Ezra 3: 1: And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 3 Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening burnt offerings.4 … 6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, although the foundation of the temple of the Lord had not been laid. 7
In life, I have learnt that faith in God must be my default both in times of stress and times of peace; reaching for God, whether easy or hard, is the only healthy and powerful way to navigate life here on earth.
A few years ago, my nine-year old son, reflected on this issue with simple straightforward wisdom:
“Mom, at church, it’s “Jesus, Jesus”. When we worship, it’s “Jesus, Jesus”. Yet when we have a crisis, guess what? It’s “Crisis, crisis!” I asked my son for his solution to this problem.
“Easy.” he replied, “In crisis, just worship. Then it’s “Jesus, Jesus” all over again.”
The boy is right.
In our crisis-driven culture, it is easy to lose our focus and our peace.
In the time of Ezra, newly-freed captives assembled en masse in Judah, settled into their towns and then returned back to Jerusalem to begin the tough process of rebuilding their nation. The first item for restoration established a place of connect with God. Before gates, walls or the marketplace, Israel prepared the national altar for sacrifice, the place of atonement for sin. In order to come into right relationship with the living God., the community worked, “as one man” in the heroic task of rebuilding the meeting place to intentionally worship Almighty God.
Waiting till you are happy, healed or holy before you start worshiping God profits little. It is by beholding God in His greatness that perspective of His care, His love, His power, His passion for us, His faithfulness, His strength comes.
In Ezra’s time, the Jews who walked out freedom after seven decades of captivity didn’t wait for the foundation of the temple to be laid before they reached for God in worship. They didn’t wait for the King’s army to come and enforce their right to assemble as angry neighbours ranted about sedition. They didn’t wait for civil order to be established, for the economics of the nation to stabilize or for life to get easy once more. They gathered and brought their humble offerings in a national cry of declaration, that Israel exists only because of their God, the Lord Jehoveh, and He is worthy of all worship.
The restoration of Israel began with a national concerted effort to rightly worship Almighty God. As families gathered and animals were slain, confession of sin was made and in heartfelt thanks, the people of God reached up in reverent worship to the Lord Jehovah once more.
In our fast-paced world, there is great pressure to erect idols of stress management, control and pretense in crisis. Rather than choose God, rather than remember His greatness and place all control into His faithful Hands, we distance ourselves, stop talking with our Father and try to fix our problems with our own limited resources. As we reap little from double-minded, vain and independent striving, the world watches.
Our world is swamped by financial, personal and relational stress and remains consumed in pursuit of personal competency. When the Church functions as orphans in a Kingdom where we are designated as sons, we live as blind as those who have not yet encountered God. In our desire to manage pain, restrain crisis or simply be independent, control rules our lives rather than God. In our pride, we become gods of our own making.
Surrender to Christ, to His Lordship, gives no place for His subjects to live in desperate control of their resources or circumstances. When the Jews were thrust out of Judah into Babylon seventy years earlier, they were just like us. Instead of reaching for God, they reaped judgement as they reached for easy idols, comfort, control, power in defiance of God, refusing to surrender to His righteous ways.
“Lift up your heads, o ye gates, for the King of Glory comes in,” David cried in Psalm 24. For David, life began and ended with God. King David navigated crisis with national and personal worship of Almighty God; through worship of God, David consistently reaped favour, protection and supernatural provision.
Our Heavenly Father remains patient in love and longs for us to reach up to Him as the true strength of our lives, that we may astound the world with God’s answer of provision to our great expectations.
In those beautiful days of Ezra, God’s kids didn’t move into crisis management. The returning Israelites reached up to God, one stone at a time, as they placed huge value in restoring the temple and their cultural inheritance as God’s chosen people.
Worship is a powerful weapon, for it postures God’s people to consider God instead of themselves or their resources. Worship always costs.
Just like the days of Ezra, the enemy wars intensely with distraction, disappointment, and crisis to keep us from the powerhouse place of encounter as we worship of God.
Though the altar of the temple was laid in the seventh month and daily sacrifices to God began, the surrounding nations worked overtime to stop the rebuild of the temple.
Sadly, they were very effective. King Cyrus got wind via viturpritive letters by the neighboring governors, that Israel had a history of rebellion; he ordered all work on the temple to cease.
Twenty years later, the temple was finally restored in the 5th year of King Darius’ reign. Little wonder the people erupted in shouts of joy, loud enough for all the countryside to hear ( see Ezra 3:10-13, 6:13-17).
Though the stressors never ended for Israel, worship never ceased. As Israel chose God, life endured.
Today, that son of mine is studying the attributes of God as part of his Grade 8 Bible class. He says God’s mercy is His favorite.
I wonder, what cost of time, energy or resources could ever be enough to worship God in thanksgiving for His Mercy?
O Lord, teach us to shut out the clamour of crisis and turn to You as our Strength. When all we hear is taunts and accusations within and without, capture our heart to hear Your Voice of encouragement and wisdom and direction. Father God Almighty, We worship You today. You are holy, just, loving, merciful, faithful, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, eternal, unchanging, and beyond our grasp. Today we stand in awe of You, Almighty God as we reverence You as the Self- Existent, Self-sufficient One, infinite, transcendent and gracious, the Living God who stoops down in love to all whom You have so beautifully created. Today, we worship You, O righteous One, with joy in Your justice, Your mercy, Your patience, Your wisdom, Your love and Your goodness. O God of all truth, thank You for Your faithfulness to each of us this day. May You bless and keep us in this day; May You make Your face to shine upon us and be gracious to us; May You lift up Your countenance upon us and give us peace. Thank You Jesus, that You came to bring us abundant life in God. Holy Spirit, teach us and lead us to pursue God and worship Almighty God all of our days. Amen.
This Week Bible Reading: Ezra 10 – Nehemiah 8
Next Week Reading: Nehemiah 9 – Esther 3
- Why do you worship God?
- Which way do you enjoy worshiping God?
- Why was sacrifice so essential as a starting place in the days of Ezra?
- What do you start with when you are reaching for God in worship? Do you sing, dance, write, cook, paint, hike, mountain climb, or change diapers while you worship? Do you prefer to worship God alone or in group, in church or outdoors? Switch it up and see what it does for your relationship with God.
- Do you like to worship God for what He has done or for Who He is? Switch it up and see how your worship changes.
The New King James Version. 1982 (Ezr 3:1-7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.