I was quite popular when I was a small kid growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In school I had a reputation for being smart and kind, yet shy and quiet. I remember my classmates fighting each other over who could work with me on group projects. Outside of school, I picked up friends easily at church or at the local park by just being my friendly self.
This all began to change as I got older. Those who I called my “friends” began to distance themselves from me because we no longer shared the same interests. I preferred to “stay on the straight and narrow,” as some call it. My former friends were more interested in drugs, promiscuity, and gang activity. It was social suicide to be around me if you wanted to be popular or cool. I was no longer known as the quiet, kind, and smart kid. I was now accused of being arrogant, weird, and nerdy.
By the time I was in middle school, I ate lunch alone in the cafeteria. I didn’t socialize much anymore. I was becoming an outcast. Still, I was optimistic about my future because my family was moving to Atlanta. I thought that I could find a new sense of belonging in the South—but I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
The gap between my personality and lifestyle couldn’t be any more distant from those of the kids I met in the suburbs of Atlanta. The few kids who would talk to me were usually chastised by their cliques for doing so. I was always made to feel excluded by my classmates and even some teachers. Unfortunately, I saw the same exact patterns of behavior at the new megachurch my parents were joining as members. At this point, I truly was a loner, and I became bitter at God over my situation. Although my parents had taught me about Jesus since I was born, I became agnostic as a teen. I believed that if there is a God, he must hate me.
Due to the lack of academic rigor offered at my local schools, I entered homeschooling in the 10th grade. As a result, I felt like I missed out on a lot during my teen years, so I hoped to make one final push to fit in during my freshman year of college. Again, I failed to form any meaningful relationships or enjoy any social activities. It was like the other students could sniff out that I lived a completely different lifestyle from theirs. Even though I no longer identified as Christian, I still abstained from sex, drugs, and alcohol. It seemed as though no one wanted to hang around someone like that, especially in college of all places. My self-esteem was beginning to tank further and further downhill. I had always enjoyed doing schoolwork, but at this point I was skipping out on assignments and not putting effort into anything.
I began to accept the situation I was in until I received my grade point average (GPA) for the semester. When I saw that I earned a 2.7 GPA—never earning anything below a 3.5 in my entire life—I realized my priorities were out of order. It was like a light switch turned on in my head. I realized I craved acceptance so much that I had let go of the things that were actually important to me. I had forgotten about the things that I actually enjoyed doing. I hadn’t been acting like myself. All the time I spent seeking acceptance should have been used to find purpose—to find meaning in my circumstances rather than sulking over my shortcomings.
The first thing I did that night was get on my knees and pray for forgiveness. I asked God to accept me—and he did. I felt a change in my mind and heart, like a heavy boulder had been lifted from my soul. I felt physically lighter, and for the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful. These were signs that the beginnings of a spiritual transformation had occurred.
That experience changed my mindset. I was no longer ashamed of who I was, and I didn’t care who accepted me or not because I belonged to the kingdom of God, or God’s spiritual order.
When I accepted Jesus into my heart, meaning that I realized that Jesus is real and his teachings are true, I also accepted allegiance to his heavenly kingdom. As I continue to grow in my relationship with God, I am assimilating to the culture of Heaven—its values and priorities. As I am transformed internally, my allegiance to God’s kingdom and his way of doing things begins to show externally. My views, decisions, and lifestyle choices continuously grow in alignment with God’s own heart. By maintaining my relationship with him through worship, prayer, fasting, reading the Bible, and following his teachings and instructions, I aim to “conduct [myself] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 NIV). The gospel being Jesus’ sacrifice and teachings.
I’ve been using the words “grow” and “continuously” a lot. Acting as a member of God’s spiritual kingdom while living here on earth is not an easy task. Yes, it may only take a few seconds to experience Jesus as being real, but no one becomes a “good” Christian overnight. While believers are looking towards God’s spiritual kingdom—something that is yet to be visible—we are constantly in battle against the things we can see. I saw my friends abandon me when I was a kid. Even today, I see people glorifying and participating in selfish, destructive lifestyles. I see those same people shame and exclude those who do not join them.
How do believers fight these day-to-day battles against highly visible problems? First, by reading the Bible. Reading the Bible helps re-center our hearts and minds to God’s teachings, even if we’re reading the same scripture over and over again. One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, where the Apostle Paul says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Scriptures like these remind us that what we cannot currently see with our eyes is more valuable and durable than what we see here on earth, whether that’s looking at our own personal issues or our seemingly degenerate society.
