by Sylvia Maddox
When I was a little girl, we had a church drama in which people in the congregation would stand up representing the lures of the world such as wealth, power, and success trying to bargain for my life. My role was to stand confidently in front of these “lurers” and sing “I’m a child of the king.” It’s interesting how profoundly our early memories shape our faith. I have carried that image with me through the twists and turns of my spiritual journey. In that image, I learned at an early age the sense of God’s abiding love and blessing. And with that blessing of identity came vocation.
When Jesus described our role in the kingdom, he often used images of the culture saying to his followers, “you are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.” No longer could they say, “I am a Gentile; I am a prostitute; I am a leper.” Now their role was not only named but blessed. Our core identity shapes our role. Whether we are pre-school teachers, or academic scholars, missionaries or bus drivers, we all have a unique role in the kingdom of God.
There are days when our role is very clear. However, with the lens of our earthly life, we can often be overcome with the burdens of sad disappointments, or hopeless situations where reconciliation and justice seem far away. Even in our doing good work, we can become blinded with zealous productivity. It is at these moments, when we realize our lens have become cloudy, that we need to return to our true self and our true calling.
How do we live this wonderful gift of the kingdom? Here are some practices that have been helpful to me.
1. Prayer Every day when we return to the center of our spiritual life, we are reminded of our home, of our unique roles. St. Augustine called prayer “the soul’s breathing.” The more our souls are at one with God, the more we learn to will what God wills. Prayer is a reminder that we are living in the kingdom and gives us the hearty encouragement to persevere in faithfulness.
2. Learning to see with the eyes of Christ. Even in our good work as Christians, we often get trapped into looking at the world with the lens of judgment, or discouragement, powerlessness, or guilt. In the eyes of the world, we may see someone as contentious. With the eyes of Christ, we see someone with a desperate longing. We see strangers and outcasts in a different way. We don’t pass by and ignore the marginalized. Seeing with the eyes of Christ makes the kingdom more vivid as we begin to see all of creation as filled with God’s love. It is this vision that leads us into personal involvement of listening, tending the sick, working for reconciliation.
3. Discernment How we serve in the kingdom is often influenced by our gifts, our abilities, and all the needs around us. To practice discernment is to pay attention in prayer and in our actions to the places we feel most profoundly that we are being the mind and hands of Christ. We also have to be aware that this may change along the journey. One year, it may have been leading Bible studies; another year, it may be digging water wells; another year it may be tending an elderly parent. The sacred questions are not where will my work be most successful, but where can I most love as Jesus loved? Where can I bring active hope?
4. Taking Risks Sometimes it is easy to settle into our comfort zone, but it’s important to always be ready to stand up in a situation that may be awkward to some but where the truth needs to be spoken. We begin to welcome situations that are demanding and, in taking risks, we also can claim the joys of knowing we are true followers of Christ.
5. Taking time to celebrate and rejoice When we claim our role in the kingdom, we enter an amazing story of hope. When we use our imagination to pray “thy kingdom come” we begin to be aware of places in which we have seen the kingdom and the power of things to come. To practice joy is to return to gratitude in all things, and this can often be the most powerful witness.
May we all honor our special roles in the kingdom by living out their deepest meaning and in all things giving thanks for this immeasurable gift of life in Christ.
About the author: Sylvia Maddox is a writer and educator. She is a member of Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio TX. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org