PRIESTS OF THE LORD
BY: CHIP BROGDEN
The Basis Of God’s Need: A Love Relationship
The Church of Antioch
Intelligent Worship or Thoughtless Habit
Organized Religion Primarily Concerned With The Outer Court
Ministry To People Or Ministry To The Lord?
Those Who Minister To The Lord Maintain The Sanctity Of The Inner Court
They Will Come Near To Me… And Stand Before Me… And Offer Unto Me
They Will Teach What Is Acceptable And Unacceptable
What does it mean to be the Lord’s minister? What is ministry? According to the popular definition of ministry I have actually been “in the ministry” for many years. I have always been in a state of either preparing for the ministry or performing ministry as I understood it. Of course, that means I have either been pastoring a church, teaching a class, or operating some kind of evangelistic or missionary outreach. This is what comes to mind when most people think of the word “ministry”. It is the working definition I operated from for the majority of my life.
Through a series of painful experiences the Lord brought me to a deeper understanding of what ministry to Him is. In this writing I would like to explain this deeper ministry. I have referred to it a number of times in other writings and in my spoken messages, but by the grace of the Lord I would like to take some time here and expound a bit on this perspective of ministry.
This ministry actually existed before anything else came into being, so it is not new at all, but it is certainly rare, so it may be new to us, though it is old. Simply defined, this is ministry that is directed TO THE LORD. Whereas typical ministry is directed TO man and FOR man, the ministry of which I am speaking is directed TO the Lord and FOR the Lord. There is a place for ministry to the saints, yet there are many instances and examples of ministry to the saints, and very few instances of ministry TO THE LORD ALONE. I understand that most people minister to men “for the Lord’s sake” and see it as one and the same; nevertheless, I am speaking of a kind of ministry that is WHOLLY for the Lord, and not for man at all. Ministry to men is commonplace, but ministry to the Lord is on the verge of extinction.
Even as I write these words I realize that not everyone will understand or accept what has to be said. I am not trying to convince anyone to change anything. But I believe the Lord has always reserved for Himself people who will minister TO HIM, especially at this time when the Lord’s need is so urgent. With a little light thrown on the subject you may at last hear the confirmation you need to be released into this fullness. So those who are meant to hear this will hear it, and you know who you are. The rest of you may take it as another “interesting study” and go along as before. But it is my prayer that as we consider the Scriptures together the Lord will use this to confirm what He has been saying to many of you already. He is indeed drawing many saints into this ministry. So let us explore it together with open hearts and open minds to see what the Lord is saying to us.
THE BASIS OF GOD’S NEED: A LOVE RELATIONSHIP
“This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:32)
Before we go any further we need to stop and explain what is meant by “The Lord’s Need”. Some hear it for the first time and think we are suggesting that the Lord has some kind of a lack that makes Him incomplete, and thus, not all-powerful. That is not what we are saying at all.
We have to think about the Lord’s Need, not in terms of His ability or omnipotence, but in terms of His heart’s desire. I do not “need” my wife. I can dress myself, feed myself, and take care of myself just fine. I can exist apart from her. But in another sense I do need my wife, and I do not want to exist apart from her. From a relationship standpoint, from a love perspective, I need her. In the same way, God is God with us or without us. But from the point of view of a love relationship, God has a Purpose, a Desire, and yes, a Need. There is something that will satisfy His heart that only we can provide, and that something is beyond description, except to say it has to do with love. It has to do with our response to His overtures towards us. Proverbs tells us that love is too wonderful to understand or explain (Proverbs 30:18,19). In fact, the only reason why God continued beyond the creation of angels and animals, towards something closer to His own image, was to have someone with whom He could love (and be loved) on the same level as Himself, and that is only possible when He is able to fill that person completely. In other words, they must be made in His image, and they must be changed into His likeness.
