Excerpt from Chapter 10 of Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Edward T. Welch
The Message of the Kingdom
THE PLAN IS simple: Don’t worry, seek the kingdom. But what exactly is this kingdom and his righteousness? If the kingdom is our alternative to worry, we should learn more about it. And since the emerging data indicates that God communicates clearly and richly to us, we should expect to be able to understand the kingdom.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom is at the center. For example, with regard to money, he begins and ends by talking about the kingdom.
In which kingdom do you invest? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matt. 6:19). If you do, these treasures will not last and you will have no choice but to worry because your treasures are always at risk. But if we store up treasures in the kingdom of heaven, they are absolutely secure and there will be no reason to fret.
Which king do you serve? “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve both God [the King] and Money [the usurper king]” (Matt. 6:24). You cannot have simultaneous allegiances to two kingdoms. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry [about money]” (Matt. 6:25). “Seek first his [my Father’s] kingdom” (Matt. 6:33).
In other words, worry is usually about seeking something other than God’s kingdom. Worry is a sign that we are trying to have it both ways, with one foot in the kingdom of the world and the other in the kingdom of heaven.
What is the way out of worry? We must become students of the King and his true kingdom so that we see its beauty and glory and become enthralled by it. It is hard to worry about money when you know about the riches within the kingdom of heaven.
What Is the Kingdom?
When we think about the kingdom of heaven, everything gets a little fuzzy. We imagine clouds with enough density to hold disembodied spirits, though we suspect that spirits are very light and the clouds we see from airplane windows will be enough. We also envision this kingdom as very far away in time and space. Between now and then there are all kinds of bad things that can happen.
Fear and worry are not eager to wait for this kingdom. You are vulnerable right now; an intangible future hope isn’t comforting. A future inheritance in a spiritual kingdom doesn’t pay the rent today.
But the kingdom is more real than our day-to-day world, not less. Jesus announced that it was near (Matt. 3:2). He said that many of those listening to him would witness the kingdom in its glory.
Do you remember the children’s game “hot-and-cold,” where you try to find a hidden object? When you get closer, the leader says, “Warmer.” When you move further away, the leader says, “Cooler.” If you could have asked Jesus “Where is the kingdom?” he would have said, “You’re getting warmer” every time you took a step toward him. If you touched him he would say, “You’re burning up!” Jesus was and is the embodiment of the kingdom because he is the King. How much more real could the kingdom be?
He [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” —Luke 4 : 16–21
Jesus is saying, “The kingdom has come.” “Do you want evidence?” he asks. Watch and see if the poor are cared for, the blind receive sight, and the oppressed are liberated. His kingdom is the kingdom of heaven, not because it is far away and ethereal. Instead, it is where the King dwells, and the King now dwells on earth in a new way. He is firmly establishing his reign where his will is done.
The kingdom is the place where the King has all authority and power and, with the advent of Jesus’ public ministry, he is proclaiming his kingdom authority against a usurper and a false kingdom. The world is no longer under enemy control.
Don’t lose the connection to worry and money. Worry and fear say that the world is threatening and you are alone. But when the kingdom of heaven pierces the earth, God is establishing his control in a new way. Now that the King has come, you will never be alone.
The Story Behind the Kingdom
There is a history to the kingdom that you should understand. It begins with God creating all things. By definition, therefore, all things are his. He is the King; we are his subjects and owe him our allegiance. But there was insurrection in the kingdom as Satan—a creature—wanted a kingdom for himself. By successfully tempting Adam and Eve, Satan secured a following and laid claim to the earth. Once he had followers, he was the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph. 2:2), and fear became the norm for human experience.
The kingdom of God, however, was neither defeated nor dormant. Immediately after humanity’s insurrection, God set about to restore his kingdom with an even greater grandeur. God determined to work through an insignificant group of people to usher in the eternal reign of his Son, the Messiah.
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” —Ex. 19:3–6
All he asked was that this chosen people act as if they were his subjects, which they did not. Instead, they imitated the kingdoms around them by following their gods, pursued an earthly king (1 Sam. 8:7), and basically did everything possible to trash their status as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation belonging to God.
