Explore: Hope of new worship

• The Explore the Bible lesson for July 20 focuses on Ezekiel 43:1-12.

The Christian singing group Third Day sings “These Thousand Hills.” The lyrics include these words: “These thousand hills roll ever on, in footprints of a mighty God. They bring me to my knees in praise. These thousand hills roll ever on, ripples of a coming storm. The morning star precedes the dawn. These thousand hills roll ever on.”

Ezekiel looked east from the temple and saw something no one ever had seen before. Surely, on some other occasions, he’d looked out the east gate and seen the landscape that hadn’t changed for millennia. This time, however, a visitor from God took him to the gate to see something new, the coming glory of God.

God's coming glory

Ezekiel tries to describe it, but his words can’t reach around it all. What he does tell us is the sight of God’s coming glory was so overwhelming he fell on his face in worship, much like Third Day sings. When we catch a glimpse of God’s true nature, it’s impossible not to get lost in worship.

We don’t know exactly what the “glory” of the Lord looked like to Ezekiel. We only know two things. Again, it drove Ezekiel to his knees, and it filled the entire temple with the unquestionable presence of God.

One morning, I was on my way to work, a little stressed out at the thought of what was ahead. Monthly goals had to be reached, and time was running very short. Dying people needed hospice care that was mine alone to give. It just seemed a little daunting.

On my car stereo, I was listening to the beautiful song “Ava Maria” as Josh Groban renders it. My drive took me south to an intersection where I had to stop for a red light. Just about the time Groban reached the crescendo of the song, the light turned green, and I turned east. That’s when I saw it.

This is God's world

Early morning gray clouds covered the sky. Yet where the sun was rising, shafts of white light had broken through the clouds, spilling themselves onto the earth just coming to life on a new day. Tears filled my eyes as the music and the sight came together as one to remind me of the glory of God, that this is God’s world and that I can trust God for all I need.

That’s hardly what Ezekiel saw, but it was all I needed to get through the day—a reminder of God, of God’s glory and God’s unfailing presence. God told Ezekiel he had, in essence, come to reclaim the temple. That false, empty worship would no longer be tolerated. That God wanted more than people simply going through the motions. God wanted people who came into the temple to experience his presence and holiness in personally transforming ways.

A friend once related an experience he had with worship. In the church in which he was raised, he said, the worship bulletin never changed. The exact number of hymns always was the same. The offering always was taken at the same time. Everything about worship in his home church had become so rote, people simply went through the motions without full consideration of the meaning of it all.

One particular Sunday, as the ushers came forward to receive the morning offering, the pastor, as usual, called on one of the ushers to pray the offertory prayer. The usher graciously complied and prayed these words. “Dear God, please let something happen in this worship service that isn’t printed in the bulletin.” The next Sunday, the order of service as printed in the bulletin had been changed.

True worship

It’s not uncommon in church life for the institution built to support worship to become the focus of worship instead of the God it was meant to honor. When anything replaces holy God as the true focus of worship, true worship ceases to happen.

Souls grow hungry, and people are lost in the shuffle. Massive amounts of money are invested in propping up the brick and mortar instead of being invested in helping change lives. With rarest exception, a church’s budget is the truest witness to its real mission, no matter how the church’s mission statement reads.

God instructed Ezekiel to speak prophetically to the people, to remind them whose temple it was and what true worship involved. True worship demands integrity in public worship and private life so the two become one. Otherwise, hypocrisy replaces worship, and God is not pleased.

Beyond that, those who need to experience worship—who beg God to do something not printed in the bulletin—go away disappointed and, perhaps, seeking God in other places. The glory of God seeks to be revealed each time we gather for worship. The only question is whether, like Ezekiel, we have the courage to face the east and see what God is bringing.

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