It is all about relationship! Look at how Eve came forth from Adam. First, there was a need. “It is not good for Adam to be alone.” Then, all the animals are brought to Adam, but a suitable help-meet was not found among them. Then, Eve is created out of Adam, and at last the need is met, for “she is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh” (cf. Genesis 2). Paul says this explains the mystery of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:30-32). How so? It is a pattern of the heavenly relationship. First, if we may boldly say, the Lord decided it was not good for Him to be alone anymore! We will have to explain that further as we go along. In any event, the angels and animals are created, but a suitable help-meet was not found among them. If they were suitable then He would have stopped there, but they did not and could not fully meet His Need or satisfy His Desire. Instead, God took something of Himself and created Man in His own image – someone who would be a little below the angels and a little above the animals. Now, we are “members of His Body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” (Ephesians 5:30)
Did not Christ, the pre-existent Son, satisfy God’s heart? Indeed. But if we look at the language of Genesis, we see, “Let US make man in OUR own image.” (Genesis 1:26a) God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit together desired for companionship and communion with someone other than themselves. Hence, it was agreed to proceed with the creation of a being that would have the capacity for giving and receiving love in a way that is quite beyond the reach of animals or angels. And so we have the creation of Man. If we look back over the history of mankind we see the tremendous energy and exertion put forth by the Godhead to create Man, then redeem him after he sinned, in order to restore this rocky relationship. What a tremendous cost was involved! What an awesome price was to be paid! What plausible explanation is there to justify all the time, effort, trouble, and longsuffering God has had to endure in His dealings with Man? How are we to understand the willingness of Christ to die for us? The only thing which makes sense is totally illogical, yet understandable. Only someone IN LOVE would put themselves through such trouble. So in God’s case it is LOVE, deeper than we can fathom, that motivates Him. Therefore, to meet the Lord’s Need is to satisfy His heart’s desire for communion and fellowship on a level that is beyond our own abilities. How then can we do it? Such communion can only truly occur when Christ has the preeminence in us, for He is the only One Who, AS A MAN, has ever completely met the Lord’s Need and satisfied His heart. Others have come close.
“You cannot truly love until you know God, for God is love.” (I John 4:8)
Imagine, if you can, what it must be like to have so much to give, so much to share, so much love to pour out, but no one around who can receive it, appreciate it, benefit from it, or even know that such love exists. God IS love. Can we imagine what it must be like to BE love, but have no one to love? An omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal God Who is Love is in some unimaginable sense incomplete without someone who can represent the object of His love, adoration, tender mercies, and personal care. We talk about a God-shaped vacuum in every man’s heart that only God can fill. Is it too much to imagine that perhaps there is a man-shaped vacuum in God’s heart that only man can fill? If this is so, then union with God is as much about meeting GOD’s need as it is about meeting MAN’S need.
If this seems far-fetched, consider God’s initial reaction to mankind as a whole when it became clear that sin had consumed them all. Scripture says that when God saw that every imagination and thought of man was only towards evil continually, He was grieved in His heart (Genesis 6:6). The Hebrew word “grieved” here is a rich, full word which carries with it many emotions, including worry, anger, grief, and (here is what I want us to see) HURT. God was brokenhearted! From whence comes this flood of emotion? Of course, there is the obvious fact that men have fallen into sin and are killing one another. “God hates sin!” the preachers scream. Everyone knows that God hates sin – but WHY does He hate sin?
Here is a picture of what Sin really is. The Lord comes down to commune with the man in the cool of the day, as usual. But this time the man is nowhere to be found. So the Lord begins to call out, “Where are you?” The man, shaking and trembling in the bushes, is too afraid to come out and commune with God as before (cf. Genesis 3). The man has lost something priceless – but can you not see the Lord has lost just as much? Friends THAT is what makes sin such a hateful thing to God. It makes people hide from God, so that God is left by Himself, calling out to people who are too afraid to respond. There are billions of people on the earth today, and most of them are hiding in the bushes while God calls out to them. Is this not a pitiful situation? Then what truly grieves God the most? That the ONE BEING in all of creation with whom He may have a close relationship does not have Him in their thoughts at all; indeed, they are running in the opposite direction, quite oblivious to the Lord, quite apathetic to His desire towards them, quite complacent to seeking Him at all, quite afraid to even respond if they knew how.
