Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples. Isaiah 56:7
Well. Another kingdom I built is crumbling. Thank God.
I confessed to two of my friends tonight that I thought I had no real estate in this “thing,” but it’s really insidious…where the kingdoms hide. I didn’t even realized I was that attached to it, until I started crying over losing control over it–this thing I had built “for” God.
I never want to build anything “for” God again except His kingdom. What I mean is, I’m done trying to see how my gifts and training and skill-set can be manipulated into some kind of usefulness, when He just needs someone available. I hope I’m done with that. God, please kill that tendency in me to build you temples of cedar, when you love to pitch your tent with us, Immanuel, and accomplish your own legacy by building a house for US! (referring to Davids desire to build God a house…more on this later)
Anyways, last summer, I had the opportunity to go with some of my friends/co-worship leaders/ministry partners/students to Athens, Greece. It was something that was said at an Intercultural Church Planting conference. The speaker asked “Why is it so hard to worship with different ethnic groups?”
‘It’s not hard for us. It’s the most natural thing in the world!‘ my heart responded and I jolted awake (it was a great conference, but a long day).
In that moment, while they were talking about something else, God started downloading plans into my heart for a new model of the church. I’m going to try to convey this in a way that makes sense. So, it was a picture of the acropolis. Here’s what I heard one day on that trip while looking basically at this view in real life (pictured here):
On this rock I will build my church. All there is here is a temple in ruins. It will be rebuilt into a house of worship and a house of prayer for all nations. A city on a hill that won’t be hidden. Wake the bride! Make way for the Day of the Lord.
I saw on that huge rock, over the ruins, a beautiful simple, round structure being built in the Spirit, stone upon stone. The stones were transparent like pure blue crystal or glass. When I asked Him what I was seeing He said, “this is my bride–my kingdom built of living stones.” I was shouting “Make way for the day of the Lord.” And I could hear worship from every nation but there were no people INSIDE the building–the worship was coming from the walls! It was a living structure made of living stones. I saw two of my friends pulling and fixing the stones into place. There was so much joy! There was purity. There was so much beauty. And there were people driving around this thing coming to see it. As if it was an attraction or tourist destination.
(And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 1 Peter 2:4-8)
And that’s when, after about an intensifying three-year journey of trust, I have finally decided I am done building for programs and for ministries and kingdoms “for” God.
I want to just build the actual Kingdom OF God. That’s it. There’s a difference. God was not interested in my sacrifice, my excellence, or even my intense effort. He was interested in my heart. And the heart can only serve one master. God.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
Not only did I now have orders to rebuild the church and multiply this model alongside a local community of global worshipers, but the Lord told me not to do any research on how to do this (you’re KILLING me, Jesus). He said He wanted to give it to me from scripture and the Spirit.
I was terrified (and so wildly excited)–simultaneously scared and amazed He chose us. And confused (because who knows how to wait on Him anymore?) And alternately struggling with pride and insecurity yet unshakable in knowing what He said and that HE HAD SAID IT. And unable to say no to Him, because I finally perceived the truth.
The treasure of the Kingdom of God is His presence!
The beauty of this Kingdom coming is the death of my self (with my dreams, desire, ambitions-even the good ones), and just Christ coming alive in me and His people together in corporate communion with Him in worship!
Then He started to draw my attention to the way we build in “the church.”
Most Christian ministries are built “for” God, not “by” God, and that is exactly why most people in them are too distracted to be even a little effective in the realm of the Spirit. We are so overscheduled, overworked, and overproduced, that we wouldn’t know God’s agenda if he walked up and handed it to us (this is why the religious teachers missed Jesus when He actually did that!)
Every time I look at someone trying to build something “for” God, their ability to multiply quickly and powerfully gets held up because their ego (either personally, or corporation-wise) gets entangled in the thing their building. Church planting and ministry growth is like business franchising these days! It’s so complicated. We tell ourselves it is all “for God” but in reality if God showed us the depth of our hearts, it is our kingdom and everyone must know that we are the ones who have built it. What if we could let go of our own desire for legacy and just go scatter the seed of the message of the kingdom, building people into the global church one heart at a time, one tiny seed at a time! Letting go of all our plans not made in the Spirit. Listening to God tell us His agenda as we move in real time. Send out ones we are discipling while you are still discipling them! That’s what Jesus did. He modeled it.
