Trusting God, Not Self
To follow Jesus and the Jesus Way is to abandon completely to God the control we have over life as we try to build up our little kingdom. Ever since the Garden of Eden, the human way has been to build a human kingdom. It was the story of the tower of Babel. It continued to the time of Samuel when Israel became tired of the system of the judges. Without a king, they simply had to trust God to bring them a judge. But they wanted something to trust other than God. When Samuel, grieved that they wanted a king, didn’t want to be a part of it, God said, “No, do what they say. They haven’t rejected you, they’ve rejected me.”1 Samuel 8:7, paraphrased. It’s sobering to think that God agreed to let them have an earthly king even though that kingdom brought endless problems. It became a wedge between God and the people. Even though David was a man after God’s own heart, he operated in a system that allowed him to pursue his own kingdom, and he did so in ways that were not good. He did not live as a servant. He lived as a king and took the power of the kingdom into his own hands.
After a while, the destruction of the people of Israel as a kingdom was carried out by God’s plan, and as a result, the wonderful teachings of Isaiah and the great prophets appeared. That’s where the realization of the Kingdom of God first emerged—out of exile. When the Jews had nothing but desolation, they discovered there was a “God in Heaven” who was present with them and very much in action even without the temple and royal palace in Jerusalem. That language about “God in Heaven” emerges at the end of Second Chronicles and in Ezra and Nehemiah. Daniel displays most the understanding and language about the Kingdom of God. In Psalm 145 and the other later psalms, the idea emerges that when everything is desolate, there is still God. Job’s story is one of a man who lost everything but glorifies God.
We have to learn this individually so that we come to understand that God is enough. In Psalm 16, the psalmist stands before God and says, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved.”Psalm 16:8, KJV. Scriptures marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible. The life and buildings of Jerusalem could be moved, but not God. All of the kingdoms and queendoms of the world will pass away, but God will still be sufficient.
So our question is this: Is God enough? When everything else is gone, there is still God. It is in exile that we learn the sufficiency of God. Out of our knowledge of the sufficiency of God, we can fall into the earth and die.
By turning over our kingdom into God’s kingdom, we are set free from the burden of controlling our world and our lives. Great freedom comes through the cross. Those who have taken up their cross and face execution don’t have a worry in this world. Everything is settled. They are not worried about where their goat ran off to or how to pay unpaid bills. It’s all taken care of in the cross.
The cross cuts us off from the burden of self-control and frees us into servanthood. Out of love, we can then serve our neighbors and love those who are shut out from the world. If we are not servants, we can’t do that. The reason our churches struggle with showing mercy and receiving others is that we don’t live as servants.
Being a servant is not a matter of particular acts. Being a servant is a matter of our whole lives. We live as servants, receiving everything we need from the Kingdom of God. We don’t keep our kingdom to ourselves, living only for self and occasionally doing an act of service. We live as servants, and as we do that, it frees us to enter into a different attitude toward life.
When most people contemplate sacrifice and service, they wonder, But who will look after me? When we learn to live the Jesus Way in the Kingdom of God, we know who has got our back. We know that if we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, when the time is right, God will exalt us. In the meantime, we cast all our cares on God because he cares for us.1 Peter 5:7, paraphrased. That’s why we have to learn to live our life in the Kingdom of God before we can become servants. We drop the burden of carrying our life because God has picked us up. He doesn’t allow the righteous to fall because he is at their right hand. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, so we can live as servants in the spirit of God.See Psalm 91:7; Romans 8:35–39.
Living as servants doesn’t make us superior or self-righteous. It doesn’t make us think how good we are: the little Jack Horner syndrome, where we stick in a thumb and pull out a plum and say, “What a good boy am I!” We stay away from that because we are now living from the sufficiency of God.
When we live this way, we can take care of the needs of own soul while we live as servants. When we die to self, we bring forth much fruit. Fruit comes from strength that comes from life that comes from an inner source of vitality, and that vitality comes into our souls and makes them flourish as we live as servants in the Kingdom of God.
To Dig a Little Deeper
- Use an electronic concordance to search for the phrase “God in heaven” used by Israel in exile. To get started, look up 2 Chronicles 36:23, Ezra 1:2, Nehemiah 1:4–5, and Daniel 2:18–19. In all, you’ll find just fewer than twenty references. Read each reference slowly, thinking about these refugees living in exile (or in the ruins of Jerusalem) and how they trusted in a powerful God. how do you identify with them? or not?
- Read again the sections above, “Prerequisite: Life in the Kingdom” and “Living in Exile: Kingdoms Torn Down.” Then read psalm 145 slowly. Notice especially verses 11–13. Think about what it was like, living as an outsider in exile, but believing this to be true. How does that speak to you today?
- Read psalm 16 slowly. What phrases describe what a person who’s living in the kingdom of God might say?
To Read and Study More about the Kingdom of God:
Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy. San Francisco: Harpercollins, 1998.
Ladd, George Eldon. The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.
Murray, Andrew. Abide In Christ. Several editions, including Wilder Publications, 2008.
Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994, 472–477.
Professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Dallas Willard is an ordained Southern Baptist minister and has written several books including Hearing God, The Spirit of the Disciplines, The Divine Conspiracy, Renovation of the Heart, The Great Omission, and Knowing Christ Today.