously said that it’s “easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom”, a verse we often grow up thinking was about them when really it was about us...
The culture of the Kingdom is a backwards place where, as Jesus described, the “first will be last and the last will be first”. It’s upside down. Backwards. Whatever “the world” does, Kingdom does the opposite. Jesus of course, reminds us that we can live in the Kingdom right now,and invites us to step away from the comforts of worldly life so that we can experience the beauty of radical life in the Kingdom.
Such a transition, however, is difficult to make– at least it was for me. Radical living is not part of my nature. Giving my life away instead of finding ways to prop it up, was never something I was taught. For this privileged American, entering the Kingdom was hard. This is because the Kingdom of Heaven is backwards on every level. The ultimate reality I discovered was that I was not free to fully embrace this new way of living until I was free from the unhealthy love affair I was having with myself, and with my possessions. The secret to the Kingdom is that you find your meaning through giving your life away– the exact opposite of what empire teaches!
In this regard, if we want to fully embrace the Kingdom Jesus invites us into, we must enact principles of living that free us from the key things that keep us out of the Kingdom: self and possessions. The following are the five practices I’ve been working on over the last few years that I have found to be a path to freedom; these practices have changed my life. If you put them into practice, consistently, I am convinced that you will discover a radical new life that is beyond anything you’ve experienced before… something Jesus (and now I) call, the “Kingdom”.
1. Discover the true meaning of LOVE
The primary meaning of the word “love” in Scripture is a “purposeful commitment to sacrificial action for another.” In the Bible it is a fact that loving God is equated with obeying His Word. The two are inseparable.
In our day, most define love as some type of feeling. We “fall in love,” or two people meet and it is “love at first sight.” But the world’s love is a selfish matter. If you are attractive to me, be nice to me, meet my needs and love me I in return will “love” you. The world’s love is based on getting something from some else. The world does not give love where is does not benefit themselves. If you do not please me then I have no love for you. Thus for the world love must be earned by making someone else feel good.
Unfortunately, the true meaning of love, as defined in the Bible, has been corrupted in the common usage of our English language and society. Most often, love is confused with infatuation – that elated, “high” feeling we get when we “fall in love.” This kind of “love” is something that lasts typically less than a year, and unless replaced by true love, results in broken relationships.
1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
This indicates that love and God are one and the same. In fact, the Bible says “God is love.” Love is one of the primary characteristics of God. Likewise, God has endowed us with the capacity for love, since we are created in His image. This capacity for love is one of the ways in which we are “created in the image of God.” But do we really know what it is to love? have you ever felt unconditional love?
2. Practice curbing your impulse to acquire.
You and I are surrounded by thousands of messages every day that tell us we NEED MORE. 100% of the time, these messages are lies that need to be resisted. Failure to do so invites us into a never ending cycle where we’re always seeking happiness in the next big thing. Such a life is futile and never leads to happiness. However, this is hard stuff as Americans– the only way to beat the impulse to acquire is to starve it to death. This ultimately leads to a freedom from want, which is one of the best feelings in the world.
3. Practice fasting.
This is quite similar to #2, but recovering the practice of fasting was a spiritual behavior that helped me progressively learn to better master general “wants”. The tradition of fasting is simply a predetermined period of time where you deny yourself something without giving in. When you fast, you give yourself a bite-sized opportunity to learn that you’ll really be okay with less. We often think of fasting as being from food, but I would encourage you to think bigger. For example, last year for lent I fasted for 40 days from reading websites that usually just made me angry (but I loved reading them). By the end of the 40 day fast I realized I was free from them, and haven’t been back all year.
4. Practice radical generosity.
Find opportunities to give money and possessions away, and do it with a good attitude. If this is hard for you, start small (like we learned in fasting) and let the satisfaction it brings spur you to be progressively more generous. Research some causes that you’re passionate about and find ways that you can give to the cause. Find people in your local area who have a need you can meet, and go meet it. Challenge yourself each year to be more generous than the year before, and even become willing to sacrifice so that you can maintain a lifestyle of generosity. The want to be generous is the only want you’ll never have to fight– just give into it.
5. Practice radical hospitality.
Hospitality is a form of generosity but goes a bit further. Hospitality is what generosity looks like in a relationship. Make your home a place where people can gather and where you serve them. Increase the frequency that you invite guests over, telling them that they don’t have to bring anything “other than themselves”. Through hospitality, you’re not simply being generous but you’re also developing meaningful relationships which are essential to Kingdom living
Here’s a challenge I’ve accepted and I extend this challenge to you as well: to commit ourselves to practicing these 5 things over the next 90 days (just try each of them at least once) and see what changes in your life. Write to me about your experience at the end of the 90 days, and I’ll compile some of your stories to share with the other readers.