I meet and pray at our church with three guys on Saturday mornings. Officially we meet from 8 to 9 a.m. but our time together often meanders for an additional 10 or 20 minutes.
We discuss, confess and pray with each other about our lives and faith and the life and ministry of our church. To meet there where we as church convene to worship, do life together, plan and serve is important in a manner similar to how God himself confers sanctity to certain places in his grand story as cast in the Bible.
On any given week, one or more of us brings something from our personal life and faith to weigh into together. I especially appreciate their insights and prayers when I am wrestling with something personal or regarding my relationship with the Lord..
The particular matters are less important than the sense of tough love and wisdom the guys extended even if difficult for me to initially receive well. Their emphatic guidance that I turn away from myself and dial instead into the Lord is how iron sharpening iron works. (See Proverbs 27:17)
Sometimes I am frustrated with striving as much as I do. Why am I so often anxious, so distracted, so often seeking comfort or joy where it cannot be found? Why would I ever want to engage in escapism from life that is so vibrantly radiant with God’s very essence? Why indeed?
Perhaps because I don't truly grasp that Jesus’ straightforward claims and teachings about the “at-handness" of the "kingdom of God” is as accessible and near as he so emphatically asserts? The present reality of life on earth vehemently refutes all such claims.
I'm reading for the third time a book that really spoke to that idea of God's nearness on a day-to-day basis better than anything I ever read before or since - “The Divine Conspiracy - discovering our hidden life in God” by Dallas Willard. Published in 1998, I first read it in 2003 then again in 2013, and now I am listening to an audio version.
Bringing the kingdom or realm of God near was in Jesus’ teachings and mission and not because this was something new. Rather, Jesus ministry demonstrated and his message conveyed that the kingdom of God or the heavens was nearer due to him.
A concern of Willard's was that translators of Jesus’ messages sometimes chose words that convey the kingdom as not so near. For example, phrasing that Jesus used to express the idea of the “kingdom of heaven” (Greek, tou ouranous) could have been literally translated as “air” or “surrounding atmosphere,” instead of the words that were used, like “sky” or “heaven.”
“Now our English sky means something quite different from air, and heaven means something quite different from either,” Willard explained. “The translation becomes entangled in these meanings. The sky is more a limit than a space, and as a place it is farther away than the air. Hence, we say, 'The sky’s the limit,' not 'The air’s the limit.' Heaven, of course, is strictly out of sight for us, beyond the moon for sure and quite likely “beyond” the physical cosmos.” (The Divine Conspiracy, page 71)
I don’t know about you but the thought of heaven as near as the surrounding air or atmosphere feels a lot nearer than it residing in the distant sky or unreachable cosmos.
I bring this up not because its essential to know, only because it shows yet another way how much we regular people living out our mundane lives matter to God and Jesus. Frankly, I never thought of the kingdom of God as far away or lacking access but I'm inspired by the idea that the kingdom is as close as the thin air around us. How about you?
As inspiring as this is for me, my most applied experience of the "kingdom of the heavens" comes from regularly doing life with fellow Christians, such as Saturday mornings with the guys. Us sharing life and faith and mulling over the God’s word in Scripture together personifies another message Jesus offered that posed no issues for translators to clearly impart.
God draws near to us when we draw near to each other in relevant faith discussions, supporting each other, musings and prayer...
Right here in the surrounding atmosphere.
1. If you've not read Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, here's a little excerpt from my book’s cover jacket:
In an era when many Christians consider Jesus a beloved but remote savior, Willard argues compellingly for the relevance of God to every aspect of our existence. Masterfully capturing the central insights of Christ's teachings in a fresh way for today's seekers, he helps us to explore a revolutionary way to experience God - by knowing Him as an essential part of the here and now, rather than only as a part of the hereafter.
2. My practice of Saturday morning fellowship with godly guys actually began in March 1983. The “Christian Men's Fellowship” ("CMF") met many years at St. Owens Catholic Church in Franklin, MI. I withdrew from that group in 2001 in order to devote Saturday mornings to personal devotions and later to join the prayer group meeting at our church that I reference in this post. Meanwhile, CMF still meets including a few of the original members from a study facilitated by the late Fr. Dwayne Stenzel in late 1982 at (then) Duns Scotus Monastery attended by some 200 or so Catholic men from all across southeastern Michigan. After the study concluded in the Spring of 1983, local fellowships were formed to continue meeting, including ours. At one of those meetings in September, 1983 I recommitted my life to Christ.