If there is anything worse than having no one to love, it would have to be loving someone and seeing that love ignored altogether. This brings us to a very important characteristic of love: whenever we love someone, we essentially give them the power to hurt us. If you ask a parent what is their greatest source of pleasure and pain they will say it is their kids. If we dare to love someone, or care for them, or watch over them, or if we dare take responsibility for bringing life into the world, then we are making ourselves vulnerable to being hurt by the very thing we love. This explains why some people swear never to love again once they have been hurt by a relationship. If love is that painful, why love at all? Because love is so great that it is better to love with the chance of being hurt than to not love at all. It underscores just how risky love can be.
“We love Him, because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19)
The problems of free moral agency and sin came into being precisely because of this love. In order for man to love God he must have the freedom to choose this relationship. If it is forced upon him in an involuntary way then it is not true love. In other words, I cannot “make” my wife love me. Any attempt on my part to force her to love me will result in something that is not love. When we fall in love with someone we cannot be absolutely sure that they will fall in love with us. So man must be free to love God or to not love God – again, one of the risks that love takes. With this freedom there is the possibility that man will choose to walk his own path away from God and fall into sin. As we all know this is exactly what happened.
So God took a huge risk in wanting us as the object of His affection, and from the very beginning we have failed Him. Of course, He already knew that we would fail, which is why He made provision for our sin before we ever sinned. But why pay such a high price? Why does He continue to love us? Why not just give up? Because unlike our best attempts at love, He is Perfect Love, and this Love eventually wins. This Love never fails. He cannot stop trying. If we would read the Bible, especially the prophetic Scriptures, and treat it as a love letter from a husband to an unfaithful wife, or a frustrated parent to a wayward child, we would begin to understand the Lord’s heart. For six thousand years of human history the Lord has spoken, pleaded, argued, grieved, wooed, reprimanded, remonstrated, and reasoned with man in order to have what He has wanted all along – a relationship, a companionship, a camaraderie, a communion with those made in His image.
With all of this background, let us digress a bit now and observe how the gospel is presented to people today. This “gospel” only provides people with half of the story: the half that benefits them. How much effort is made to show people what the Lord has lost, and what the Lord stands to gain, by sinners coming to Christ, and by Christians growing up into the full-knowledge (epignosis) of Him? Very little attention is given to ministering to the Lord or meeting the Lord’s Need (most have never heard about the Lord’s Need, and those who have are still questioning it; we have a long way to go). Instead, the Gospel as it is presented today is primarily concerned with man and how to meet his needs – how to escape hell, go to heaven, be healed, be blessed, be victorious, be prosperous, be fulfilled, be happy, be anointed, etc. etc. ad infinitum. This has, of course, created a paradigm in which we see God as being there to meet our needs, minister to us, guide us through the difficulties of life, and prepare a place for us to go when we die. It is no wonder that few have ears to hear when we discuss ministering to the Lord. It represents something totally foreign to the Christian experience as they have known it and seen it up until now.
As “advanced” as our Western culture seems to be, this kind of one-way, egocentric, “what can I get out of it” relationship is not too unlike the relationship that pagans and heathens have with their animistic gods and idols. They keep their gods appeased, not because they love them, but because they have some self-serving need they want met, whether it is health, prosperity, rain, or protection from their enemies. How is this much different than the Gospel according to Churchianity? We pay tithes, apply the Blood, dispatch the angels, pray the Prayer of Jabez, and get the “Anointing” so things will go well with us, too. It falls way, way short of the mark. The model we give to people of “a personal relationship with Christ” is so dysfunctional and self-centered it would not keep a human marriage together for a week; so why do we keep relating to Him this way? “We LOVE Him,” the Scriptures declare, “BECAUSE He first loved us.” Real communion, real worship, real fellowship, real relationship with God is based upon meeting His Need, i.e., providing Him with heart-satisfaction by responding in kind to His overtures of love towards us. It says in effect, “How can I help but love Him, now that I see how much He loves me? How can I ignore Him any longer?” This is followed by, “You love me so much, You have done so much for me, that I am content with You, and I desire nothing else but You. You have satisfied my heart; now how can I satisfy Your Heart? How can I minister to You? What is Your Desire? Not my will, but Your Will. I love you, Lord!” Thus, we minister to Him, and after an eternity of waiting the Lord has finally broken through and gained the relationship He has for so long sought you out for. How refreshing, how delightful, how wonderful this kind of relationship is! Is there anyone who has ever lived liked this? YES! Let us look at some of them right now.
