A version of this post originally appeared about three years ago at Elephant Journal and attracted over 20,000 views. I rewrote the story for my Patheos column “Wake Up Call” where it appeared 6/24/14.
Though I was raised in a strict Catholic family, one book I deliberately avoided for most of my life was the Bible. While I have long been interested in spirituality, I always found the Bible to be too dry, too boring. But several years ago, right before my daughter’s baptism, I decided to read the New Testament from front to back.
As you might imagine, the most interesting stories were the ones found in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, that tell about the life and teachings if Jesus. I recall that every once in while I’d hit a passage that made me sit up and take notice, because Jesus was saying things I didn’t recall hearing in church.
I recently picked up the Bible again, and was glad to see that I had underlined the good parts for future reference. There were three specific passages that stood out to me, because they presented Jesus in a light we seldom hear about, with teachings that seem to cut against what many of us think about God and the church.
Mind Blower #1. “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
This passage starts with Luke 17:20 and continues in Luke 17:21 and I think it’s a real shocker—because it has the power to change your perspective on just where God is located and how you might access the Divine.
One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.”
Wait a second, isn’t the Kingdom of God supposed to be in the heavens, a place where the white-bearded Almighty sits on a golden throne? That’s the image of God the Father I recollect from my grade school catechism class, but it’s a description never referenced in the New Testament.
So what does it mean if, as Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is within? It means we don’t have to go very far to find all that we need in this life. All the wisdom and guidance we seek can be accessed at any given moment internally, once we learn to quiet the mind and tap into this amazing resource at the center of our being.
Mind Blower #2. “Ask and you will receive.”
This one comes from Mark 7:7 and deals directly with what we may ask for in prayer and out of life. It sounds so beautifully easy:
Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you.
This one I take with a grain of salt, as I don’t think you can take this to mean that God is a fairy godmother granting all wishes. But I do think it’s another sign that divine help is available to us at any given moment, if what we ask for is aligned with our purpose in this life (which is sure to involve you helping others).
Want a new Porsche convertible? Don’t even think about asking. But if you need help in guiding a troubled friend or solving a difficult family issue or even finding direction in your own life, assistance is available. Always do what you can with your own abilities—but feel free to ask for help and it will be given.
Mind Blower #3. “When you pray, pray privately.”
I was raised to believe that the place to pray was in church. Sure, you could say a bedtime prayer, but if you really wanted a direct connection to God, it was best done on Sundays from a church pew. This passage from Matthew 6:6 counters that ides in a big way. Here, Jesus instructs:
When you pray, go to your room and close the door. Pray privately to your Father who is with you. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.
As you may know, the idea of setting up a church was not the brainchild of Jesus, but of Paul of Taurus. Paul, who’s prominently featured in the New Testament, never actually met or received any direct input from Jesus on prayer or the church. In fact, the preceding passage in Matthew 6:5 actually seems to say don’t go to church: When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They like to stand in synagogues and on street corners to pray so that everyone can see them.
Now I am fully aware that there are many benefits to church attendance and gathering with a community of like-minded individuals. But it’s refreshing to hear that a twice-a-year church-goer like me can receive the same rewards from praying in private, something I do on a daily basis.
Final note: I’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot in the Bible that can rub you the wrong way or even leave you scratching your head. But as a local reverend once told me when I asked him about some parts of the Bible I found questionable, “you’ve got to find the passages that have meaning to you”. And that’s where I believe the value of the Bible lies, in finding the hidden chestnuts that talk to you.
You may also be interested in “10 True Things Jesus Said That You Won’t Find in the Bible.”