I’m currently reading the Book of Exodus. In it we discover such great detail regarding the construction, decor and maintenance of the temple of the Lord. If you’ve ever read through Exodus then you too have discovered the incredible minutia. Everything detail has of corresponding detail. Everything has a purpose and a place. The lampstand must be made of certain materials. The frame of the tabernacle has specific dimensions. Even the curtains must be made of a particular fabric and have just the right amount of embroidery and yarn. Lots and lots of detail. Almost mind-numbing. Just when my eyes were beginning to gloss over I was captured by these verses:
“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.” Exodus 27:20-21
Here we discover God’s command to the priests that there should always be a light left on in the temple. The inner court must alway have illumination. The lamps were to be filled with pure beaten olive oil. The process by which olive oil is harvested and refined is amazing. There are various grades of oil (ie: extra virgin) and the command was such that only the purest form be brought to the inner court to keep the light burning day and night.
Throughout Biblical history, we discover that oil is often used as a typology of the Holy Spirit and His anointing presence. From this passage, one can surmise that the Lord God desired that there be a visual reminder of His Presence always burning brightly within the temple and before the people. God’s desire for His manifold Presence to be expressed, enjoyed and exalted remains today. He wants His Presence to be evident in our modern churches.
How often have we been a part of or at least aware of congregations in which God’s Presence has not dwelt for some time? These are empty shells, white-washed tombs, and shadows of their former selves.
The lights are barely on, and God is certainly not at home.
How can we, in our postmodern culture, insure that the Presence of the Holy Spirit still burns brightly within our midst? I believe there are two components that are found in the Exodus 27 passage.
1. The People Bring It
The people of Israel were commanded to bring the pure oil to the temple for the lamp to remain lit. There is a responsibility on their part that is often overlooked today. Our contemporary churches have largely become spectator based in which folks rate the service like that of an episode of American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance? In large part the leaders of the local church have a heavy expectation to “bring it,” and if there seems to be a lack of God’s Presence then the service is rated accordingly. In this passage we discover the opposite expectation. The people were to “bring it.”
Imagine, Spirit-filled believers coming together and collectively bringing the indwelling Presence of God with them. Our church gatherings would be lit up! That’s where the pastors role begins.
2. The Pastor Tends It
Aaron and his sons were the priests of the temple. They were commanded to tend to the lamp from evening to morning. What is notably absent from this passage? Bringing oil was not their responsibility. Their role involved tending. Today in our churches, we have pastors that are given the same role: to keep the lamp burning with the oil that the people bring.
I have known good and Godly leaders that are struggling in their place of service. There are a number of reasons why this could be the case. But it occurs to me that perhaps they are trying to keep a lamp burning without oil. Another image would be: making bricks without straw. These well-meaning pastors have too great an expectation upon them to be both bringer and tender. That is an undue expectation.
Welcome to the Kingdom of God partnership: people and pastor. Together we can keep the light on for God.