The quest for what kingdom?
"Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven."
The premise for all our praying is God's name, God's kingdom, God's will. We bring all our needs and ask Him for daily bread, forgiveness, guidance, and deliverance—but all within this prescribed framework. Apart from first centering on God, our praying is sure to run amok—we'll naturally pray for all the things that will build our reputation, that will establish us as potentates of our our own little kingdoms, that will ensure that we get whatever we want.
Our center of gravity is always self—unless we deliberately subject our selves to God. We wonder why we don't get what we ask... James answers the question with brutal clarity: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." James goes on to call people who act and pray selfishly "adulterous people." To say it another way, when we center on ourselves—when we pray to advance our own kingdom—we are having an affair with the world.
God isn't waiting for us to like ourselves or despise ourselves. He doesn't plead for us to help ourselves or to forgive ourselves.
What He wants is for us to forget ourselves. It's not that we stop being who we are. It's not that we have some out-of-the-body experience in which we transcend mortality. We still see through our own eyes; its just that we're not the center of our attention anymore. We still have needs; it's just that our needs are now a part of the great kingdom work that God is doing. We're involved, but we're not the center. We're used, but our lives are not the measure of success. We're lost in the greatness of the God who is better.
Self-centeredness is one of the greatest hindrances to actually seeing God.
James' analysis cuts deeply: "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?" To say it another way, the war in our hearts finds its way into every relationship we have.
The thing that most consistently stands between us and God is not the Devil. The thing that most regularly separates us from those we love is not distance. It's ourselves. We are in many ways, our own worst enemies. In standing up for ourselves, in protecting our interests, we alienate ourselves from our greatest good.
When I was a boy, my best friend and I got into a heated argument about something I've long since forgotten. I was mad and felt that he was just looking out for himself. I backed him up against a huge oak tree in front of our garage and spat out James' words that I had committed to memory: "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts ... is it not your lust!!!" And those very words, intended for him, illuminated the darkness of my own selfishness.
I haven't had a verbal fight quite like that recently—but I find that I'm still wrestling with the same monster of self-centeredness—often in "sophisticated" ways.
Our troubles generally boil down to being concerned about our reputations, our kingdoms, what we want. In that world-view, of course we have to scrabble for our daily bread, and forgive ourselves, and deliver ourselves from evil.
But the kingdom and the power and the glory all belong to God. That's liberation—freedom from the long shadow of our own failed attempts at sovereignty—freedom to seek a better kingdom under a better King—freedom to enjoy the beneficent reign of God's grace.
Postscript: The ramshackle skeleton of a house just down the road from our place reminds me of the nature of seeking my kingdom. Laboring and worrying about building and protecting my kingdom really is no better than standing guard over a decaying ruin—when I'm offered a chance to work together with the King in a kingdom of glory that will last forever. Too often I see too much of my own shadow and too little of the transforming light of the Invisible God.
© Copyright April 2017 by Robert G. Robbins
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