“And the child Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days, and there was no revelation.” (I Samuel 3:1)
The third chapter of First Samuel is so rich. If we want to talk about prophetic integrity, prophetic calling, and prophetic formation then there is no better place to go. In the beginning of the chapter we see that a true word from the Lord was rare in those days. We see Samuel ministering to the Lord as a child, and the Lord calling out to Samuel. After some initial confusion Samuel received the word of the Lord. There is the reluctance to give it, and finally the obedience of telling Eli “every whit” of what the Lord had shown him. By the end of the chapter the prophetic calling of Samuel is established, his words never fall to the ground, and the Lord reveals Himself to Samuel completely.
Can you see the progression here? We begin with no revelation, and we end with the Lord revealing Himself. We begin with the Lord closed off from man, and end with the Lord opening Himself up to a man, and by extension, to the rest of the nation through this man. We begin with a child, and end with a prophet. Let us look at the last verse of chapter three and quote it together with the first verse of chapter four: “And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel…” (I Samuel 3:21-4:1a)
Notice the word of the Lord came to Samuel, then the word of Samuel came to Israel. I wonder if we can grasp the significance of this! The Lord has committed Himself to a man, and the man has committed himself to the Lord. Thus, the word of the Lord to Samuel becomes the word of Samuel to Israel. The Lord did not speak to Israel directly, but He spoke to Samuel, who then spoke in the name of the Lord to Israel. My point is this: what is the foundation upon which this close relationship is built? How did it get its start? “The child Samuel ministered to the Lord.” Who is the friend of God? Who knows God? Who hears from God? Who speaks for God? The one who ministers to Him, who seeks His face, who is aligned with His desire, who seeks His satisfaction, who meets His need.
In every respect the times in which we live are comparable to I Samuel 3. A genuine word from God is rare, and there is no open vision. In other words, most of the people who see something do not have revelation to really know what they are seeing – hence, it remains closed, or worse, it is misinterpreted and becomes a delusion. There is an abundance of words, dreams, visions, and prophecies today, but I repeat: a GENUINE word from God is rare, and there is little REVELATION. Do you understand my meaning? And the priesthood as represented by Eli is old, fat, and blind: operating as always, still standing in the place of the priest, but already under judgment. What is the problem? No one ministers to the Lord. Everyone is for themselves. Except for one child who ministers to the Lord – and THAT is the one to whom the Lord revealed Himself. There is no revelation apart from relationship. I learned this the hard way
“The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart.” (I Samuel 13:14ff)
“And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Why do you keep mourning over Saul? I have rejected him from ruling Israel! Now get up, take your oil, and go. I am sending you to Jesse in Bethlehem, for I have found Me a king among his sons… for the Lord sees not as man sees, for man looks on the outward appearance, but I look upon the heart.” (I Samuel 16:1,7b)
Samuel is significant because the Lord uses him to locate and call forth another one who, better than anyone else, represents what it means to minister to the Lord. This man, David, was so determined to minister to the Lord that he invented musical instruments to worship God with. He wrote songs to the Lord on these instruments and was a zealous worshiper, and we still have a record of his writings in the Book of Psalms, revered by the Christian and Jew alike.
What I want us to see here is that the Lord is seeking out David just as much as David is seeking out the Lord. “The Lord has sought for Himself…” The Lord’s Need is expressed very succinctly in this phrase. We should not imagine a passive God who sits benignly in the heavens, waiting to see if anyone is going to worship Him or not. This is a proactive God, Who seeks Spirit-and-Truth worshippers, Who seeks people after His own heart, Who draws people to Himself, Who reveals Himself insofar as we will allow Him, Who is ready to speak insofar as we will listen. What a mighty God! What an awesome thing this is: “I have sought for Myself a man, someone who will want Me for Who I am, someone who seeks what I seek, who will obey Me fully, who will love Me unreservedly, who will follow Me wholeheartedly, so that I can give Myself completely to him in return.”
