Kingdom Rising

What’s the last concept you encountered that you knew would require extra time to work through? Something so meaty it refuses to fit into a tweet or on a dollar store coffee mug?

I just finished reading The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge. The book includes a couple of paragraphs that I suspect I’ll be unpacking for years. Here they are:

The Scriptures employ a wide scale of metaphors to capture the many facets of our relationship with God. If you consider them in a sort of ascending order, there is a noticeable and breathtaking progression. Down near the bottom of the totem pole we are the clay and He the Potter. Moving up a notch, we are the sheep and He the Shepherd, which is a little better position on the food chain but hardly flattering; sheep don’t have a reputation as the most graceful and intelligent creatures in the world. Moving upward, we are the servants of the Master, which at least lets us into the house, even if we have to wipe our feet, watch our manners, and not talk too much. Most Christians never get past this point, but the ladder of metaphors is about to make a swift ascent. God also calls us His children and Himself our heavenly Father, which brings us into the possibility of real intimacy—love is not one of the things a vase and its craftsman share together, nor does a sheep truly know the heart of the shepherd, though it may enjoy the fruits of his kindness. Still, there is something missing even in the best parent-child relationship. Friendship levels the playing field in a way family never can, at least not until the kids have grown and left the house. Friendship opens a level of communion that a five-year-old doesn’t know with his mother and father. And “friends” are what He calls us.

But there is still a higher and deeper level of intimacy and partnership awaiting us at the top of this metaphorical ascent. We are lovers. The courtship that began with a honeymoon in the Garden culminates in the wedding feast of the Lamb. “I will take delight in you,” He says to us, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will I rejoice over you,” so that we might say in return, “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me.”

I’d like to take this scale and run with it for a minute. While our culture loves a finished product, each step of this progression is necessary, and rushing the process will result in a shaky foundation. We can’t be God’s lovers from day one—the kingdom would collapse because of instability. The Lord is patient with us, intentional and kind in deepening our experience of Him. We’re invited to join Him, participating in this grand renovation project of our souls. Read through the phases and try to identify where you land.

The Potter’s clay

This stage is about submitting to God. We have to start out by recognizing His authority. The Lord points Jeremiah and the Hebrew nation to His right to do with them whatever seems best to Him. Until we utterly surrender control, life will be an endless skirmish with the One who loves us most. How quickly do you submit to the Potter’s will?

The Shepherd’s sheep

This stage is about following God. He marks out our paths and directs us to green pastures, to still waters. He calls us away from the way of the world and fights off our foes. We know His song and accompany Him even through the valley of the shadow of death. How naturally do you hear and follow the Shepherd’s voice?

The Master’s servants

This stage is about obeying God. We carry out His commands, ears constantly pricked for our next assignment. He is the One we attend with promptness and excellence. As Curtis and Eldredge note, this is where most believers tend to camp out. How easily do you obey the Master’s orders?

The Father’s children

This stage is about trusting the heart of God. It is here that the territory becomes increasingly less traveled. We begin to know not just about God but God Himself. We move from being absorbed with pleasing Him through activity to the astounding knowledge that we are pleasing to Him as individuals. The natural orphan mentality disappears, and our awareness of our Abba’s character shapes our responses to the world around us. How deeply do you trust the Father’s heart?

The friends of God

This stage is about knowing the heart of God. Jesus says that friends are let in on truths that servants don’t get to understand. If we resemble those we spend time with, the Lord starts rubbing off on us in profound ways during this season. Conversation with Him grows up. His longings and triumphs and losses are ours. We can no longer remain personally detached, unaffected. How intimately do you know the heart of God?

The lovers of God

This stage is about enjoying the heart of God. Here is the essence of true community. We go from familiarity with the Lord to desiring nothing more than the Lord. He becomes everything that matters, and we can truly echo David’s Psalm 73 cry, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You.” Fierce-hearted passion takes over. How robustly do you enjoy the heart of God?

Wherever you find yourself along the journey is beautiful and stuffed with purpose. Own it. Inhabit it. And when it’s time, move from it to the next stage with joyful freedom. Are you in the season of being a lump of clay? Rock that season! Become the best clay you can be, and at the right time, God will move you from clay to sheep, and there will be a whole new set of exciting discoveries to make.

There’s so much room in the gospel to grow; the kingdom is brimming with opportunities for upward movement. As a perfectionist, I have to remind myself (often) about how I’m in process. This is where God wants me right now, and I don’t need to try to speed things along. I can match His pace and walk in step with Him. He’s enjoying this adventure with me—I can join Him in finding pleasure here, too.

Where do you find yourself at this moment in time? How can you make the most of the current stage?

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