Take a look around your home. What do you see? Electricity, heating and air conditioning, lights, running water, flat screens, laptops, cable, and internet?
Now take a moment to visualize the very same land your home sits on a few millennia ago. No homes, no streets, no power lines, no running water or sewer. Just trees or grasslands or desert or tundra.
Picture yourself being among the first people to step foot on your land. You are faced with finding springs of water to drink from and game and plants to eat, pitching a teepee or tent, and making clothes to wear appropriate for the climate.
Imagine what a struggle it was, requiring every ounce of effort and capability and smarts.
This is not unlike our current state. We are called even now to migrate to a whole new place. And like it did with those before us, the task will require every ounce of our effort and capability.
God Calls Us Into His Kingdom
God calls us to depart from our old life and enter His Kingdom. “Seek first the kingdom of God,” Jesus says (Matt. 6:33 ESV). He also instructs us to pray, “Your [God’s] kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (v. 10).
To enter God’s Kingdom, though, we first need a passport. Where do we get it? From Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He stands ready to issue a passport to anyone who asks. We must simply confess our sins, admit we need help, ask God for forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the cross, and believe and receive this forgiveness. This is the passport. It is free to us because He paid dearly for it with His blood.
But this is just the beginning. What good will it do us if we just sit at home and never use the passport?
Where Do We Find His Kingdom?
There is no point in searching for God’s Kingdom in this world, because it is not here. It is not a physical place or a set of circumstances.
On the contrary, we enter into it, or maybe we should say it enters into us, through our inner being – our hearts and souls. It exists in the deepest part of us.
Jesus announced, “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21 KJV). God’s Kingdom brings about a totally different life in all the ways that really matter. Over time it changes how we experience life, how we perceive things, and how we think and feel.
How Do We Enter And Live In His Kingdom?
You have probably heard of the legend of the great ancient city of Atlantis and how it sank slowly into the sea. Some variations of the story describe how the people of Atlantis followed their city as it sank over many generations. By swimming and diving constantly, the people were somehow gradually endowed with the ability to live under the sea. To do so, they had to make every effort, and they had to be eager to learn.
Whatever you think of the legend, the truth is that God will likewise endow us with a supernatural ability to live and even flourish in His Kingdom. He does this by helping our efforts. He tells us that He will “equip you with everything good that you may do his will” (Heb. 13:21 ESV), and He promises “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3 ESV).
Learning How To Operate In God’s Kingdom
God is ready and waiting for us. He wants to help us. He wants to bring us into His glorious Kingdom—a Kingdom better than we can ask or imagine.
But we must do our part. Recall the story of the Exodus. God did His part to deliver the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and bring them into the Promised Land, but Moses and Aaron and all of the Israelites had to first do their part.
We have to learn and understand the process God has designed. Just as Moses did when God taught him what would happen and what he would be required to do when He spoke out of the bush that was ablaze with fire and yet not consumed (Exod. 3).
Here is what we need to know. It works like this: out with the old, in with the new. Displacement. It sounds simple, but it is where we so easily get tripped up.
Take a look at the diagram below. Picture one of your science labs from high school. At the start of class your teacher shows you a closed container, a tank. It is made of glass, so you can see inside of it. It is filled with a toxic fluid. This toxic fluid represents our “old self.” It represents us, our inner being, before we become a part of God’s Kingdom. It is us living and existing separate from God. Struggling and striving to make ourselves feel important and successful and popular and secure and satisfied. And feeling frustrated when we fail, as we inevitably do.
God instructs us, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22 ESV). He also tells us to lay aside the old self with its evil practices and put on the new self (Col. 3:9).
The goal is to drain out the old self. We want to replace it with God’s Kingdom, represented by the life-giving, beautifully pure air above the tank. In His Kingdom we connect and become united with Christ, which fills us with His perfect love, peace, joy, Spirit, goodness, hope, beauty, and so much more.
How It Doesn’t Work
Let’s get back to our science experiment.
Your teacher unscrews the tube at the top of the tank. He then attaches a pump to the tube and attempts to force air into the tank. Very little air makes it into the tank because liquids are not easily compressed. It only ends up building pressure in the tank, causing it to nearly shatter.
This illustrates what it is like when we attempt to bring God into our heart and soul while the old self is still alive and well.