And what could be better than this? “I have found Me a king.” The Lord has sought for Himself a man, and has found for Himself a king. The Lord has found what He is looking for, and as we follow David’s path we find that David, too, has found a King. Look at the sensitivity of David in II Samuel 7. He wants to build a house for God, and God says He will instead build a house for David. As David ponders this we learn from the Psalms that the House is the Church, and the Son Who will reign forever is not Solomon, but Christ. Peter calls David a prophet who saw the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:29,30). In fact, David clearly saw the incarnation (Psalms 8), the crucifixion (Psalms 22), the death (Psalms 88), the ascension (Psalms 68), the resurrection (Psalms 16), and the reign of Christ (Psalms 2). How deep was his revelation! How vast was his vision! The one who seeks the heart of God will see as God sees. Write it down and underline it: no relationship, no revelation.
“And there was one Anna, a prophetess… a widow eighty-four years old, who never left the Temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” (Luke 2:36, 37)
While we have a full account of King David’s life, we know very little about Anna. She was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, and lived with her husband only seven years before she became a widow. Now she is eighty-four years old. Perhaps the experience of losing her husband after such a brief time together helped forge the character of this prophetess. We have no way of knowing.
We have no record of any prophetic words or visions or dreams. How can you have a prophet who does not prophesy? Quite simply, because the prophetic ministry is something more vast than being able to give out a few “words” from God. The only thing we know about Anna’s ministry is that it is primarily devoted to ministering to the Lord with unceasing fastings and prayers. We might consider this monastic, yet the Bible considers this prophetic. We are not suggesting that to minister to the Lord means to neglect people altogether. There is no need to force such an unnecessary dichotomy. But we maintain that there can be no real Spirit-and-Truth ministry to people until and unless we have first ministered to the Lord. For one thing, we cannot be motivated by man’s need, but by God’s Need, because often the two are in conflict. And, we cannot speak Life except by revelation, and this we can only receive from God. Unless we have invested a great deal of time in our secret ministry to the Lord then the shallowness of our public ministry will be very evident. Today it is abundantly clear that not enough time is spent ministering to the Lord, and way too much time is spent ministering to people; hence, most of what is done in the name of ministry is performed in a fleshly, human way which never bears any lasting fruit.
There in the Temple, Anna ministered to the Lord. She never wrote a book, never had a website, never conducted a meeting that we can tell. All in all it seems to be a very passive existence, the sort of “waste” that makes us want to criticize her for not being more useful. Anna the prophetess should be “doing” something. But how many of us consider prayer and fasting to be serving God? We cannot repeat often enough that for too many people, prayer and fasting is a way to serve THEMSELVES, or to get God involved in THEIR cause. We have a need, so we pray, and if the need is critical and we become desperate, then we will fast. This may be appropriate in some situations, but it is not serving the LORD. It may be done to bring about OUR will, but it is not necessarily motivated by a desire to minister to the Lord, to see His heart satisfied, and to see His Need met.
Now it is no coincidence that, in verse 38, Anna came “in that instant” and met Simeon, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus in the Temple, and recognized Him to be the Christ. In response, she “gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” Jesus is only a few days old here. There are no angelic choirs singing Hosannas, no shepherds bowing down to worship, no star blazing overhead. All the outward signs have disappeared, and this Baby seems to be no different in outward appearance than the dozens of other Jewish babies being dedicated in the Temple that day. But Anna knew the difference because she devoted her life to ministering to the Lord. What seems like a waste turns out to be the very thing that put her in the right place at the right time, while the more useful busybodies missed the entire event. Again, we find that prophetic things, revelatory things, are inescapably linked to ministering to the Lord. No relationship, no revelation.
