“In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt— on the very day— they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain . . .” Exodus 19:1-3 NIV
When someone decides to worship today, the three most common accessories are sound, motion and community. While these are permissible, they are certainly not the original model.
Originally, God focused on the juxtaposing of the right time and the right place. In addition to the Sabbath for the Hebrews, there was a calendar that was unambiguous and asymmetrical. The weekly and annual schedules that applied to the general population were supplemented by various worship points during the day that the priests had to observe in the Temple.
Along with that was the insistence that worship be rooted in a designated location. It was a long time from Mount Sinai to Solomon’s Temple at Mount Moriah but the theme of worshipping at the place God specified remained. God’s complaint over their refusing to limit themselves to the style and location of worship He had prescribed was a relentless litany in the history of Israel.
1 Kings 14:23 For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. AV
1 Kings 15:14 But the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa’s heart was perfect with the LORD all his days. AV
1 Kings 22:43 And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the LORD: nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places. AV
2 Kings 12:3 But the high places were not taken away: the people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places. AV
2 Kings 14:4 Howbeit the high places were not taken away: as yet the people did sacrifice and burnt incense on the high places. AV
2 Kings 15:4 Save that the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places. AV
2 Kings 15:35 Howbeit the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burned incense still in the high places. He built the higher gate of the house of the LORD. AV
2 Kings 16:4 And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree. AV
Times have changed. In Paul’s view, following the Hebrew calendar is permissible but not mandatory. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” Colossians 2:15-16 NIV
So the obligation to worship at a specific time is no longer there, nor is the duty to worship at a specific place. We are free to be spontaneous in our timing and in our location.
However, there is a principle in Galations 4:1-7 NIV. “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”
In short, the original time/land dynamic of worship came from God’s heart. When we were slaves under the law, we were punished for not obeying that law. But now, as sons, we have the same Spirit of God in our hearts inviting us to have the wisdom to consider time/land dynamics voluntarily, and creatively, rather than coercively.
Let’s put it in the vernacular. Kiddo is not allowed to drive. Dad drives everywhere and forces kiddo to ride with him. When does Dad give the keys to his son or daughter? When he can trust them to drive more or less responsibly like he drives, voluntarily, because the kids are now smart enough to drive wisely, not because Dad is in the passenger’s seat, ready to punish malfeasance.
To me, this principle from the heart of God shouts. Where we worship and when we worship has implications at least to us, but might also affect how God receives that worship.
In my life, worship is immensely variegated. I know of few people who have as many different modes of worship as I do. AND, I am vastly spontaneous. Anywhere, anytime, I can find a way to worship, in public or private.
Having said that, I am also hugely diligent in my pursuit of time/land combinations. There are specific seasons in the year that I have sanctified for years. I know that on those days, worship will have a richer flavor because of the investment in those windows of time.
I also have quite a catalog of pieces of land around the world that have an uncommon flavor to them, facilitating worship. In May, I am going to be able to squeeze in a visit to a piece of very strong land I have only been on once before. But that fifteen minute bit of time did something huge to my spirit. I still remember it and am eagerly looking forward to spending more time there soon.
There is a mountain ridge which is known to be a spiritually great place for revelation. I hope to go there someday. It is on my wish list for exceptional worship experiences.
There are two Mercy patches of land in the US that I know well. I set time (and money) aside to go to one of them at least once a year, if possible. They release something different from me.
So slaves obey. Sons are creative. I have a time line with some wonderful spikes in it. And I have a lovely collection of unusual land. Since I am a son, I can creatively mix and match God, time, land and me, into a customized worship experience. Some are exquisite. Some are intense. Some are simple. Some are complex.
None are boring to me, and I trust not to The Most High either.
Freedom from constraints doesn’t mean worship needs to be narrow or merely spontaneous. In the midst of the spontaneous, there is room for the carefully crafted worship experience.
God modeled it for the Hebrews. We can embrace the principle and raise the bar as a generation of unparalleled worshippers.
Copyright May 2016 by Arthur Burk
From the Hub