Whose kingdom are you building? It may sound like a strange question, but the answer is incredibly important.
We spend our lives building up our own kingdoms. We work to earn a living, but we also work to gain respect, to move up the social and material ladder, to gain influence over the people around us. Our love for our friends and family may be genuine, but there is a part of us that wants to be surrounded by people who like us and will help us get where we want to be.
Our kingdom is basically our “reign”—that part of the world over which we have some measure of control. If life isn’t the way we want it to be, the solution is to spread our kingdoms ever more broadly until we control those aspects of reality that hurt us. When life is good, it’s because my kingdom is functioning as I think it should.
But God has a kingdom as well. God’s right to reign over this earth was established the moment he called it into being simply by speaking. Though his vice-regents (mankind) rebelled against him, God has still maintained his sovereign rule over this earth. It’s true that the world has held onto its near-constant rebellion, but God’s will is still done at key times and in important ways throughout the earth. God’s kingdom was seen with varying degrees of clarity under the rule of Israel’s kings, but it came most clearly through the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ ministry was so clearly tied to the reign of God that Jesus was able to summarize his message as “the gospel of the kingdom” (see Matt. 4:23, 9:35, 24:14). When he brought peace to earth, cured sickness, and even reversed the power of death, Jesus brought God’s reign to areas of the earth that had previously been dominated by sin. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, this concern to spread God’s reign was central:
“Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9-10)
In the end, this prayer will be answered and God’s kingdom will be fully established on this earth.
So if God is about establishing his kingdom, if Jesus devoted his life to proclaiming and establishing God’s kingdom, and if in the end God’s kingdom will be fully realized, then what are we doing with our kingdoms?
If my kingdom is in opposition to God’s, then my life is working in the wrong direction. If every desire of my heart and every work of my hands is not devoted to seeing God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, then I am fighting against God.
The scary thing is that it is actually possible for us to do everything Jesus calls us to do, yet do it in a way that builds our kingdom, rather than God’s. We can give to the poor, feed the hungry, preach powerful sermons, and even spread the gospel in such a way that we are being glorified and our power and influence put on display, rather than God’s. This is the terrifying truth in Jesus’ statements in Matthew 7:
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22-23)
Our calling is to use everything that God has given us—every talent, every dime, every shred of influence—for the furthering of his kingdom. Our driving motivation should be to lay our kingdoms at the service of God’s. Anytime we feel ourselves striving for control, influence, power, or respect, it is time to stop building our own kingdom and start building God’s. Every breath should be undergirded with the prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”