A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You

I actually finished a book. I have a terrible track record of reading several books at a time and never finishing any of them. I just read Paul Tripp’s “A Quest for More” and wanted to share a few quotes.

The book is an explanation of what it means to seek first the kingdom of God. Tripp explains this seeking in terms of a constant battle between seeking the expansive, transcendant kingdom of God and the constricting, deadly kingdom of self. It’s a heart issue, which means you can be outwardly seeking the kingdom of God (studying the bible, serving others in the church, evangelism, etc) while inwardly seeking the kingdom of self (doing all those things to glorify and please yourself, not God).

I won’t provide a full review, just some good quotes. I recommend the book.

The problem is that most of us don’t think in kingdom terms. You know, you just rather thoughtlessly get up in the morning and go to work, or get the kids ready for school, or take the dog for a walk, or read the morning paper. You and I don’t live with a ready sense of our intentions or allegiances. And this is precisely how we get ourselves into trouble. Without knowing it, we can reduce the promises of Scripture down to a hope that God’s grace will ensure the success of our little kingdoms.

Every day is shaped by the blueprints, laws, policies, structures, plans, politics, relationships, goals, purposes, and actions of some kind of civilization. If you are a human being you cannot escape this work…No one ever says, “I have decided to forsake the glories of the kingdom of God to pursue the self-oriented glories of my own kingdom.” Instead, because of the blindness of sin and the fact that we exist in little moments, so much of our kingdom building takes place without conscious intentionality. And because we have defined biblical morality as the keeping of a set of rules, rather than the ownership of our hearts by the Lord, much of the conflict of kingdoms goes unnoticed. As a result, our lives end up being shaped by a confusing mix of big kingdom rules (the kingdom of God) and little kingdom rules (the kingdom of self). In the home, dad doesn’t only get angry when God’s law is broken, but when his law is broken as well. Mom isn’t only dedicated to seeing her children internalize God’s standards; she wants them to internalize the rules of her civilization as well. The child’s experience is that breaking the little kingdom rules get as much attention as breaking the big kingdom rules, and sometimes even more. In the blender of the frenetic schedule of the average modern Christian family, these two systems of law get so mixed up it becomes hard to separate one from the other. We say we are serving God, but there is another civilization that is shaping every intention, decision, and action. When it comes to which kingdom we are building, it is very easy to be blind and confused. We say we embrace the transcendent, but where the rubber meets the road in our daily lives, our living shrinks to the field of our personal concerns. We don’t forsake the faith, but the real kingdom we are building, where we live and work each day, is a kingdom of one.

You cannot be Christ-centered without becoming cross-centered.

Sam was a Christian, but his faith lacked zeal and direction. He did all the right things, but they seemed empty and without energy. At work, however, he took on a completely different personality. He was positive, driven, interactive, and zealous. He arrived early to get a jump on his day, not because he was forced to but because he wanted to. Often he was the last person to head for home. In his walk with the Lord and his life with his church, he appeared neither excited nor engaged. Yet at work he was alive, every pore opened. Why the contrast? What was missing?

Here’s what happens. When Christ isn’t central in the life of a Christian, his Christianity will always get reduced to theology and rules. It will cease to be the central organizing principle of his life. It will give way to other powerful motivations and move to the fringes of his life. I think this is the experience of many Christians. Their Christianity is missing Christ! It then becomes little more than an ideology with an accompanying set of ethics. What is incredibly dangerous about this is that if Christ isn’t central in our hearts, something else will be. Christianity as theology and rules will allow self to be at the center. It is only Christ who can free you and me from bondage to the little kingdom. Functionally, Sam’s faith had been reduced to beliefs and commands. But Christianity gutted of Christ is devoid of both its beauty and its power. Only love for Christ has the power to incapacitate the sturdy love for self that is the bane of every sinner, and only the grace of Christ has the power to produce that love.

…There really is no place for Christ in many people’s Christianity. Their faith is not actually in Christ; it is in Christianity and their own ability to live it out. This kind of “Christianity” is really about the shadow glories of human knowledge and performance. It does not require the death of self that must always happen if love for Christ is going to reign in our hearts.

…What does it mean to live a Christ-centered existence? It means that the fear of the Lord, more than fear of anything else, sets the agenda for our actions, reactions, and responses. This is the essence of big kingdom living. The kingdom of self is driven by all kinds of other fears: fear of man, fear of discomfort or difficulty, fear of failure, fear of not getting my own way, etc. The principle here is that if God doesn’t own the fear of our hearts, he will not own our lives. You and I are always living to avoid what we dread. If we dread displeasing God more than anything else, because our hearts have been captured by a deep, worshipful and loving awe of him, we will live in new ways.

