by Rusty George
Our family loves going to the beach. Because we live only an hour away, you’d think we would go more often, but it’s not as often as you’d expect. For one thing, California beaches are not quite as inviting as they appear on TV. The water temperature is usually a very uncomfortable 55 degrees.
Because actually going into the water can be less than pleasant, we find other things to do when we’re at the beach. My favorite thing to do is to sit in a chair and watch the waves roll in. Something about the endless surge of the ocean and the limitless horizon puts my world into perspective. The only problem is that sitting and relaxing doesn’t make the cut on my daughters’ list of their favorite things. So the only real chance I get to relax and reflect is when they are busy making sand castles. I try to encourage this endeavor by packing and schlepping all the buckets, shovels, and rakes they’ll need to facilitate their construction projects.
Once in a while, each girl will decide to build her own sandcastle. I don’t recommend this because it often leads to turf wars. But you can’t stop the entrepreneurial itch, nor can you reason with an opinionated tween. So the independent projects begin–with visions of multiple levels and wings, colonnades, moats, and drawbridges. And after about twenty minutes, the ventures always end the same way–with arguments.
“It’s my turn with the bucket!”
“You’re building yours too close to mine!”
“Stay away from me!”
“Stop copying me!”
When you’re building a kingdom, all you care about is your own castle.
We all have something we’re building and trying to maintain. For many of us, our kingdom includes our families–our spouse, some kids, aging parents, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, aunts, and the crazy uncle we never speak of. Our families may even include our friends. I don’t mean the hundreds–or thousands– of Facebook friends you have; I mean those you would actually want to have coffee with. Perhaps a few neighbors, some friends from work, your Bible study group at church, and a couple of parents at your kids’ school.
Pastor Larry Osborne says that people are like Legos. We all have a need for connection, but we have a finite amount of space for it. Some of us are two-stud Legos; others are like the big green sheets with hundreds of studs. No matter how big your Lego piece is, that’s your family. And for many of us, it’s the kingdom we protect.
Your kingdom might also contain our work. It might be a career that we’ve worked hard to build. It might be a small business that we started with borrowed money and rented facilities but now have built into something substantial. It might just be a job. We don’t love it, but it pays the bills. This is the kingdom others of us choose to protect.
This is where I struggle with my kingdom. I feel tremendous pressure that I’m in this all by myself…
For many of us, our kingdom is our own person. We exercise, read, meditate, rest, or eat things that some would call lawn clippings but we call lunch. We study about clean and healthy living, we focus on our weight and cholesterol, and we do our best to get the amount of sleep we need. We go to great lengths to protect this kingdom.
Also for many of us, our kingdom is our estate. We don’t use that word, but this “estate” involves all our wealth–out houses, cars, stocks, investments, insurance, and retirement. We’ve managed our money well, but it’s been a lot of work. We read about it, study the market trends, and have our financial advisors on speed dial–all because this is the kingdom we protect.
Most of us can relate to all of these things. Our kingdom portfolios include a variety of interest and investments–personal, monetary, and relational. It’s the kingdom of Me. And each of us works hard to build it and protect it.
We each worry about our own kingdom. How long will it last? Do I have enough resources to build it? What if someone tries to take it from me?
We compare our kingdoms. What do others think of me? Am I valued? Do they look down on me?
We fight for our kingdoms. We lie to get more. We steal to provide. We attack otter’s who seem to be a threat.
But how does all this stack up against Matthew 6:33: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously”? I guess the bigger questions are these: Am I even allowed to have a kingdom? Am I sinning by carking about my own kingdom? Can I even ask God to care about my kingdom?
This is where I struggle with my kingdom. I feel tremendous pressure that I’m in this all by myself. I’ve felt this way about leading our church. When our church was young, small, and taking on the big project of buying land and constructing a building, I faced many sleepless nights.
“How are we going to afford this?”
“What if no one shows up?”
I know that the movie Field of Dreams says, “If you build it, they will come,” but I was thinking, “If we build it, they better come!” We had climbed way out on the limb of faith, an it seemed as if the branch were staring to cack. I know it’s not my church. I know it belongs to God. But I’m the caretaker, so I worry about it. And I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve thought of it as my kingdom.
