Today’s devotional comes from associate Pastor Bret Mavrich.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” —Matthew 11:12
We have what we want
This verse is (for me) one of the most unnerving statements he made during his earthly ministry. He is using the word “suffer” in sort of an old fashioned way to mean “permits.” And when he says “violence,” he doesn’t mean physical violence. Jesus is talking about spiritual hunger. Taken together, Jesus is saying he’ll let us have as much of God as we want.
That might sound exciting at first, until we realize that the inverse is also true: we only have as much of God as we’ve hungered for. There is nothing limiting the Limitless God from pouring himself out on our lives, families, and cities. Nothing, that is, but us. The Bible tells us that there has never been a shortage of people who, when confronted with the all surpassing beauty of God, decide that some shiny trinket in this world is more worthy of worship. And there have always been those who, having sipped from the river of pleasure, somehow convince themselves to return to the polluted streams of bygone days.
Mike Bickle, director of IHOP-KC, has a little phrase that has stuck with me: “If there is something in the grace of God you can live without, you probably will.” How terrifying an idea. My depth in God has a single governor: my hunger for more.
But how much will he give? What is the limit?
The hungry get God
God rewards the bold, those that will not be denied, who’s longing for more of God supersedes everything else. The word violence here conjures up now the stories of the men and women throughout history who abandoned pride, reputation, and sometimes dignity to encounter the Living One.
We can hear the frantic cries of Bartimaeus as his only hope for restored site almost passes him by. We can feel the desperation of the woman with the issue of blood as she grasps through the crowd at the hem of Jesus’ cloak. We are a little bewildered at the fevered work of the men who tore off a roof in order to lower their paralyzed friend into the room where the Healer sat. These are not the actions of civilized people; these are the spasms of violence known only to the hungry who are within reach of what they most want.
But spiritual violence is more than make-or-break moments of dramatic deliverance. Living a lifestyle of spiritual violence is a day in and day out determination to be delighted in God more than anything else in this world. It means allowing a holy resolve to overtake our souls that Jesus is our portion, and this glorious man satisfies every longing of the human heart. There is a great “laying down” that comes with this, a great “self denial,” and a grand “taking up our cross.” But in truth, the glorious splendor that he returns upon our hearts, the gift of living with a heart fully alive and burning brightly when so many in this world suffer from dullness of heart and dimness of eyes—the reward is so great that the sacrifice can hardly be counted.
More than saved
The free gift of salvation by faith through grace is infinitely more than any of us deserve. We’ve been delivered from not only the penalty due our sins, but also the soul-warping, love-shrinking, light-dimming force of sin itself. Glory to God.
But I want to be more than saved. I want to be exhilarated in God. I want to be useful for his kingdom. I want to know Jesus deeply, and move in the power of the Spirit mightily to help deliver others.
When we begin to awaken to the reality that there is so much more to God than we have known, when we begin to see Jesus with fresh eyes so that the pain of longing pierces our soul in a new season, we begin to sense the fearful uncertainty of possibility: God is ours for the asking, but it will cost us everything in the giving. And no matter how dramatic or extravagant our pursuit, how prodigal our sacrifice, he will not deny us.
If there is something in God we simply cannot live without— his promises, his presence, his power, and more—then we will have it. If we refuse to be denied, we will find by force of hunger we have entered the Kingdom.
Jesus, your words pierce my heart. You said that your kingdom rewards spiritual violence, that the only limit to how much of God’s power and presence I can experience is my own hunger–or lack thereof. Forgive me of my dullness, the apathy that creeps into my heart. When the eyes of my heart are open, I see that there is nothing so beautiful, magnificent, or worthy of my pursuit as you. If hunger is the governor, then fan the flames of my hunger into a raging bonfire, that I may be satisfied by you to the uttermost and turn from polluted streams. I love you. Amen.
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