“And Jesus ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach,” (Mark 3:14)
I taught from this passage of Scripture at a minister’s retreat once in order to demonstrate to them that whatever they thought their ministry was, be it as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher, their first calling was not to be with people at all, but to be with Jesus. How simple this is. Twelve men are ordained, or set apart, or selected. For what? To preach? Eventually, but not immediately. To save sinners? Eventually, but not immediately. To work miracles? Eventually, but not immediately.
The immediate Need was for those who would just BE WITH THE LORD. They were set apart to be with Him; their being sent forth (apostello) was of secondary concern. It would follow, but it was not the most important thing. The most important thing was that they BE WITH THE LORD. Where has “the ministry” failed? In putting people before the Lord, in making the work of the Lord more important than the Lord of the work, in being so busy with preaching and visitation and building programs and church administration and a thousand and one things that there is no time to BE WITH THE LORD.
I learned many years ago that it does not matter how busy I am for God, or how many things I am doing in the Name of Jesus, or how much I am able to bless other people, if I am not “with Jesus” on a continual basis. How easy it is to be absorbed, obsessed, and consumed with our little ministry, our little work, our little church, and forget that the whole reason we are called in the first place is to minister to the Lord, to be with Him, to love Him. Are we in love with the Lord, or are we in love with the Lord’s work? Are we motivated by the Lord’s Need, or by man’s need? If the Lord told us to come aside for a year, leave our ministry alone, and just be with Him, would it bring us great joy or would we argue that we are engaged in such an important work that we cannot stop?
Is it possible that long ago we became so entrenched in the work of the Lord that He is no longer involved in what we are doing? Could it be that we are now proceeding in our own strength, in our own name, according to flesh and blood? The fruit of our labor (or the lack thereof) tells the whole story. If spiritual fruit is defined by how many people are saved, how many churches are planted, how many sermons are preached, then we can bring forth that kind of fruit and never involve the Lord at all. But if spiritual fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control, then we must be with Jesus in order to bring forth this fruit, and no amount of WORKING for God can make up for a lack of simply BEING with Him.
THE CHURCH AT ANTIOCH
“There were in the church at Antioch certain prophets and teachers… and as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, “Separate for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to do.” (Acts 13:1a, 2)
There is much to be gleaned from this passage of Scripture. The first thing that strikes us is that the prophets and teachers were gathered together to minister to the Lord. How seldom we see this today! In the first place, prophets and teachers are rarely able to get together regarding anything. The prophet thinks the teacher is too intellectual, and the teacher thinks the prophet is too ethereal. The prophet favors inspiration and revelation, while the teacher favors illumination and study. The two seem to naturally be at odds, and this is probably necessary to keep everyone balanced. The prophet needs the teacher, and the teacher needs the prophet.
But here we see that everyone has come together, not to have a prophets and teachers conference, but to minister to the Lord. They have not lost their first love! Prophetic things have their place, but there is a time when prophetic things must be put on hold. Teaching and instruction have their place, but there is a time when no one should be teaching or saying anything. There is a time when the saints should gather together for the purpose of ministering to the Lord.
The Greek word for “ministered” here is “leitourgeo”, and we get our English word “liturgy” from it. It meant the performance of priestly or ministerial functions. Interestingly enough, it could only be used in connection with the Temple, since that was the only valid place a priest or minister could perform the functions. In Acts 13 we see the word used to describe the Church in Antioch. What does this mean? Simply this: we are the temple of the living God, a house of living stones, offering up ourselves as the sacrifices, ministering to the Lord as a holy nation, as a royal priesthood. Hence, we need no earthly temple or priest to represent us to God. We worship God in Spirit and in Truth.
The fact that the Holy Spirit moved and revealed the Lord’s Need while they were ministering to the Lord is significant. How can we know the Lord’s Need unless we have ministered to Him? Perhaps there were a dozen or so missions that might be done, and they could have fulfilled any number of needs and been considered good Christians. But the issue is not how many needs can we meet, but is the Lord’s Need met? What if we meet everyone’s need but the Lord’s Need is not satisfied? Let us meet the Lord’s Need first, and give Him His portion; then we are fit to stand before people and minister to them. This is the motivation for ministering to the Lord. People with no patience for these things will forge ahead on their own, see a need, and move at once to meet it, just like a good business person will do. But the Kingdom is not based on business principles. Our foremost concern is satisfying the Lord’s heart, being with Him, meeting His Need. Ministry to men is founded upon ministry to the Lord.
