Stories generally follow a consistent structure regardless of genre or decade in which they were made. Our brains are wired to understand a story and we follow stories best when they follow the traditional timing of events. There’s a point in the plot that is often referred to as the “dark night of the soul.” This is the moment when the characters feel defeated and feel down on their luck—all hope has been lost. It looks like the bad guys have succeeded and there’s nothing that can be done. This is the moment when we see what our heroes are made of: even though they might not look like much, they are often able to summon the strength to do something impossible.
I think that the Kingdom is often like that: unassuming on the outside but immensely powerful within. Even when outward circumstances seem hopeless, hope is not lost. Jesus decided to come to this earth and be born as a baby in a manger instead of in the royal palace. He was a humble carpenter, not a decorated warrior. Fishermen who were unable to cut it in the religious system were empowered by the Holy Spirit to change the world. And he calls you and me regardless of our past, our education, our position, or our number of followers and invites us into his redemptive work in the world. We might not look like much, but his power working within us can change everything.
“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:31-33 (NIV)
These parables are about things that I know nothing about: gardening and baking. If you were to ask me to plant a garden or bake a cake, you would come up with some truly terrible results. However, I do appreciate that both of these stories take something small, that could be easily overlooked, and make them into something incredible.
I think these stories are wonderful examples of what it means to partner with God in what he’s doing in our communities and the world today. Take the mustard seed, for example, it must be planted, watered, and tended to in order to grow. A man had to plant the seed and then be faithful to care for the garden. He didn’t make it grow, but he played a small, yet essential, part in its blossoming. Same thing with the yeast, the woman had to add it to the flour and do the tough work of mixing it until it makes its way through the dough.
The faith-fueled work done by unassuming people can yield supernatural results.
I think that the Kingdom often looks different than we’d expect it to. I wonder how many of us have encountered fellow (or future) citizens of Heaven but didn’t recognize it at the time because they didn’t look how we expected them to. Or how many times an opportunity for faith has been presented to us, but we didn’t take it because it was “too small” or “too boring.” Or how often we’ve been invited to partner with God but neglected the moments because they were too hard or uncomfortable.
Both of these parables required hard work for the gardner and the baker, but they produced results I doubt either of them thought were possible. I’m struck by the fact that their faith-filled work led to a blessing for others: a giant tree for birds to perch in and people to get shade from (probably not at the same time) and loads of flour for bread. There are times when the Kingdom doesn’t look how we expect, but when we lean in and work from a place of faith, I believe our efforts are compounded for the good of others and the glory of God.
I pray that our eyes are opened to the unassuming nature of the Kingdom and that we would live and work from a place of faith, hope, and love for God and others today!
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)