The Upside Down Kingdom
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:34-37)
Someone called the teaching of Jesus, the upside-down kingdom. Our pastor used to say, “If it isn’t a paradox, it probably isn’t biblical.” Jesus used what seemed to be contradictory in describing what it means to follow Him. In Mark 8:35 Jesus said that those who want to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for Jesus’ sake will save their lives. He uses the brutal image of carrying a cross, which always meant the way to death, to further define the cost of being a disciple. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic, The Cost of Discipleship, commented on this verse, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Jesus really takes the horizontal concept of death, and turns it on its head. His vertical teaching style says that dying to oneself, even to the point of being willing to suffer physical death, is the mark of a disciple and will result in lasting life and salvation. Death = Life; Losing = Gaining. This is powerfully vertical thinking in a horizontal world.
In so many ways, holding on to this upside-down kingdom view will revolutionize our prayer lives. When prayer is looked at as simply an additional activity to our day, it will always be low on our priority list. But when we die to self and begin to realize that it is in giving up self-desire that we truly begin to live, our prayers become all about the life of Christ in us. In so many ways, spending time in prayer can become a way of taking up our cross and following Jesus.
Listen: Spend a few quiet moments seeking God. Be attentive to whatever He may speak to your heart.
Reflect: How is the Spirit leading you to respond to what you have heard from God?
Confess and Repent: If there is something the Spirit convicts you of, take time to prayerfully confess it. Resolve to turn from it if it is sin, or step toward whatever He is leading you into that you have either neglected or not seen before.
Ask: Lord, forgive me when I have looked at following You as a way of fulfilling my own desires and wants. Help me to embrace the Cross. Give me that unique viewpoint that You demonstrated as You called us to deny self and follow You. May my prayers be focused on You and Your desires. I cry out with Paul that it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me.
- Is prayer the first thing you undertake each day, and a lifestyle of seeking that you engage in continually, or is it a last resort in the difficult or uncertain moments of life? Is it an afterthought or a short act that can be checked off for the day once a few words are muttered? Look at what is on your plate for today or tomorrow or later this week. How could turning your sights toward the vertical kingdom make a difference in the fruitfulness and effectiveness of your horizontal activities?
- Are you prepared to die to self today? What thoughts, acts and/or intentions need to be submitted to the Lordship of Jesus so that He can maximize their effectiveness? Be intentional about praying over everything you have to do today before you begin to undertake anything. Ask God to show you anything that isn’t in perfect alignment with His plans and purposes. Will you be able to set aside the things that may matter to you, but which may not be essential for living out His life in you today?
- The Christ Who lives in you desires to work in and through you for His purposes. Ask Him to change your horizontal agenda in favor of His own and be obedient to whatever He shows you.
- Practice sharing the concepts of Jesus’ upside-down kingdom with others through your words, and through your actions.
Taken from Vertical with Jesus by David and Kim Butts. © 2022 PrayerShop Publishing.