Week 10 - Learning to live in the kingdom day by day
Read: John 15:5-8
In this session we finish our series looking at the Good and Beautiful Life. We’ve spent some time looking at what it means to live in the transformed reality of the kingdom of God in daily, practical ways. As we close we’ll spend some time thinking about how the kingdom is lived day in day out in the regular, sometimes mundane, reality of our lives.
How would you express the spiritual life through a picture or an object? What things would you choose to represent the life that we live day by day with God?
For many centuries the image of starting and tending a fire has been a metaphor for the spiritual life. The Quaker Thomas Kelly wrote about “burning the flame of the inner sanctuary” as an image of nurturing our prayer life. Likewise, John Wesley and Madame Guyon used the metaphor of a fire to describe the collaborative work between God and human beings: speaking of how we must create the conditions in which God will work, but that God alone is the spark that ignites the flame in our souls.
My mother spent her early years living on the family farm. The house had no central heating. The only heat source were the numerous fire places in the house – one in each room. Every morning a member of the household was tasked with lighting the carefully laid fires before the family got up. Throughout the day, in the rooms that were to used, the fires had to have fresh fuel added to them. If the fires were not tended they would go out.
This image is a helpful illustration of the spiritual life. Not only does the spiritual life have to be built, laid up so as to take and burn brightly, it also has to be tended so that the flame doesn’t go out.
Reflect: Using the metaphor of the fire, how would you describe your spiritual life at present? Does the fire burn brightly? Is the flame small and flickering? Are the flames tall but generating little heat?
Another Metaphor…this time it’s fruit…
In John 15:5-8 Jesus talks about the secret to living a vibrant Christian life. He says that in order to remain alive in the fullest sense, in order to experience the wholeness and happiness of kingdom living (remember this is not about facing no struggles) we are to abide in him. Or in other words we are to live in utter dependence upon Jesus.
Using the well known metaphor of the vine and its branches he paints a picture of how to live in the kingdom day by day.
We’re all familiar with the idea. A branch that is no longer attached to vine is cut off from its source of life and energy. Consequently it cannot bear fruit, which by the way is its raison d’etre!
In the same way says Jesus, a Christian who lives apart from him is disconnected from Jesus as the source of life and energy, and cannot bear fruit. His message is clear, without him we can do nothing – and that includes living the kingdom reality.
Reflect: Are you a striver? Are you aware of ways in which you strive and work to produce fruit or Christ without being rooted in him? Here’s a tough question – are you connected to the vine, or are you battling through disconnected from the source of life and energy?
Not outside judging, but inside empowering
So how? That’s the question. How are we to abide in Jesus?
James Bryan-Smith answers the question in the following way:
“to abide means to rest and rely on Jesus, who is not outside of us, judging us, but inside of us, empowering us.”
He goes on to say:
“The more deeply we are aware of our identity in Christ, and of his presence and power that are with us, the more naturally we will do this.”
The point he’s making is simple yet profound:
“To abide, then, is not done by observing a set of outer activities…to abide in Christ involves spending time with Jesus.”
Reflect: How do you respond to each of the quotes above? It might be helpful to spend some time discussing and unpacking each one as a group.
Four truths to reflect on as a group as this series comes to an end:
1 – There is only one way to the good and beautiful life
Read Matt 7:13-14 and discuss
The image is of two gates leading to two roads – one narrow and one wide. The narrow way of following Christ’s teaching is the way that leads to life – it’s the path of discipleship. It may be a tough path, but as Dallas Willard says:
“Non discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in light of Gods over-riding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short it costs exactly the abundant life that Jesus came to bring.”
2 – It’s from the inside out
Read Matt 7:15-20 and discuss
Jesus also says that it’s about the inner character before it is about the outer appearance. John Chrysostom understood Jesus words in the verses above, talking about false prophets, not to mean heretics but those who “are of a corrupt life yet wear the mask of virtue”. We may never kill anyone, but we may harbour anger towards another in our hearts...
Jesus says that his disciples don’t simply look good on the outside – instead we’re being changed from within.
3 – There is only one way to the kingdom
Read Matt 7:21-23 and discuss
According to Jesus this one and only way into the kingdom is to do the will of the Father. We naturally focus on the words ‘does the will of my father…’ and we rightly interpret this to be a call to obedience. But what about the words that come after ‘I never knew you’ – Jesus is making clear that alongside the call to obedience is the call to relationship. In fact Jesus seems to be saying that the call to relationship, active dynamic interpersonal knowing, stands above and beyond the call to obedience.
4 – There is only one way to build a good life
Read Matt 7:24-27 and discuss
At the end of this study we’re back at where we started. At Jesus call to us to build our lives on ‘the rock’. Jesus says ‘there are two ways to do life. The ‘with me’ way or the ‘without me’ way’. The ‘with him’ way is the way of life that is both good and beautiful and rooted on a foundation that is sure and able to weather the storms of life.
Reflect: As individuals or as a group, how has this series encouraged or challenged you? What has God been speaking to you through this series of study and reflection? Has your heart or life been changed? In what ways is God calling you to further growth? How will you keep to this path?
It would be a good to end by praying for one-another, and perhaps committing to continue praying for one-another, that we might continue to live in the ever present reality of the kingdom and lead lives that are good and beautiful.