“If every Christian worked the 12 Steps, we would actually become more like Jesus.” That was my thought after I first worked the 12 Steps fifteen years ago. The big surprise of the 12 Steps is that they have nothing to do with quitting addictive behavior. They’re really about experiencing Life in the Kingdom of God.
This Sunday, I put this hidden 3-dimensional image up on the screen. It frustrated many people because they could not “see” the 3D words, “The Kingdom of God” right there in the 2-dimensional picture. I’ll give you another chance with a little instruction. You can’t just focus on what’s on the surface. You must shift your perspective. If you just look at the 2D, you will never see the 3D. You have to focus deeper—look beyond the surface and relax your eyes as you do.
Do you see it? Jesus used parables to teach about the Kingdom of God, saying things like “It’s like a treasure hidden in a field.” Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17:20-21 The Kingdom is not something easily observed by merely spouting the right doctrine (though knowing truth is very important for experiencing His Kingdom). It exists all around us. A reality present and available, but like a hidden 3D image, you must have “Eyes to See.” Even Jesus’ disciples struggled to see: Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? (Mark 8:17-18)
The Kingdom is a private reality that must be given expression in relationship with others. We must love God, love ourselves, and love our neighbor—who might currently be our enemy. Jesus is the door through which anyone can freely enter and experience the Kingdom of God. But many times, those who think they know all about it, experience it the least. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21)
I have tasted and seen how wonderful this Kingdom reality is—it’s why I do what I do. It’s what keeps me going—little tastes of how good Life is in alignment with God’s will and ways. In fact, if you knew my thoughts you might think I have a death wish, because I long for the day when I’m finally home in the Kingdom of God–when His Kingdom is fully present, not just in little glimpses that soon go out of focus. I don’t have a death wish; I have a Life wish. I’ve gotten little tastes of the ecstasy of a love and joy and peace that’s better than any buzz, any high, any exhilaration or wonder or awe this life can offer.
But I’m also amazed at how quickly it slips from my sight. How easily I can struggle, get tempted, take my eyes off Christ and “lose it.” It’s a lot like the hidden image—once you “see it,” you know it’s real and it’s there. But if you look away, when you look back it will be gone and must be found again. You have to keep on “seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Once you have seen the image it is difficult to show it to other people. Only general instructions can be given. Others cannot find the image through your experience. They cannot look over your shoulder and see what you see. They can trust your testimony and search for themselves. You can point the way and invite them to see the Kingdom, but they must experience it on their own.
Maybe that’s why Jesus taught in parables—to shift our focus away from mere cognitive assent to certain ideas, and get us to focus on God’s Kingdom perspective of life. That’s what I think working the 12 Steps can help us do. They are simply spiritual disciplines to help us break free of the things keeping us from experiencing an ever-deepening, joyful, exhilarating rush of Life.
But the 12 Steps are a lot like this hidden picture. At first glance, many of you may look at them and think, “I don’t get it.” You can know the content of the 12 Steps, but still not “see it.” You don’t do Step 1, then Step 2, then Step 3, and then you’re done with those Steps. Instead, you soak yourself in this process of living out these 12 spiritual disciplines–it’s not linear, you must plunge in and work these Steps over and over into a kind of daily rhythm that changes how you go at life. Then you start to gain eyes to see.