As we read the New Testament, we are not left with any question about the importance of the Kingdom of God in the life and teaching of Jesus. His ministry was announced by John the Baptist with the startling words: Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 3:2). And after the time of Jesus' temptation, we are told that He "began to preach" the message of the Kingdom (4:17) — the clear implication being that His teaching on the Kingdom was not an occasional message, but a consistent message. Even a cursory reading of the gospels will illustrate this.
And this passion continued to the very end of His earthly life. A passage that often goes unnoticed as it relates to this is Acts 1:3. Luke tells us that during Jesus' last forty days, He was speaking of the things concerning the Kingdom of God.
There can be no question that the Kingdom was the heartbeat of our Lord and should therefore be uppermost in our thinking.
The Kingdom — Its Empowering
Since the Kingdom of God is about God's rule and reign on earth – in, around, and through His people — it is apparent that it is a divine activity which requires supernatural empowering. The Kingdom of God was and is about a totally new way to live.
• It is comprehensive, involving all aspects of our lives.
• It is compelling because it exhibits the power of God unleashed in the lives of His people.
The Kingdom of God is about God's right to invade our human existence with His Kingdom authority. For this reason it requires divine dynamite — the person of the Holy Spirit.
The book of Acts gives us a living illustration of the working of the Holy Spirit through early Christians both individually and corporately. Just as Jesus commanded His followers to remain in Jerusalem until they had received the promised Holy Spirit (1:4-5), we too must never attempt any Kingdom activity in our human strength. To do so will be doomed to failure, catching us in the trap of carnal Christianity, enslaving us to the Avis "we try harder" syndrome. We cannot produce Kingdom results without spiritual empowering.
For this reason Empowering Kingdom Growth is not another program challenging Southern Baptists to greater activity. We have demonstrated a tendency to attempt to solve spiritual problems simply by doing more things, but this is counter-productive. Empowering Kingdom Growth is a challenge for each individual and church to focus on God's priorities and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to produce Kingdom results. We cannot go forward without recognizing the importance of surrendering ourselves to the constant infilling of the Spirit.
Jesus promised that His followers would receive power after the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8). The evidence of this would be the boldness and effectiveness of their witness. It would literally saturate the world — penetrating Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world.
Let's face it! We cannot produce Kingdom results in our own strength. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is about God using us, rather than us trying to use Him. It is about our availability to advance His Kingdom, rather than our attempts to use Him to advance our own.
The Kingdom — Its Foundation
If we are going to undertake this pilgrimage to submit to the Father as He expands His Kingdom in, around, and through us, we must follow the pattern of His Son and of the early church; we must be committed to prayer.
The Gospel of Mark appeals to many readers because of its non-stop activity. Read it some day and underline the word "immediately." If you are not careful, you can come away from Mark with the impression that Jesus' ministry was one of constant motion.
Yet there is a telling account in the first chapter that we dare not overlook. Jesus had healed Simon's mother-in-law (1:31), which had created such a sensation that the entire city gathered at the door (v. 33). So much Kingdom opportunity, what is one to do?
Read verse 35: In the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.
Jesus understood that His Kingdom direction and Kingdom authority came from the Father; His first priority, therefore, was prayer. When Jesus' disciples found Him, they insisted that He come back to the village, since everyone was looking for Him. Without hesitation, He told them that He must not be distracted by the urgent but controlled by His Father's mandate to preach the gospel (v. 38).
Would it surprise you to learn that the disciples, after observing Jesus in prayer, asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:2)? What follows this request is a simple but radical prayer that demonstrates the focus of Jesus' life.
In Luke 11 — and in the expanded version from Matthew 6 — the beginning lines of Jesus' prayer demand that Kingdom children focus on the name of God and the Kingdom of God. Jesus allowed the Father to manifest His name (His character) through His life and extend His Kingdom in, around and through His activity. Jesus submitted Himself fully to the Father and — through prayer — both experienced the Father's empowering and confirmed the Father's priority.
The early church, too, was empowered for Kingdom activity through prayer. Those all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer (1:14). Space will not allow us to trace the emphasis on prayer through the entire book of Acts, but perhaps one other example will suffice to make the point.
In chapter 4 we find that some of the early disciples had been thrown into jail for preaching the gospel. The next day, they were brought before the elders and scribes. But the intended inquisition turned into an evangelistic crusade. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to preach (4:8). The confidence of the early disciples convinced those observing that these men had been with Jesus (4:13). The Jewish authorities were impotent to impede the work of the Spirit, and therefore they could only threaten the disciples and then release them.
Guess what they did as soon as they were released? They had a prayer meeting. And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness (4:31). Don't miss the last phrase in verse 33: … and abundant grace was upon them all.
If Empowering Kingdom Growth is going to be more than another slogan producing even more fruitless activity, it must begin in the prayer closets of our homes and our churches. As a denomination, we cannot empower anyone for Kingdom growth; only the Holy Spirit can do that. His power is discovered as we surrender ourselves continually through prayer.
Empowering Kingdom Growth will be expressed differently in various churches and Southern Baptist entities, but it will be empowered consistently by the Holy Spirit. Thus the foundation of all we do must be prayer — consistent prayer, constant prayer, compassionate prayer. Good news! As with the disciples in Acts 4:33, abundant grace is available to us all!