Mysteries of the Kingdom


    The prosperity faith says God will bless our bank accounts. The over-achiever faith says, "I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me." The prosperity faith makes God our ticket to wealth. The over-achiever faith says I can change my neighborhood by praying hard, witnessing hard, inviting people to church hard, and giving hard so my church's staff can work hard so the gospel can be louder, prettier, and cleverer here than at anywhere else in town.
    By contrast, the New Testament records poor, uneducated people loving each other humbly and devoting themselves to prayer. We tend to prefer more auspicious methods than suffering love and hidden prayer because no one receives awards or recognition for humble love of others and prayer-closet love of God.

    A recent book on prayer is making it's way through many American churches by a mega-church pastor who has achieved great things in church programs and buildings. I am sincerely grateful for the work of God through this pastor, but I find his presentation of prayer distasteful. The 250 page book does not teach prayer as confession, repentance, humility, and tears. Instead, for 250 pages the author just prays hard. Prayer in this book becomes a great achievement that helps all other great achievements. We learn in this book that by hard praying, fund-raising, lawyer fees, and human sweat, lots of buildings can be purchased and filled with audiences. I was motivated for 250 pages to achieve big stuff and use prayer as my hard-work tool of achievement rather than for humility, confession, repentance, and intimately knowing God.
    SuperPastor dropped story after story of his dedication to work and feats of physical prowess on vacations. An early story in the book recounted how he hiked the hard way, hiked the long way, and hiked on his own two feet to a pagan temple. I understood SuperPastor to say his long, hard hike to a pagan temple illustrated proper prayer in contrast to the lazy bus-taking tourists who just rode right up to the pagan temple. Somehow physical prowess on an expensive vacation at a pagan temple was supposed to be a good lesson on humble, holy praying.

    When Steve Jobs died, several prominent Christians in my city blogged their admiration of this Buddhist who famously berated his employees, mercilessly demanded perfection, and created lots of shiny gadgets. He did not know God or walk in humility and grace, but he achieved! Achievement is great! If only he had been a Christian they reasoned, Steve Jobs would have done great things for the kingdom of God. The articles explained how we should learn from Steve Jobs because what he did in business, we can do in churches, and by his methods of greatness...

    We have perverted Ephesians 4:13 which says, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." We take it out of context, claiming God will empower us to do anything. We might say, "I can win the state championship through Him who strengthens me." "I can build a mega-church through Him who strengthens me." "I can lose twenty pounds through Him who strengthens me." Apart from context, Ephesians 4:13 makes great fodder for religious motivational speaking.
    In the two preceding verses though, Paul said he found the secret to contentment amid both wealth and poverty. He could be content when poor, content when hungry, and content when in need. In Ephesians 4:13 Paul did not say God would strengthen him to achieve his goals. He said God would give the strength to be content in poverty, hunger, and deprivation. Paul wrote to the Ephesians from the defeat of prison cell, not from a CEO office. He did not teach that they were appointed to achievement, but to glorious defeat, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake"(Eph1:29). In Ephesians 3:10 Paul said his goals were to know Christ, to know the power of His resurrection, and to know the fellowship of His suffering. If we seek to know God, He might use us for something that impresses the world. If He chooses instead to let us suffer for Jesus, we can be content because, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."


edit of photo by Riwnodennyk CC+BY+SA license
    The King taught us to advance His kingdom a different way, not by achievement, but by dying daily. In His first exposition of the new kingdom, Jesus began with the words, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." He continued in the next several verses explaining how to inherit the earth, how to be the kingdom, and how to light up the world. On the cross of Calvary, King Jesus proved the effectiveness of every kingdom method in Mathew 5:3-12. He proved in His life and death that the attitude of poverty, the deep mourning of intercessory prayer, and the life of gentleness can inherit the world. He conquered sin and conquered death not by running great programs, but by showing mercy, exhibiting peace, suffering persecution, and accepting insult.
    I admit I need to personally repent from my worldly desire to achieve great things for God. The world says I must aim high and reach as many people as possible. Jesus said I should aim to know Him, walk with His people, and love others. Those who have touched my life the deepest were never impressive people on a grand scale, but they affected me because they knew God intimately. Can there be any greater achievement than knowing God? Jeremiah 9:24 says, "but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me..."
     Please, let us reject the achievement faith that measures effectiveness through big numbers and grand scales. Let us aim instead at Acts 2:42 and devote ourselves "to the Apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Then God can do with us what He wants to do, great or small, visible or hidden, serving in the spotlight or suffering in the shadow for His glory and no one else's. John the Baptist might have said it best, "He must increase, but I must decrease"(Jn3:30).

    "And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?"
(Micah 6:8)

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"Over-Achiever Faith" by Matthew Bryan was first published at February 16th, 2013. All rights are reserved. Scripture quotations are from NASB unless otherwise noted. NASB quotes permitted by the Lockman Foundation at