In a contemporary Christian song, this refrain, “Lord, reign in me”, is repeated several times. As I listened to these words, I considered the subtly but significantly different ways these words could be taken, understood, and applied. At first glance the difference I am about to describe may seem trivial and therefore insignificant. However, for me the difference is amazingly powerful.
The plea for God to reign in us could be viewed as an obligation, one which carries an afterlife threat of dire consequences. It can be seen as a submission to higher authority which is required because a higher being simply demands it. In this view, the submission is often seen as resulting in earthly happiness but primarily because we thereby escape future wrath and also nobly distinguish ourselves from the less enlightened. In fact, many of this mindset actually view submission to God as being sacrificial on their part. They submit and that act involves giving up the currently pleasant in favor of a reward in the hereafter. Therefore, the joy of having God reign is always tempered by the concept of what is to be given up here and now. The focus of joyfulness is largely projected into the indeterminate future somewhere. This thinking has often led to the conclusion that joyful living on earth is not God’s concern; this whole existence is merely a test or trial to determine one’s eternal state.
The alternative approach to seeing God’s reign in and through each of us is to consider that God reflects His divine influence on the world in and through each of us as we live our lives on this earth. In this view, we become “co-reigners” with God, working to help mold the world of tomorrow through personal example and transform that world as God intends it. This concept of God’s reign on earth does not involve divine coercion but rather divine wisdom. It may seem to be sacrificial to outsiders because it definitely involves unconventional and therefore unpopular thinking, but it can be joyfully embraced since it enhances our daily lives in this, the real present world of physical existence. Being an ally with God in the ultimate act of benevolence, instead of His endlessly contrite, obsequious vassal, is a picture that swells the human heart in amazement at a God who leads by example, even the example of ultimate self sacrifice. This is why, for me, a slight shift in interpretation brings about remarkably different results.