“…Mary Magdalene… Joanna… Susanna, and many others, which ministered to Him of their substance.” (Luke 8:2,3ff)
When the saints are gathered together, wherever such gathering may take place, there are two types of people represented. One type is there to receive, and the other type is there to give. Most people attend a meeting to receive something – a prophetic word, some encouragement, fellowship (e.g., social interaction with spiritual overtones), teaching, the laying on of hands, etc. This explains why meetings can be so dead and lifeless. Everyone is there to receive, and few are there to give. Hence, there is little Life.
But we have learned there is an additional thing to be noted when the saints are gathered together, and that is this: most of the receiving, and what little giving is done, is performed on a horizontal level. In other words, most are coming to receive, a handful are coming to give, but it is still, by and large, focused on meeting man’s need. There is little vertical expression towards God, and what little vertical expression there is centers mainly around receiving. We may give Him some praise or some worship or make some prayer requests – we might even ask Him to bless our time together – but for the most part we have not penetrated any higher than the top of our heads. Praise, worship, and prayer must be part of the meeting for tradition’s sake, but they are largely perfunctory, with no more spiritual import than reading the announcements. The meeting is, generally speaking, all about us. We are not saying man’s needs should not be met in a meeting; we are saying that meeting man’s needs ought not to be the highest aspiration we have when meeting together.
Without a doubt, Jesus wants to minister to you and to meet your needs. His earthly ministry demonstrates His desire to shepherd the sheep, to heal their diseases, and to bring them joy. We should never minimize that. But we should not overemphasize it either. When it came time to die on the cross, what happened to all those people who were healed and delivered and filled with joy by His presence? People will run to the altar when they have a need, then will disappear for six months – until they have another need, and there they are again, crying out to God as before. How quickly we fall away when we are trusting in the Lord for things.
It is clear from the Scriptures that there are two kinds of adoration. There is a mass of people waiting for Jesus to come and minister to THEM, and there is a smaller group of people who have devoted themselves to minister to HIM. We are not suggesting that it must be either one or the other, but we are definitely saying it should be both, and of the two, ministry to Him is the more important one. Perhaps it is acceptable to begin by seeking the Lord for what the Lord has, but we will never have a strong foundation if that is the only depth we know, and if we remain there for too long it demonstrates an immaturity in our relationship with God.
INTELLIGENT WORSHIP OR THOUGHTLESS HABIT?
“I beg you brothers, by God’s mercy, to give up your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and well-pleasing to God, for that is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)
Since the Lord Jesus has completed His earthly ministry, we cannot minister to Him “of our substance” as Mary, Joanna, and Susanna. It is not money, food, clothing, or shelter that He wants from us. So how do we minister to the Lord today? Paul says as a nation of priests, we are to offer up our own selves as living sacrifices. God does not want our things, and in a very real sense He does not want our works. The Lord wants US. If He has US, does He not possess all our things and all our works? An alternative rendering of the verse above, instead of “reasonable service”, is “intelligent worship.” This is so important that I believe I must quote from Spiros Zodhiates on the word “reasonable”, which is translated from “logikos” (logical):
“In Romans 12:1 the reasonable service or worship is to be understood as the service to God which implies intelligent meditation or reflection without the heathen practices intimated in I Corinthians 12:2 and without the Old Testament cultic worship which had become mere thoughtless habit.”
In other words, “Spirit and Truth” worship permeates the Church that Jesus is building and characterizes the relationship that He longs to have with us. “Thoughtless habit” better describes much of what we see in Churchianity. Over 150 years ago, Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “By ceasing to take part in the public worship of God, as it now is (with the claim that it is the Christianity of the New Testament), thou hast constantly one guilt the less, and that a great one: thou dost not take part in treating God as a fool.” How much more is this true today?
