The Work of the People
Building the Altar of God
The promise was coming true. God promised that His people would return to Jerusalem. They were now venturing back to the Holy City. However it was not much more than Holy Rubble. Not much of a city remained and the new neighbors that had moved in frightened them.
As a great mass of God's people began to occupy Jerusalem, it must have been an amazing sight to see. There was celebration and singing. But the excitement and singing during the return probably faded quickly as God's children saw mangled Jerusalem for the first time. The invaders had destroyed the city. Ezra says that God's people feared their foreign neighbors. Little did they know, they themselves were now the foreigners in their own land and a foreign King gave them permission to return. Humiliation. Fear of others not like us. It would have been easy to understand that the first order of business would have been to build a fence. Keep the distance. Yet Ezra tells is this way.
In early autumn, when the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled in Jerusalem with a unified purpose . . . rebuilding the altar of the God. (Ezra 3:1-2 NLT)
There is no construction of fortresses for protection. There are no guards to assist in the case of an attack. There is just one unified purpose - building true worship. Not only that, but the altar was built in full view for the world to see! Worship was the center of the activity of God's people. It was the essential element that took place in their lives. Earlier in Israel's story, Moses has a tent of meeting. Yes, before there was a wall around the Holy City, there were just tents and campfires setup around the place of God's presence. Worship of God was always at the center.
Today, worship has become a day and not a lifestyle. To be a regular worshiper means you may at church once a month. The need to be in God's presence is outweighed by the need to see the next blockbuster. Worship is no longer the center of life. It's an option to choose from if you feel like it or have time for it.
While there are many reasons why the above is true, we need to answer this question. What does it take to make worship the center of life again for you and me? You need to take some time to write those things down. Yet as you plan your corporate worship services, begin your journey with these few notes.
How do you build the altar of God in the lives of your attenders?
1. Allow the worship experience to reflect the creativity of God.
2. Allow the people to participate in the worship. It's not a concert and the participatory role should not just be reduced to singing. To the techno audience, a smartphone and www.polleverywhere.com can allow the attenders to give live feedback as the pastor is preaching. Or the Lord's Supper is a meaningful way inviting your attender into God's story.
3. Assist your attenders in recognizing the sacred. God's redeeming love is like no other love they will experience.
4. Change it up. Switching how worship looks from time to time will keep your worshipers from worshiping the form. We many times give more importance to the how instead of the who. Be cautious here. The flow still needs to direct the audience to see God. Too much change ultimately points to manipulation instead of the Holy One.
5. Make prayer intentional and meaningful. Prayer is not a transition to another element. It is our chance to talk to God and for you to teach your people how to speak to Him.
May God allows us to return as promised . . . to restore His altar of worship.
-Jonathan Trees serves as the Worship Arts Pastor at Highland Park Nazarene Church in Lakeland, FL.