But while the Hebrew kingdom was shrinking with the compounded evil of Israel’s kings, the real kingdom, with all its splendor, was going to come no matter what. Sin, the evidence of Satan’s kingdom, was not powerful enough to hold back the work of God. God would establish his kingdom, and the fact that he would do it in the face of betrayal would make the kingdom that much more magnificent. It would clearly be God’s work, without human strength or ingenuity.
God would do what he had promised.
[To David] “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” —2 Sam. 7:16
Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. —Ps. 45:6
In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. —Dan. 2:44
All this points to Jesus, the cross, his resurrection, and his present reign.
The Kingdom Has Enemies
Make no mistake, the two kingdoms are spiritual. But that doesn’t mean they are ethereal and unearthly. Spiritual means more real. “Spiritual” gets stuck with the same connotations we attach to heaven: It’s ghostly, otherworldly, and boring. The reality is that “spiritual” is more like when someone lifts the fiberglass shell off a NASCAR contender. The fiberglass shell helps with aerodynamics, and it’s the part of the car we see, but the real action is just below the shell. That’s where you see the huge engine, the reinforced side panels and roll bar, and a cockpit designed for pure speed. Underneath the fragile shell is the real world of NASCAR.117 118
The spiritual world is our world—under the hood. You might not actually see it, but every single movement in life is inspired by it. We are human beings—spiritual/physical beings—who are all connected in some way to the true God, who is the Spirit. In everything we do, we make spiritual decisions: we live in dependence on the Spirit and imitate our God, or we set off against the Spirit, in which case we are separating ourselves from the Life-giver to go on end-stage life support. When we live apart from the Spirit, we are still connected to a spiritual being, but the spiritual being is Satan, the Evil One. One kingdom is ruled by fear, the other by mercy and grace.
If we have any doubts about how the world is organized into kingdoms and how these kingdoms are ruled by spiritual heads, take a look at what happens immediately after Jesus is proclaimed as the rightful heir to the true throne: spiritual battle breaks out (Matt. 3:16). Satan tempts Jesus with promises of food, authority, and power, but Jesus defeats him by spiritual means. That is, he trusts his Father and obeys him. When Jesus casts demons out of man, he is announcing that “the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:22–28). And notice what happens even today whenever the reality of the kingdom of Christ is proclaimed: The Evil One quickly tries to snatch away what was sown in the heart (Matt. 13:19).
All we can see with the naked eye is our own particular frets and fears, but there is something much bigger taking place. Worries are a way that we doubt the King’s presence and power. Our doubts could come from our own stubborn commitment to the myth of personal autonomy, or they may come from satanic accusations that question God’s generosity and our unworthiness. Either way, anxiety and worry are spiritual wake-up calls that must be handled by spiritual means.
When you wake up to kingdom realities, you find that you are tracing the steps of both the Israelites and Jesus himself into the wilderness. Can you sense it? Wild animals, robbers, unreliable food supplies. But there is more. The wilderness is the place where God meets his people, Satan attacks, and kingdom allegiances are revealed. If the only footprints in the desert were those of the ancient Hebrews, we would have no choice but to imitate their worry. All good intentions to trust wholeheartedly would disappear at the first sign of hardship. But the King has gone where others failed, and he shows us another way. He has even given us the Spirit to give us the power to be Jesus’ followers.
This explains one of the paradoxes of all kingdom life. On one hand, there is rest and peace: The King has come, and we enjoy the benefits of the kingdom. But at the same time, we live knowing that we are in the enemy’s crosshairs. Satan is ready to engage us in battle. The two kingdoms are in conflict. With all this going on behind the scenes, don’t think you can simply say no to fear and worry, and that will be the end of them.
Order your copy of Edward T. Welch’s book, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, today.
Edward T. Welch, MDiv, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). He earned a PhD in counseling (neuropsychology) from the University of Utah and has a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. Ed has been counseling for over thirty years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear, and addictions. His biblical counseling books include Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest and A Small Book for the Anxious Heart. Learn more at CCEF.org
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