The Kingdom is built best by those whose encounter with Him is fresh. We don’t have to make people presentable before they are ready to teach! Teach them how to make disciples now, not with strategies of evangelism, but the ONE necessary skill of sitting with Jesus (Luke 10:38ff) and listening to what He has to say–all. day. long. Then it’s just a matter of constant, immediate, love-driven obedience and staying in His agenda, walking in step with the Spirit.
He wants to build US into something. Not the other way around! You know what it is? It is an underground kingdom of wonder and worship. It is moving. It is dancing. It is quiet. It is intimate. It is passionate. It is explosive. It is growing. It is being built by His Spirit. The ones building are almost untraceable because this model is incompatible with the business model of marketing and self-promotion. Human ambition says go bigger. This model says go lower, all the way to the ground. And yet, it grows. Our programs and projects die. Our Kingdoms fade by both the wrath and mercy of God (because He wants our hearts). But His Kingdom has NO END.
This model is like a mustard seed (will you look at that, lol…Jesus was right!). Did you know that mustard plants are notoriously invasive, spreading in the root system–popping up all over the place? The kingdom is this unseen thing, spreading sometimes invisibly underground. Within the soil. It is a kingdom of hearts who have given all their allegiance, even their very lives, to the King of Heaven. Not asking what they will gain. Not asking how they will live, or eat, or clothe themselves. Just going out. Just trusting the Father and announcing that the King is coming. The Kingdom of God is within you.
20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you . Luke 17:20-21
Some people think this is Jesus referring to Himself being among them, but the “you” here is singular in Greek, implying that Jesus is talking about something that happens inside you on a personal level. The building blocks of the kingdom are HEARTS my friend. Christ in you is the kingdom coming. What does that mean? Well, this message of Christ is planted in you like a seed (Mark 4). When you receive the truth of it, Christ takes root in you. You carry the seed of His Word (Message/Logos/Christ) in the soil of your heart. He grows unimpeded in and you yield His seed multiplied which falls onto other heart soil whenever you yield the fruit of His Spirit in you—your testimony, love, compassion, humility, peace, joy, and goodness and righteousness. This is God’s means of multiplication and kingdom expansion. Oh God, open our ears to actually understand!
The kingdom of heaven is taking root in and growing out of our hearts and in the hearts of millions in the field of the world. The kingdom is ripe with justice and righteousness and steadfast love and faithfulness, and it spreads through our hearts, connecting us. The King is returning. And the harvest is coming.
Here is the gospel! The King is coming! The Kingdom of God is within you, grows out of you, and it’s growing fast!
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” 33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:31-33
You know what mustard and yeast have in common?
They both multiply very quickly. Yeast multiplies by budding. The bud multiplies through cellular growth where the nucleus splits itself and becomes the center of a new a daughter cell, which may separate or stay in a chain formation connected to the mother cell. The kingdom grows like that! Mustard seed, on the other hand, grows by germinating almost immediately. Germination is the process of growing from a seed to a seedling. It requires a warm and soft environment (receptive heart), water to reconstitute the seed (the Holy Spirit John 7:38-39).
Pliny, the elder, in 78 AD writes about mustard, “It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.” In fact, there were laws against planting mustard in Jewish gardens. It would cross over fences and walls. It was out of control.
I love thinking about the kingdom of God this way.
That is how the kingdom grows. It spreads quickly underground and pops up in unexpected places and it is impossible to get the place free of it once it has taken root. We are talking about growth that is often unplanned, wild, and “happily disorganized” to borrow a term from Mother Theresa. I think we are about to see an expansion of the gospel that is out of control because we are going to realize our role in it.
Build the kingdom. Build! Build with living stones.
Now that we are in His agenda, not ours, we can actually be about His glory not ours, and actually be effective for the kingdom—on the front lines! Healing hearts. Setting captives free. Leading out the blind from darkness.
Could it be that we have been spending so much time on a business model for church/ministry/institutional growth that we have mistaken programming, bigger/more buildings, and our own names for His kingdom? Here’s the hard truth. Our “success” in ministry (in terms of numbers, sphere of influence, excellence, production, position, visibility, relevance, etc.) does not necessarily equal kingdom growth.
Get on the front lines. Are you ready to step into this? His blessing is the only one you need.
Stop building kingdoms “for” God. Just build His Kingdom.