We can spend time praying, reading Scripture, and worshipping, hoping that God will fill us, but as long as we remain attached to the world that feeds the old self, it will not happen. It cannot, because we are still harboring and nurturing elements of our self—things such as our craving for wealth and success, our need to be right, our demand for attention and recognition, our obsession with what others think about us, our refusal to forgive, and our impulse to manipulate circumstances to our advantage. This is true even if we change on the outside.
Your teacher reseals the tube at the top. Next, he opens the seal in the drainpipe at the bottom of the tank. You wait for the swishing sound of fluid draining out, but nothing happens. Why? Because air is not free to enter the tank from the top and displace the fluid.
This depicts when we work to remove the old self without opening ourselves to allow God to fill us in our inner being. This was the condition of the Pharisees, whom we read about in the Gospels. They changed superficially on the outside; they rid themselves of obvious and visible sin and busied themselves with good activities like praying and reading Scripture. The problem, though, was with their hearts. They were not welcoming God into the deeper part of themselves.
How It Does Work
Finally, your teacher opens up both the drainpipe at the bottom and the cap at the top at the same time. You hear the satisfying sound of the toxic fluid draining rapidly out at the very moment the class bell rings, and you rush toward the cafeteria for lunch so you can get a place near the beginning of the line.
Just as in the physical world, we must expel the old self and open ourselves to God’s Kingdom simultaneously. We do this by journeying deep into God’s Kingdom.
I hope you will join me as we explore how we can do this as we continue our series.
How do you choose your phone apps? It can be a challenge with over 2 million available.
Imagine that someone who hates you has the power to secretly install a malicious app onto your phone. All of a sudden, weird things start happening. Your friends start receiving nasty messages from you. Your phone begins ringing in the middle of the night for no reason.
The bad news is that we are all targets of a gigantic hack, an app planted in us by the enemy of our souls. It is why we feel frustrated, angry, anxious, always want more, and need to be right.
We want to close out of this app, but it keeps re-opening! Old thoughts, old feelings, old habits persist.
Why does this happen?
Whatever you think of Satan, or the devil, there is most certainly a source of evil that is out to harm us. God tells us that “he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 NIV). He is also called the thief who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 NIV).
The enemy hates God and hates us, so he created this Evil App to lie to us. His game plan is to deceive and mislead us, stealing the opportunity for us to grow spiritually and become one with Christ. He does this to destroy our souls.
His deception is like the sort of clever trick you may see on stage at a magic show. The illusionist masterfully draws our attention to one thing, while something else more important is going unnoticed by the audience.
The Evil App convinces us to pursue all sorts of things that we don’t even need. Things like wealth, power, fame, importance, success, physical beauty, or excess material things. Desire for these things exists only in our heads. They will all disappear as soon as we take our last breath, if not sooner. God’s Word tells us that “the world is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17 ESV).
To make matters worse, when we don’t succeed in getting what we want, we can become frustrated, leading to such things as complaining, anger, jealousy, greed, lust, fear, anxiety, and pride.
The Enemy App keeps our souls so busy that we barely focus on connecting with God, the source of all that is real, permanent, and good. Consciously or unconsciously, we trade God for a bunch of temporary things that in the end amount to nothing.
God wants to replace the Enemy App with His Truth App.
Thankfully there is a solution.
Jesus tells us that we may “know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 NIV). He is promising to install the Truth App in us for free if we ask for it, seek it, and will use it. It will overpower and delete the Evil App.
Let us ask Him for the truth. To know Him and to know ourselves. Once you ask, live in anticipation for it. Open yourself to it. Receive it bravely when it shatters your illusions and compels you to change. Seek it through His Word and prayer and just quietly listen. Give it time.
The truth He wants us to know is that our true deep-down desires and yearnings can only be satisfied by Him, and in Him. He wants us to leave the pursuit of the many empty things behind and pursue Him instead. Jesus tells us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV).
It helps when we remind ourselves of how desperately we need God. We can’t even take our next breath without Him, much less achieve true fulfillment, satisfaction, and peace. God’s Word asks, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NLT)
God wants to use everything for our good.
