Photo: Gary Sutherland

Are We Nearly There Yet?

As we are getting closer to the school holidays, with many a long journey involved, that phrase will be heard up and down the country from the back seat of countless cars.

But let’s look at the journey that is our Christian faith and life. Are we sometimes tempted to think we have “arrived”? Perhaps if we have been a Christian for a good many years, perhaps for as long as we can remember, there can be a feeling that we’ve seen it all, learnt as much as we’re ever likely to, and accept that we’ve reached our goal as a Christian this side of heaven. We should probably ask ourselves, “are we nearly there yet?”

The Kingdom of God

We are living in the Kingdom of God, which is currently a kingdom that is “already and not yet”. In the beginning of Mark’s gospel, we read that Jesus said “the kingdom of God is at hand”, and in Luke’s gospel Jesus says “the kingdom of God has come near”. But Jesus also often spoke about the kingdom of God in the future tense. For example, in Luke 22, Jesus said “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes”.

The theological concept of “already but not yet” means that we are already living in the kingdom because God has authority in it – the presence of miracles, for example, shows that. Our Christian hope is not wishful thinking. We’ve already been raised up to where Christ is, we’ve already received the fullness of his blessings. Christ is already supreme over all things. Our hope is a present reality. In Colossians 1:6 Paul wrote “you’ve truly comprehended the grace of God”.

But God’s kingdom hasn’t arrived in all its fullness. Paul went on in Colossians 1 to say, “you will grow in the knowledge of God” (v10).
The writer to the Hebrews wrote,

Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2:8-9, NIV

We are not there yet in many ways. We can see this in our own lives: my sister-in-law who died of cancer at the age of 39, a loved one killed in a car accident, and further afield, natural disasters and acts of terrorism around the world. We know that the world is not yet perfect, and Christ has not yet returned, so we’re not there yet.

So what should we be doing in the meantime? Should we simply be waiting for Jesus to return? No. It’s not like we are waiting for an anointing of the Holy Spirit, as the disciples did in Jerusalem – we have already been anointed by the Holy Spirit, when we became Christians. Instead, Jesus has commissioned us to go out, and he has equipped us for the journey ahead.

Good News!

Jesus said,

Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.

Mark 4:21-23, NIV

However dark it may seem at the moment, the light of Christ and his Kingdom are coming. Whatever our newspapers or television say, there is Good News. We do have something to shine about. When Jesus does come there will no longer be any tears or sorrows (Revelation 21:4). The final instalment of the Kingdom may not have arrived yet, but Christ is already here with us by his Spirit. We have a responsibility to share what we have been given. The kingdom of God is not meant to be a secret! Who is going to shine their lights for others to see? We all should!

In Luke 10 Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Be prepared to be the answers to your own prayers! What are you going to do with what you’ve been given?

Where are we going and how do we get there?

Paul wrote about running a race. In his letter to the Galatians (chapter 2) he explained how he had checked with the Church in Jerusalem what he had been preaching so that he would not be running his race in vain. In his first letter to the Corinthians he encouraged his readers to run the race in such a way that they would win the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24). The Church, as a whole, knows where the race ends, and what the prize is – an eternity with Jesus Christ in heaven, a “crown that will last for ever” as Paul puts it. But do we as individuals live as though we know our destination? If we don’t know how can we tell when we get there, or if we’ve got there?

In John 14 we read how Thomas asked Jesus where the disciples were supposed to be going:

1 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.’

5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?

6 Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’

John 14:1-6, NIV

So let’s assume that we know our proper destination. Should we set ourselves targets, to help us reach it? My wife and I are just beginning to get to grips with what it means to be the Romsey Methodist’s “Vision Champions”. I think that one aspect of that role is to encourage us all to make plans that align with God’s plans for us. We need to seek his vision for us, and then we need to commit to that vision. That might mean giving up some things and starting new things – possibly things that we don’t feel like doing, or things that we may feel we are not sufficiently good at doing. Then again, God may anoint us in a way which means that we can undertake his vision with ease. Proverbs 16:4 says “The Lord works out everything to its proper end”. Whichever way it goes, and I expect there will be a mixture of both, we need to commit ourselves to God and what he has in mind for us.

We might not always create the right plans – plans that fit in with God’s own plans – but the Bible doesn’t say that we shouldn’t plan for our futures. Someone once said that it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark! Proverbs 16 also says “To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue… Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (vv1, 3). The important thing here is that we should involve God in our plan-making. Our plans should integrate with God’s plans, as far as we are able to tell. When we make plans we should bring them to God, and then, if they are in line with God’s plan, they will succeed.

Making plans that align with God’s plans

How can we do that? One way is to help each other. Paul and Timothy were great friends, and Paul took the role of Timothy’s mentor, Timothy being a much younger man. Paul considered Timothy like a son. He wrote to the Philippians, “But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel” (Philippians 2:22). So ask each other for help in determining what your plans should involve, but bear in mind that God’s plans will always align with his written Word, the Bible. If your plans seem to disagree with the Bible then they are very likely the wrong plans. When thinking about our plans, it would be worth remembering Micah 6:8:

And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8, NIV

But don’t forget to ask God to show you his plans for you too!

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