From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent [change your old way of thinking] for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17 (AMP)
On May 20th, 1936, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” At the time, the usage of electricity was commonplace in cities. But most rural areas were still operating without electrical power.
The Rural Electrification Act paved the way with federal funding for the installation of electrical distribution systems in order to serve these rural areas. Immediately, electrical power became available to farms, ranches, and isolated settlements that until then had never experienced its benefit.
Everyday life for these rural folks had the potential to radically change in some of the most fundamental aspects – food preservation, dish-washing, cooking, laundry, bathing, and labor. A whole new world was at hand.
But participation in this whole new world was not automatic. It required these people to understand electrical power, embrace its implementation, and learn to rely on its effects. They had to adopt and follow a new way of doing life.
Which meant letting go of the old way. They had to turn from their reliance on kerosene lanterns, washboards, carpet beaters, iceboxes, cellars, and manual sewing machines.
“Repent, for electricity is at hand.”
There was a new, unfamiliar power that had the ability to transform their lives for the better. It was now available and accessible. All they had to do was embrace it and utilize it. Curiously, some chose not to do so. They refused to enter into “the kingdom of electricity.” But for those who were willing to change, life would never be the same.
In Matthew’s gospel, he frequently uses the term “kingdom of heaven.” Luke prefers the term “kingdom of God.” But they’re talking about the same thing. The kingdom of heaven is not simply about where a person goes when he/she dies. It is “at hand,” Jesus says. In our midst. Right beside us.
Certainly, I believe in an eternal heaven. It is comforting to know that when I die, I can spend eternity with God. But the good news of the kingdom of heaven especially pertains to life in the here and now.
“If I had to choose, I would rather have a car that runs than good insurance on one that doesn’t. Can I not have both?” – Dallas Willard
We can. Kingdom life is available and accessible right here and right now. It is a kingdom that already has flesh-and-blood citizens.
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. – Paul (Colossians 1:13)
Kingdom life is described in detail in Jesus’ most important sermon, what we often call the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). It’s a life in which we are empowered to walk in humility, work for justice, extend mercy to others, make peace, endure opposition, love our enemies, care for the poor, forgive our persecutors, and live holy and pleasing lives before the Father.
But the power to live this kind of life is not self-generated. It comes from God himself. It is the power of his loving presence.
But, of course, this is not to say we have no role at all. We do.
If one wants to enjoy the benefits of electrical power, a lot of work must be done. Grids and structures must be put into place. Holes must be dug and poles must be planted. Wires must be stretched and connected.
In the same way, there are spiritual structures (disciplines) that we can erect and assemble into our lives that will position us to receive the powerful current of God’s loving presence. These disciplines – prayer, solitude, fasting, meditating on Scripture, to name a few – are not the source of power themselves. But they are the structures through which God’s power can flow into our lives.
A power which can radically transform life as we know it and enable us to do what we could never do on our own.
Let go of the old. Embrace the new.
(Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.)