What is the purpose of all the tough circumstances in our lives, the struggles and the ups and downs? Is it all “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?” (Shakespeare, Macbeth, act 5, scene 5.)
Thankfully not. One of the wonderful things about God is that He takes what seems bad and somehow morphs it into an opportunity for good. But only if we do our part.
God’s plan is for us to turn each of our circumstances into a vehicle to be used to grow spiritually and make progress on our journey to become one with Christ. He illustrates this by telling us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness…that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4 ESV).
How do we do this? By cultivating a sense of joy. Our experience of joy, regardless of how good or bad our circumstances are, will grow with practice and discipline. Just like strength training does with muscles.
God can also help us reprogram our minds. He tells us “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 KJV).
Here is what typically happens. We face something not to our liking. The Evil App has us responding with thoughts, words, and perhaps actions that we know are not God’s best. We recognize our response is not the best, so in our minds we then defend and justify ourselves, blame circumstances or others, or feel guilty.
There is a better way.
God tells us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV). Here are steps we can take:
Start by thanking God in spite of the circumstances.
Be real and admit to Him that you don’t like it.
Decide not to battle it in your own strength.
Make a quick confession by simply admitting and acknowledge if our thoughts, words, and actions are not His best for us. Do it without beating yourself up.
Mentally drop the situation at the feet of Jesus. He is an expert at disposing of sin and everything impure.
Give Him thanks again for the situation and for your life in Him.
Move on in a cloud of worship and appreciation and positive energy.
To wrap this up, we can decide to no longer accept the lies that the enemy is feeding us. With help from God, we can see them for what they are and gain victory over them. We can be confident that the Lord is faithful and will set us free to love and connect and unite with Him.
If you could have or accomplish one thing in your life, what would it be?
We need some purpose in our lives beyond just breathing and eating and sleeping. What are your dreams and goals? Maybe it has to do with your career, or starting a business or ministry, or buying a beautiful home. Or as life moves on, perhaps working on your bucket list of things you want to do before it is too late.
Now, what if we ask the question – how does our relationship with God fit in? Is it competing with these other things?
Or should God be so much more? Something that is above all other purposes and goals and missions?
To truly connect with Christ as he intends, our connection with him must be number one: Our prime directive, our supreme mission, our ultimate purpose.
This sounds awfully demanding, doesn’t it? How do we know God asks so much from us?
The Psalmist tells us “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25 ESV). In another instance in scripture, Jesus makes it so clear in his parable of the valuable pearl. His kingdom, by which we connect with him, is “like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). Note how the merchant had to sell and lose everything else to gain the magnificent pearl.
Why does he ask for so much? Because he wants us to be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). By being conformed, we are empowered to understand him deeply, share his thoughts and feelings, and connect intimately in divine love. Though we may not be aware of it, we are designed for this purpose.
What Is The Nature Of This Divine Connection?
It is something that goes above and beyond all else:
The forgiveness for sins.
The theological beliefs.
The human capability and activities.
It is instead about transformation – deep and profound change.
These days there is a lot of talk about transformation. But the question to ask is – what is being transformed? And how?
God’s transformation plan is not primarily about the way we feel and perform and act on the outside. Or even attitudes and sentiments and possessing a positive outlook. He is more concerned about what lies even deeper inside of us. At the very center of our heart and soul and spirit.
How are we transformed? By connecting with God at a very deep level, and there, surrendering our self to him.
Where does this take us? By becoming like him even while we continuously seek and pursue him, we are united with him. In sweet intimacy. God’s Word talks about us being united with Christ (Philippians 2:1, Romans 6:5, 1 Corinthians 6:17). God’s Word similarly talks about us being in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1, Acts 17:28, John 15:5, 1 Corinthians 1:30, John 14:20).
Just to show how powerful this connection and relationship is designed to be, God’s glorious plan is that we first spiritually enter and dwell in heaven in Christ, even before our physical death! God tells us in Ephesians 2:6, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” This is what we are designed for! It brings perfect completion and satisfaction and contentment. It is beyond what we can ask for or imagine. Hearts joined in beautiful unison.
How Do We Build This Connection To Our Spiritual Journey?
God informs us that it is not by doing a bunch of good things in our own strength while we live as free and independent agents. Nor is it by passively sitting back and waiting for God to do everything while we busy ourselves with the affairs of this world.
