Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. – Exodus 33:7-11
This is one of my favorite passages in scripture. Most people aren’t even aware that it is there. However, I think it is a very powerful story of worship and of the presence of God.
Every time I read this snippet of the story of Moses and the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, I am struck by several things.
The first is in verse 7. It says that “everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting….”. So the tent of meeting was placed outside of the camp, but it was available for anyone who wanted to go and seek God. Anyone who wanted to be in His presence was invited to go out to the tent of meeting, at any time that they desired. However, this short passage doesn’t mention anyone going to the tent except for Moses and Joshua.
The second is that, whenever Moses would go to the tent, the people would get up and stand in the doorways of their own tents and watch for a sign that God’s presence was visiting Moses. And when they would see the pillar of cloud they would stand and worship from their own tent doors… they would worship from afar…
The people who had been rescued from the enslavement of the Egyptians, though invited, didn’t enter the tent of meeting to be in God’s presence. They stood at a distance and watched for their leader to enter God’s presence and then they worshipped without drawing near. Never experiencing His presence for themselves. Never investing themselves in taking the journey to where God’s presence was housed. Selah. (Pause and think on that)
And then there’s Moses. The passage says that God spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to a friend. When Moses would go out to spend time in God’s presence, then God talked with him. Personally. Intimately. Comfortably. As if speaking to a close friend.
Finally, the passage names Joshua. Scripture says that Joshua was a young man, and that he never left the tent of meeting. He, in spite of his youth, made the decision to remain where God’s presence resided. He did not leave. He literally chose to LIVE where God was. He determined that he wanted, more than anything else at that time, to spend his days – and his nights – communing with God.
Such a powerful “little” story.
In the Old Testament, the presence of God was housed in one location. The Israelites chose to remain a distance from this place and worship God without drawing near to His face and presence. They stayed, “safely”, removed from where the powerful evidence of God would appear. Joshua, on the other hand, chose to remain incessantly where God was. Night and day He sought after God.
Of the two, who do we more resemble in these advanced times? The ones who have been freed from the enslavement of the enemy, yet we worship the One Who paid for our freedom and liberty from afar? Or the one who longed to be nowhere else but face-to-face with God?
God’s presence is no longer housed in a specific tent outside the city. It is no longer inaccessible to those who refuse to leave the safety of their own comfort zone. Wherever we are, God, Himself, is there…. Scripture, in Psalm 139: 7-10 says “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
And Jeremiah 23:24 says “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.”
There is nowhere that we can go where God’s presence does not reside. His presence is in even the most secret of places. And it is our choice whether to abide… remain… LIVE in His presence, or to stand back and watch others spend time with Him, as one spends time with a close friend, and miss out on knowing Him intimately.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13
Don’t leave the tent.
It’s Sunday morning. The traditional day set aside to worship God in community with other Christ-followers.
I’m not feelin’ it.
I didn’t sleep well. My alarm didn’t go off so now I’m rushing. I’m having wardrobe malfunctions. The kids are grumpy because I’m rushing them. The spouse is NOT happy at having to get up early on “one of only two mornings I get to sleep late every week” – esPECially since he/she stayed up late… very late. We fight on the way to church. This should make for a wonderful experience this morning.
Open my heart to worship? I’m not feelin’ it. Sing? Yeah. I’m still mad, so I’m not feelin’ that either. Raise my hands in surrender? SO not feelin’ THAT.
Okay. So you’ve had a bad morning. A bad weekend. A bad week. And your feelings are hurt and all muddled up, messy, and hard like playdough that’s been pounded into a container by a 3-year old and left with the lid off.
What are you going to do about it?
Better question – what do any of those cranky, stanky, I-need-a-hanky feelings have to do with expressing worship to a great and holy God?
Our feelings, crusty and ugly as they may get, do not – can not – will not – ever change God. In spite of whether we’re “feelin’ it” or not – God is Who He is.
He is forever worthy of each one gathered deciding to shake-off-your-feelings, throw-back-your-head, lift-high-your-hands, and recognize that He is the Almighty, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Forgiving, Ever Merciful, Ever Gracious, Ever Listening, Loving-You-With-Fierce-Abandon Father and Lord over everything that exists… and then worship without restraint.
Feelin’ it yet?
One of my best friend’s house burned this past weekend. The fire started in the rear bedroom and burned so hot that it collapsed the floor and burned everything in the basement. In the basement had been stored boxes of books that belonged to me…and books are one of the things that I absolutely treasure.
I have learned so many things from reading. In reading a book I can go places in my mind that my body may never be able to travel. Words paint pictures in my mind. I “feel” the heart of the writer when I read. And God shows me so many things – beyond the written words – in even “every day, ordinary” books… I absorb those things into my heart like a dry sponge. Words, especially written, are one of the things that speaks to the very depths of my soul. So books are a treasure to me. And now most of them were gone. Lost in a pile of charred rubble.
I went with my friend to see her home after the fire. As we stood outside and looked down through that bedroom window into what was left of the basement below, lying on top of the blackness – outside of the pools of black water – was one of the most important books in my life Heart of the Artist. It’s a book about creativity and the heart of God, worship versus performance, servanthood versus stardom, accountability, and how God can use the heart of the artist to reach into others’ souls and touch even the very deepest and darkest places with His love and His light. And there it was. It’s full-color cover was still intact and it stood out to me in the midst of the darkness surrounding it. And God spoke to me, about my life, through that image…
In the last several years, the things that had brought me feelings of security, those things that I had considered stable in my life, had collapsed. Things that had been comfortable and safe were gone. Things that I had invested my life in were no longer there. All had been lost in the rubble of a world that had fallen down all around me, charred from the fires of conflict and anger, seemingly destroyed.
And for the last several years I’ve cried… watering the rubble that was my life with my tears. Tears of shame for the marriage that I had lost. Tears of guilt for the failure that I had become to my children – not living a life that I was willing for them to follow. Tears of grief for the ministry that I loved passionately, and was no longer able to do… no longer “fit” for in my mind. So many tears in the last few years. So many days and nights weeping for things that I had lost hope of ever being restored. Unable to forgive myself. Unable to recover, rebuild, or even heal in some of the wounded places of my heart and soul.
Yet as I wept I yearned for that closeness with God again. I longed to sense Him. To feel His touch. To KNOW that He was still there. That He still heard. That He still loved. (Knowing this with regards to others was easy, but accepting it for myself – one of the impossible things in my own mind). I ached for some kind of confirmation that I was still “worth-it” to Him… that His gifts and callings – in my life – were without repentance… that my heart was still His and His hand was still on my life to minister to others – to use those creative passions in my own heart to touch the hearts of others. This has been my painful journey for the last 5 years. Tears of black water over a life of rubble.
Then today I see, untouched, The Heart of the Artist in the midst of a pile of crumbled, charred, tattered debris.
And although my heart is not untouched by the destruction in my life, God showed me – through this simple image – that my heart is still His. It can be restored. “Full-color” creativity can be uncovered and recovered by Him. My gifts and talents are still intact and He still sees me worthy to carry those gifts.
I am humbled by the reminder that in the midst of the rubble that has been my life of late, God can still use the heart of this artist to reach into – and touch – the hearts and souls of others with His love and his light.