This doesn’t mean all that is visible is completely irrelevant. The second way we fight is by our conduct. Our conduct is visible to both God and our earthly communities. This is something I did not fully understand when I first asked for God’s acceptance. My attitude about myself had improved, but my behavior towards those I felt had excluded me worsened. I was not acting like I belonged to God’s kingdom. When I made a commitment to read the entire Bible, I started off with the New Testament. I gained a greater understanding of Christian ethics and behavior by reading the letters written by Paul. In the Book of Philippians, which is a collection of letters written by Paul to the Christians of Philippi (an ancient city in Greece), he gives instructions on how we should conduct ourselves in order to properly represent God’s kingdom and its principles. Paul does not draw out a tedious list of dos and don’ts—instead, he teaches how we can actively apply the advice in his letters to how we live our lives. As we read through his words in Philippians, we see the important and necessary connection between being a member of God’s kingdom and behaving like a part of God’s kingdom.
How to Live a Life Worthy of the Unseen King
Often, our allegiance to God’s kingdom counters the cultural norms and values of this world, and we will be misunderstood and persecuted as a result. Persecution against Christianity can come in different forms. In some cases, it’s as simple as being taunted or abandoned by family and friends and, in more extreme cases, losing civil rights and personal safety. In Philippians 1:27-30, Paul instructs believers not to fear our opponents: “…stand firm in the one spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” Having faith in Christ goes hand in hand with suffering for Christ, but we should not live in fear, because he will deliver us from our persecutors. The rest of verse 28 further explains that our fearlessness and ability to withstand suffering is proof that God alone will bring deliverance, and those who opposed us will be destroyed: “This [fearlessness] is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.” “Destroyed” sounds harsh here, but I believe in modern terms this means the social systems and government institutions that upheld our persecution will be removed. There are many forms of deliverance, such as deliverance from sickness, toxic environments, or unhealthy habits, but there is also the ultimate deliverance: when Christ returns—when his kingdom becomes visible and tangible to his believers. According to Matthew 24:36, no one knows when this ultimate deliverance will happen, but it will happen. Whatever persecution we are facing is temporary, because God guarantees deliverance.
In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul instructs believers to serve in unity through empathy: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” Not only should believers look out for those in our own communities, but we should also be considerate of the well-being of others outside of them—even if that means putting their interests above our own. Paul further emphasizes this point in 3 John 1:5, “You are [showing your faith] in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you.”
To fulfill any of these tasks—to reject fear, to endure persecution, to unite with others, and to serve those in need—often requires sacrifice on our part. Take for example our author of Philippians, Paul. He belonged to an elite social class called the Pharisees, but chose to sacrifice his life of comfort and high status to serve as an apostle for Jesus (Acts 9). He was greatly persecuted for his ministry, but here is what Paul thought of his noble past: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8-9). Every believer has their own unique path in Christ, so what sacrifice looks like to one person may drastically differ from the other. It is important to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance on what comforts or indulgences in your life you need to release to live a life representative of Jesus’ teachings.
Lastly, in Philippians 2:14-16, Paul says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped, crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” This is the essence of being a part of God’s kingdom. We are like shining stars in the midst of vast darkness, letting God’s light—his mercy and love—shine through us for all to witness, not for our own honor but for his. We hope that when others see his light through the way we live our lives, they will want to shine too.
Bridging the Seen and the Unseen
Once I began to apply what I was reading to my outward behavior and attitude, my life took a positive turn. I began doing volunteer work and attended weekly Bible studies at a new church. I forgave those who I felt had wronged me. I learned to respect myself while also showing love and respect towards others, even when I don’t receive the same in return. I’ve learned to accept the fact that if people see me as different or an outcast, it is because I am living under different leadership. I am led by a king who has given me a sense of belonging and purpose—things that this society could never provide me. I believe this is what God wanted me to know all along, but I was too distracted by worldly things. Once my friends, my popularity, and my academic successes were gone, I finally realized where I was supposed to be—in his kingdom.
Living for what you cannot see in spite of everything you can see is a challenging experience. I believe that practicing the instructions and examples given in the Bible, including the Book of Philippians, is the best way to bridge the seen to the unseen and remain faithful to God’s kingdom. Being accepted into his kingdom is only the beginning of the journey.