Thinking again about the Kingdom of God brings to another priority shift. I think that 21st Century American Christians have two obstacles in front of them in truly living out the Kingdom of God. They are the American mindset and the Christian work ethic.
Americans have a value of "pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps." We value independence and we value being able to accomplish the impossible through our efforts. Christians have also been taught and modeled to work hard, to give our full effort, so that we can see God's results take place.
But, lately as I've been studying the Kingdom of God and looking at Matthew 13 and Mark 4 and thinking through how the Kingdom is presented, what I am seeing is totally counter to the American mindset and the Christian work ethic. The parable of the growing seed is like this: "The Kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed on the ground. As he sleeps, the seeds sprouts and grows, though he doesn't really know how that happens. All by itself the soil produces grain, first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."
The way I see it, the man had to get the soil ready. He then planted the seeds. But, after that he just stood by and watched the seeds do their work, until it was time to harvest.
As I've been thinking about this, I think I understand that the soil is the environment, which can include the culture, the atmosphere and people's lives. Our job as Christ followers is to cultivate the soil so that when the seeds are thrown down, they don't hit the ground, the rocks or the thorns, but they go deep into the earth where they then die (John 12) before beginning the growth process.
Our next role is to plant the seeds.
But after that, it's God's turn. His role is to grow the plants from seeds to a plant full of fruit ready for harvest. This may be quick, like a marigold or slow like an oak tree, but eventually a healthy plant will bring forth fruit.
I don't know about you, but this concept makes me feel rested.
Instead of the frantic pace of life that we try to keep, we can be present through prayer to help the soil become ready. We then know, like the farmer, when the time is right to plant the seed. So, we go and do it, joyfully, because it isn't burdensome. It is full of anticipation as we await the seedling popping through the ground. Waiting doesn't mean being a slackard, but it also doesn't mean living in a place of frenetic activity.
We can hang out, enjoying life and each other.
This is part of the paradigm shift that we need to make; living out being the church isn't about stress or schedules or to do lists. It's about relationships, with the earth, with God and with each other. It's about living out of our true selves, not pretending or striving but being ourselves and being accepted in it. It's about being available when we see the plant ready for harvest. It about showing up and having the great privilege to see the Kingdom of God expanded, as yet another person decides to turn their back on the way of the world and to turn toward Jesus and his restful way of living.
How does that sound to you? It makes me smile and take a nice deep breath.