Think about the theories we‘ve heard all our lives that we assume are godly:
“God helps those who help themselves.” This is probably one of the most often quoted Bible verses that is not actually in the Bible.It is frequently attributed to Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac.
“If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.” This belief puts more pressure on us and completely ignores God. After all if he doesn’t are about anything in my kingdom, it all falls on me.
“Pray as if it all depends on God. Work as if it all depends on me.” Though this sounds like one of our When/Then equations, it can actually do more harm than good. It lures us into thinking that God isn’t all that interested in helping us–we’ll ask anyway, but we just shouldn’t expect much.
These quotations aren’t in the Bible, but we act as if they were!
Some of us prefer to put all the responsibility for kingdom management onto God. The moment anything goes wrong with our kingdoms, we assume that it’s by God’s neglect and that it’s now God’s responsibility to fix it. Think about our prayers and how they often focus on one of three things: help me, bless me, or protect me. These are all personal-kingdom management prayers. And none has anything to do with our participation in God’s Kingdom.
In his grace, God has allowed us to enjoy our stewardship of the many things he’s placed in our hands. He’s allowed us to thrive at work, provide for our families, and create comfortable living spaces. He’s allowed us to enjoy the fruits of our labor. And when we manage his things well, he often entrusts us with more. The “talents” belong to God, but we are able to enjoy them as we invest them and put them to use.
Though most of us are nervous and hesitant about asking God to bless not only his own Kingdom, but also ours, God doesn’t shy away from talking about it. We feel as if it’s a sacrilege to even consider our own kingdoms. Shouldn’t we consider only God’s Kingdom and sacrifice everything for him?
Most of us spend our lives secretly trying to manage our own kingdoms while feeling convicted that we should give them up for God. Isn’t that what “turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” is all about? But God knows we have things to manage, build, invest in, create, and lead. After all he’s the one who gave us those people, ideas, talents, and wealth to lead, manage, and develop. He’s the one who allowed us to have that small kingdom in the first place. The real question is this: How do our kingdoms advance his Kingdom?
When you read the Gospels, you see that the quality of people’s lives goes up when Jesus comes around. The blind an see, the lame can walk, and the sick are healed. God’s Kingdom is one in which people are made whole not only spiritually but also physically, emotionally, and mentally. God wants us to sow generously into the quality of people’s lives.
God doesn’t hesitate to ask us for money, because its all his in the first place. There are no self-generated assets because God has made everything that exists. To say nothing of the fact that God made you; therefore, by the builders’ rights, you and everything you own belongs to him.
God doesn’t just say, “Okay, give me back all your money because it was mine in the first place” and walk off gruffly, having muscled us into doing our religious duty. Instead, he promises his involvement in our lives. When we invest in what God is interested in, he’ll invest in what interests us.
This partnership is what Paul emphasizes in 2 Corinthians 9. Sow generously into the things that God is interested in. Invest your life, your talent, your time, and especially your treasure into the advancement of God’s Kingdom, and God will sow generously into the things you’re interested in. He will invest in your kingdom.
This is clearly not a Never Mind command. Rather, it’s an exciting opportunity to partner with God. In fact, this is one of the most obvious and beneficial When/Thens in the Bible. I have never met anyone who regretted making the decision to give to God. But I have met plenty who regretted not giving.
When we advance his Kingdom, we worry less about our own, and he gives us far more than we could ever imagine or deserve. Test him in this. He invites you.
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Rusty George is the Lead Pastor of Real Life Church in Valencia, California, which continues to be one of the fastest growing churches in America.
Rusty has led RLC through many changes, including the purchase of land, the construction of an eco-friendly building in the middle of town, and the incredible growth from meeting in a 285-seat movie theater at the mall, to a high school gym, and to a place where, now, more than 5,100 people gather over 5 services every week.
His book, When You, Then God, is available for purchase at: www.tyndale.com/p/when-you-then-god/