The 5 Practices: Seeking the Kingdom

My wife, Susan, comes from a fairly large family. Susan is one of five children born to Art and Jane Oswald. Last week my wife’s extended family gathered to celebrate Art and Jane’s 65th wedding anniversary. 65 years! Wow!

One of Susan’s parents’ favorite places to spend a few days is Door County, Wisconsin. So off we went! All 29 of us!

Door County is a beautiful place. It is the thin peninsula off Wisconsin’s east shoreline that juts out into Lake Michigan. There are a series of small picturesque villages winding their way north through the peninsula with names like Fish Creek, Ephraim, and, where we were staying, Sister Bay.

So here is the question. How do you join Jesus on His mission in Sister Bay when you are only there three days and don’t know anyone who lives there?

My initial answer was, “You don’t.” Or at least, “I won’t bother… since I am on vacation and I don’t know anyone anyway.”

Which brings us to this important point: the only way anyone can join Jesus’ mission in Sister Bay (or anywhere else) is if we first begin seeking His Kingdom in Sister Bay.

Seeking the Kingdom of God is the first practice we advocate in Dwelling 1:14 for anyone who wants to join Jesus on His mission in a community. When Jesus talks about the “Kingdom of God” in the Gospels, He means the redemptive presence and activity of God in the realm of human beings. “Seeking” the Kingdom of God means looking for what God may already be doing in any given location. This means that wherever we go, we can begin watching and asking ourselves, “What is God up to around here?”

In Sister Bay I was trying to avoid that. In fact, I was doing a pretty good job of it. But my wife wasn’t.

She noticed that throughout the small community of Sister Bay people had put yard signs out with this simple message, “Go Bo!” I never even saw them. Susan saw them all over. (Was this the Kingdom in play?)

In one of the little shops along the main street, Susan then caught sight of a little bowl of bracelets on the checkout counter with the same message, “Go Bo!” (I had seen neither the yard signs nor the little bowl of bracelets.) Susan asked the lady at the counter what this was about.

She proceeded to tell us about a 13 year old boy who had recently contracted two different types of cancer. His life was in serious danger. His name was Bo. And the community was trying to show its love and support to this young boy and his family. The signs and the bracelets were reminders for everyone to pray and the money from selling the bracelets was going toward the extra expenses the family was facing.

So… where was God already working in Sister Bay? As it turns out, all we had to do was what Jesus told us to do. “Open your eyes and look.” As Susan looked, she saw. And as she talked to people along the way, they willingly told her. No one actually said, “Here is where God is working in this community.” But it was clear, nevertheless. If you want to join God where He is already working in Sister Bay, start praying for Bo.

In this case, I wasn’t seeking to join Jesus’ mission in Sister Bay. So He by-passed me and got my wife’s attention instead. And for several days now we have joined Jesus’ mission in Sister Bay by praying for a 13 year old boy we have never met named Bo.

This isn’t the only thing Jesus was doing in Sister Bay, but it was what He showed us and gave us opportunity to join.

Are you heading out for a July 4 vacation? Wherever you go, like me, you could ignore what Jesus is already doing in that place. Or you could watch for what He may be ready to show you.

“Open your eyes and look.” (Or at least listen to your wife.)

Extra Insight: When we are seeking the Kingdom what are we looking for?

God “shows” us His Kingdom – the places of His redemptive presence and activity – in various ways. And sometimes what seems clear to us might be completely missed by others. However, when we are “seeking the Kingdom of God” what might that look like?

As we illustrated in today’s blog, it usually looks like a human need. As we look around a community or interact with individual people, eventually they will show us where God is working and inviting us (as His followers) to step in and join Him. People may not have the slightest clue that they are showing us that. However, because we know the heart of the Father is to meet the struggle of people redemptively, when people show us they somehow need redemption they are showing us where God is already at work in their lives.Without saying it, they are saying, “Here is where I need you to join God at work in my life.”

Think about what Jesus showed us in the Gospels as He manifested the presence and activity of the Kingdom of His Father. Wherever redemption was needed (hope, help, grace or truth) Jesus joined the Kingdom already coming, making invisible provision visible, making intangible grace tangible, making things promised for someday present today.

Jesus did this in a dizzying number of ways, in as many ways as people were struggling or in need. Wherever He went, the Kingdom was already coming; grace was already needed, the question was simply, “Who was ready and who would receive it?” A bite of food for the hungry. A bit of time for the outcast. A moment of fun for a child. A word of grace for the sinner. An intervention on behalf of the fallen.A word of truth for the self-sufficient. An announcement of healing for the sick. And good news for anyone who would turn and receive it.

I will leave you with Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. It is an over-the-top, obvious example of what we are talking about. A man is robbed, beaten and left for dead on the road to Jericho. Two religious men hurry by, making excuses why they needed to get on with their journey. Only the outcast Samaritan saw that the Kingdom of God had come right across his path. There was a man in need right in front of him. The Kingdom was inviting him to step-in not step-around. So he did.

At the end of that day, had someone asked those three men how they had “seen” the Kingdom of God, only the Samaritan would have had a story to tell. They all saw the man lying in the road. But only the Samaritan “saw” the Kingdom.

That is what the Kingdom looks like when we begin to open our eyes and look. It’s a person showing us his need. It’s right there inviting us to notice and step-in.