Rather, it is an active receiving from God.
Jesus tells us of the vine and the branches in the book of John chapter 15. The job of the vine is to feed the branches, and the job of the branches is to open and receive the life-giving flow from the vine. Jesus tells us “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
It all happens through a connection and intimacy with our Lord Jesus Christ. Our souls grow as we are fed through the opening of a channel between God and our inner being.
What Is Our Part To Make This Happen?
We need to resolve in our hearts and minds to pursue our relationship with Christ, this inner connection, far above all else. And remember that he told us “apart from me you can do nothing”. We must resolve to do this whatever the cost, whatever the sacrifice, whatever it takes. It is like in the Mission Impossible movies, God is presenting a mission, should we choose to accept it. And like in the movies, the hero drops everything else in his life to pursue the mission.
We must constantly and continuously invest in connecting with God. While countless messages have been preached and books written for this very purpose, we will simply mention three things briefly.
The first is what we call connecting moments. This can happen during our normal prayer and scripture reading and worship time. But just as importantly, it can happen during moments throughout our day.
Connecting moments can take many forms. One way is like this. Stop, shut your eyes, and set aside all your normal thoughts. Breath slowly and deeply, and “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Adopt a mental and heart position of openness and receptivity. Picture yourself as dry ground receiving living rain waters; or a flower blossom opening to the sunlight. In your heart and mind, surrender all of yourself to the Lord. Offer yourself up to Him as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Wait upon Him in silence and expectation.
While connecting, speak words of love and devotion. Feel him touch you. Ask Him to come and fill you. Then gently proclaim and tell God, “I am yours and you are mine” (Song of Solomon 2:16), “I am your property and possession” (Numbers 18:20), and “You bought me for a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). All this while simply maintaining a position and condition of openness and surrender and receiving.
These practices fit perfectly with God’s Word.
He tells us that we should be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV)
“focusing on the things that are above, where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1)
“focus on Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1).
We are setting our minds on “things above, not on earthly things” as God has instructed (Colossians 3:2).
Perhaps the most perfect example of connecting was when Jesus visited his friends in Bethany. His dear friend, Mary, “sat at the Lord’s feet” as she listened with rapt attention, absorbed in Jesus (Luke 10:39). When Mary’s sister Martha complained that she wasn’t busy helping prepare the meal, Jesus said of Mary, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
As you practice these connecting moments, God’s presence may seem somewhat vague at first. But just like our physical senses become keener and sharper with use, we will perceive the Lord and his love more and more, and become ever more like Him. God tells us that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Connecting moments can happen just about anywhere and anytime. For example, when you are driving or pumping gas or riding the bus, drop your phone and look up and connect. Connecting can be done in so many moments throughout your day. Even when you are super busy you can steal moments to get away with Jesus.
We can let God know how much we want to connect and unite with him. Make it our central request to Him, far more important than asking him for help with any of our problems, or to make us successful or wealthy. Ask him this each day. Plead with him, beg him.
We can picture and envision and imagine what it would be like to be perfectly connected, perfectly intimate with Jesus. Liberated and set free from the bondage of our attachments to all the passing, silly concerns of this life. Permeated and saturated and infused fully in His love, His greatness, His glory. Purified and cleansed in Him. Knowing His thoughts, His feelings, His power, His nature. Tearing down every wall and obstruction that cuts us off from him and keeps us distant. Ask God to make this vision and picture more real each day.
View everything, absolutely everything, from the prism of how your connection with Christ will be impacted. When you read scripture, make it about how God is wanting to connect. When you think about sin, view it not so much as something to make us feel ashamed and guilty, but rather as anything that blocks and obstructs our connection with Him. Dedicate yourself to removing every obstacle.
I hope and pray that these thoughts will help you progress on your spiritual journey.
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you that you have lovingly designed such an amazing and glorious destiny for me. How incredible to think and know by faith that you desire us to be together. Connected in intimacy and love and affection. I know that in this oneness and unity with you is found perfect fulfillment, perfect completion, perfect wholeness. In you all of my brokenness and frustration and lostness and darkness is washed away. In you all things are made good and right and lovely. In you I am finally at true peace and rest. In you all my fears and dread and doubt evaporate.