"But when the people of the land come before the LORD on the appointed feast days, whoever enters by way of the north gate to worship shall go out by way of the south gate; and whoever enters by way of the south gate shall go out by way of the north gate. He shall not return by way of the gate through which he came, but shall go out through the opposite gate."
Why do we worship? From my own personal experience, I believe we worship the Lord as a natural response to our salvation. We exalt the Lord our God, praise His holy name, lift Him up with our hearts and words and music and dance, all because of who He is and what He has done. The sad thing is that for many people, worship has become rote. They sing hymns whose meanings escape them, never understanding the thoughts and feelings and even doctrine behind the songs. And so when they sing "There is no shadow of turning with Thee," they don't remember the Scripture to which it refers--James 1:17--nor do they understand that it refers to the unchanging love of our Lord.
Why don't they know these things? The simple reason would be that they don't read their Bibles, and so while they are thinking some songwriter's lyrics are all original, they miss the fact that the song they're singing was drawn almost completely from Scripture. But the deeper reason people don't "get it" when they worship is that they don't have the heart for it. Just as they neglect their Bibles--leaving the Word of God gathering dust on a shelf--so they also neglect their own spiritual growth, never caring whether or not they grow in faith and knowledge of the Lord. "I love the Lord; that ought to be enough," they sometimes say. "Enough"?!? Since when is anything we do "enough" when it concerns the Lord our God?
1 Chronicles 16:28-29
28 Give to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
Give to the LORD glory and strength.
29 Give to the LORD the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come before Him.
Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!
We cling to that wonderful verse in John 3:16 which says God GAVE His only begotten Son for our salvation, and yet what do we give Him in return? Doesn't the Lord deserve far more than we could ever give? Let me tell you what I have found: when I give more of myself in times of worship and prayer, then I get more in return. I feel different after a time of praising the Lord, and I am certain that I am no longer the same man I was when I first came into that place. And I am not just talking about Sunday morning services! We always offer praise and worship before the Bible studies I attend, and that changes my heart to be more receptive to the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit. We spend a lot of time in worship on Sunday mornings, and that opens us up to God's truth, too. And more than that, whenever we praise the Lord our God, we bring Him down amongst us. Worship has power to heal and power to set captives free. Worship is transforming!
That is what struck me as I was reading in the book of Ezekiel this morning. Starting in chapter 40, the prophet talks about the new city of God and the new temple wherein all the people of God will worship. And here in today's verse, we have a description of the way people shall come to the temple. On the surface, it seems like a simple instruction to keep order, to follow a particular way of entering and leaving the temple. But notice that the Lord does not say that ALL shall enter by one particular gate and leave by the opposite one. No, He says that whatever gate by which they enter, north or south, then they shall not leave by the same gate. Even as some people enter from the north or the south gates, others are leaving by the same. The people leaving may meet people they might not normally meet who live to the south or the north. Most importantly, they shall not leave the same way they came in. Doesn't that speak to you about the way we ought to enter and leave worship?
When you and I go to a place to worship, do we ever leave by a different door? We typically enter and leave by the front door of the church or meeting hall or conference room. We drive out on the same road where we drove in. We travel the same route to and from church every Sunday. And when we get to church, we sit in the same pew, associate with the same people, fellowship with the same small group, exchange the same pleasantries with the same friends. It's all the SAME. But the Lord our God is calling us to go out "the opposite gate." We enter one way--by way of our sin and need for salvation, by way of our brokenness and need for wholeness, by way of our doubt and need for faith, by way of our need to praise God for His being and His mighty works, by way of our desire for God in Christ--and we are to leave the opposite way--saved by His gospel, made whole by His love, growing in faith because He is faithful, fulfilled by our worship, and having found Jesus Christ in our lives. We are not meant to be the same person when we leave!
1 A Psalm of Thanksgiving.
Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.
3 Know that the LORD, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
5 For the LORD is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.
We must enter into God's presence with praise and thanksgiving, knowing that He is good, that His mercies are new every morning, and that we are His people. We are to enter into worship with gladness, with joy, with willingness to exalt His name and to be transformed by Him.
But You are holy,
Enthroned in the praises of Israel.
When we worship, the Lord is invited to sit upon the throne of glory we have established through our praise, to BE the Lord God we know we is. He inhabits our praises, and when He comes among us that way, then we cannot help but be transformed. Yes, our focus should not be on ourselves and on what we might get from spending such "quality time" with our Father in heaven, but we should allow our hearts to be opened by Him, to be changed and renewed by spending time in His presence that way.
On a purely psychological level, getting our focus off ourselves and onto God "lightens our load." We see our lives with new perspective through HIS eyes, through the lens of His grace. (Matthew 6:33-34 comes to mind.) Through worship and forgetting about ourselves for a while, we are able to sort our troubles from our joys and to focus on the JOYS. We learn to bring Him into more aspects of our lives, so that we are less self-centered and more Christ-centered.
The time of worship is supposed to be about lifting up the Lord, and yet when we leave that time, do we not feel uplifted ourselves? Do we not feel strengthened? Do we not feel His presence more strongly in our hearts and minds and souls? Do we not feel more capable of love and forgiveness? Do we not weep more readily at the glory and beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ? If so, then we have entered and left by opposite gates. If not, then we have not opened ourselves to His presence, not really sought Him nor desired the transformation He offers.
Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses' hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him.
No matter which way we come into the presence of the Lord, our worship should transform us, making us the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14-16) We ought not to be self-conscious of this transformation, but we should expect it and embrace it. Moses spent time with God on Mount Sinai, and when he came down from that place, the people were afraid to go near him because of the glory of God that shone from his face. That transformation never left Moses; his face shone so much that he wore a veil among the people after that day. And yet when he entered the presence of God, he removed the veil and stood open-faced before the Lord from whom nothing is ever hidden. Moses went up that mountain as a reluctant shepherd of God's chosen people, and he came down as God's prophet, anointed by the very light of God which still shone from his face.
1 Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.
2 For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the LORD will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
Let us come into worship by whatever route our hearts need, but let us expect to be changed by the experience. Let the presence of God so infuse our praises that we are no longer aware of where we came from, of who we once were before that day and that moment. Let us enter into His courts with praise and thanksgiving, and let us leave knowing that His light and His glory will be seen in us. And whatever gate through which we entered--pain, loss, oppression, brokenness, rebirth, or simple praise--let us leave by the opposite gate as renewed children of God.
Lord God of heaven and earth, let Your light arise in us! Allow us to enter into Your gates with praise and to leave renewed as You have ordained. Let us not be the same people we were when we came to You but be transformed by the renewing of Your Spirit. Guide our steps TO You and FROM You, so that we are not the same as when we first sought Your salvation and Your grace. Show us the opposite gate, that we may come forth from worship as new creations in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.