…When I live this lifestyle I find joy in telling Jesus, day after day, that I need what he did in his life, death, and resurrection. This lifestyle is about growing to acknowledge that in some way, every day, I give evidence to the fact that the cross was necessary. And this lifestyle of forgiveness makes my daily attitude one of heartfelt gratitude and joy.

Our thoughts can be so dominated by the necessary tasks of the day, by the difficulties we face, or by the people around us, that we lose our consciousness of the Lord of Glory who has drawn us into his transcendent purposes for the universe. Or our day can be kidnapped by anxious cravings and all the “what ifs” that worry is able to generate. Big kingdom living really does start with remembering the King. This isn’t some mystical spiritual exercise for the super spiritual. It is street-level worship.

Once again, the problem is not that Kat is dissatisfied with her relationships. In fact, she is way too easily satisfied. Kat has woven a fabric of little kingdom relationships around her. These relationships have little or nothing to do with God, his will for Kat, and his plan on earth. They are part of a quest for an unencumbered, low-demand, entertaining, happy life. Kat seems utterly blind to the transcendent glories that could be hers as she experiences the travails of pursuing relationships that are driven more by the purposes of God’s kingdom than by little kingdom desires. Kat’s short-sighted satisfaction is exposed by the fact that when she looks at her relationships, she does not groan. If you pursue God’s plan for your relationships, you will groan, because you will be confronted with how far you and others are from what God says is good and best. Pursuit of big kingdom relationships will bring you to the end of yourself and make you cry out for the help that only God can provide. Like Kat, you are too easily satisfied by fun and casual relationships.

Relationships take commitment. Relationships demand time. Relationships require perseverance. Relationships call us to sacrifice. At its core, biblical faith is not a commitment to an ideology; it is an undeserved welcome into a relationship. It is Christ making us the “apple of his eye” and calling us to love him more than anything or anyone else in our lives. Can you imagine a man declaring his love for a woman, telling her that she is more important than anything else in his life, and yet finding little time to deepen their communion and love? It is possible for us to declare ourselves to be Christians, to say that we love the Lord more than we love anything else, and yet to have no time for Christ!

…It is frighteningly easy to find so much satisfaction in the things we are doing that we have little time or energy to find satisfaction in Jesus. The problem is that few of the things we are pursuing are harmful in themselves. We can give ourselves valid reasons for being involved in all of them. And so the distractions in our lives don’t trouble us. They occupy our schedules with logic and plausibility, even though they prevent us from pursuing this one central romance that is meant to be the unchallenged source of our meaning, identity, purpose, and hope…

…When we examine our lives closely, it becomes clear that our problem is not our schedules. It is not that God has put more on our plates than we can possibly accomplish in seven, twenty-four-hour days. Our problem is our fickle hearts that wander away from this one central romance and so easily give our affection to another. The Bible calls this “love of the world.” And the Bible tells us that if we love the world, the love of the father is not in us. (See 1 John 2:15—17.)

…Our problem is not that we fail to be satisfied. Our problem is that we are too quickly satisfied. When we are not lonely, it is because present lovers have stolen our affection away, and for the moment, we are satisfied.

He also has a great chapter on anger that very helpfully distills the issue into kingdom anger: anger about disruptions to our kingdom of self or to the kingdom of God. It’s not about being quiet and passive and free of anger. It is about being angry at the right things:

This new anger is an unquenchable zeal for God’s cause and an uncompromising distaste for sin. It is the anger of compassion that cannot help but seek to relieve people who are suffering from sin’s damage. It is the anger of mercy that responds to the foolishness of sin with understanding and grace. It is the anger of restoration that refuses to condemn, but believes that lost rebels can be rebuilt into the likeness of Jesus. It is the anger of service that finds delight in helping burdened pilgrims bear their load. It is the anger of peace that hates the division that sin has birthed in our world and does everything that can be done to restore harmony. It is the anger of forgiveness that hates sin’s guilt and despises its shame.

The problem is that when you elevate your little kingdom desires to “needs,” you no longer live with guarantees. But God has not promised to deliver all the things you have hoped, desired, and convinced yourself that you cannot live without… when these things control your heart and command your hopes, you will tend to judge God’s faithfulness, not by whether he has been true to his promises, but by whether he has given you the things that you have set your heart on. But this is right where the redemptive quandary lies. If God gives you the things that are playing a role in your life that only he is supposed to play, wouldn’t he be encouraging in you the very addictions from which his grace is meant to free you?

so there you go

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