I seldom quote from others, so I think the point should be made that those who truly see these things have learned them in the crucible of their own experience, and not because they read about it somewhere. We do not need a Greek theologian or a Danish philosopher to tell us what we already know: they simply confirm what has already cut us to the heart. So what do we do about this? Is there anything that can be done? Thankfully, God is raising up more Samuels, Davids, Annas, Marys, and “Acts 13” believers who are determined to minister to the Lord. In addition to the living examples of those who sought to meet the Lord’s Need, there is a prophetic and historical precedent for what we are sharing. As we move into part two of the series, we will examine this precedent and demonstrate its applicability to us today. May the Lord quicken this message to all who hunger and thirst for Him.
“They shall enter into My sanctuary and they shall come near to My table, to minister unto Me, and they shall keep My charge.” (Ezekiel 44:16)
In the first half of this series we established that the Lord has sought to secure for Himself individuals who will enter into a love relationship with Him on an intimate level. We described how the Lord has a “need” for man just as man has a need for the Lord, a void which is only satisfied when the two become one. We also touched upon the general failure of our current system of organized worship to truly satisfy the heart of God, and how the offering up of ourselves as living sacrifices constitutes ministering to the Lord in Spirit and Truth.
We saw that anyone who has ever been close to fulfilling God’s desire or satisfying His heart has specialized in ministering to Him. We looked at some individuals whose lives are characterized by the fact that they ministered to the Lord, and we saw that the Lord revealed Himself to them in a mighty way. We even made the statement that apart from an intimate relationship with God, founded upon ministering to the Lord, there can be no revelation, no prophetic sense, no depth of knowing Him.
If we could sum up everything said thus far, it would read like this: you were created to love Him, and to be loved by Him. It is all about Him, and not about you or your needs. We are not the center of the universe, He is. He was not created for us, we were created for Him. This is the heart of the matter. When the Lord began to draw me even deeper into this ministry to Him, these are the words He spoke to me: “You were created to love Me, you were created to be loved by Me.” This is such a holy, personal thing that I am reluctant to share it, but I believe it is an open invitation to everyone, not a special invitation for me alone. Even so, why does God want “me” to minister to Him? Who am I? What can I give the Lord? And how does this relate to everything else I am doing for God? I know what it means to teach and write and pray for people and pastor a church; I can get my hands on that, and I used to think that was quite enough. But this thing of ministering to the Lord is a depth that few know anything about. I know so little about it myself. But I do know this much: there is an ocean of difference between ministering FOR the Lord and ministering TO the Lord.
There are a handful of people who are being stirred up to minister TO the Lord. Please understand that WE are not calling forth a remnant of people who are to be more spiritual than the rest. We are simply acknowledging the fact that although many are called by God, few respond; thus, few are chosen. There is a reason why the sons of Zadok were permitted into the Holy Place to minister to the Lord, while the other Levites were to remain in the outer court to minister to the people. This is not happenstance. Some, even now, are hearing the call of the Lord and are leaving the outer court, pressing into the Holy Place to minister to the Lord. We need to understand why. We need to look at the outer court and compare it to the sanctuary. We need to compare the ministry to the people with the ministry to the Lord. The Lord has shared some of the greatest things with me when I simply asked, “Why?” If we know “what” then we know His Will; but if we know “why” then we know His Ways. His Will is His Desire, His Ways are how He goes about to secure His desire. We need to know both if we are to cooperate with Him. So let us examine His Will and His Ways together.
ORGANIZED RELIGION PRIMARILY CONCERNED WITH THE OUTER COURT
“And the Levites that are gone away far from me, when Israel went astray, which went astray away from Me after their idols; they shall even bear their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, having charge at the gates of the house, and ministering to the house: they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister unto them.” (Ezekiel 44:10, 11)
The vision of Ezekiel’s temple is symbolic of the Church. It is beyond the scope of our study to go through and develop that thought into detail, but I mention it so that we understand there is something here which is applicable to us today. If it is only applicable to the Israelites then it has little relevance to us today, but it is, in fact, highly relevant.
There is an outer court, and there is an inner court. There are those who primarily minister to the people, and there are those who primarily minister to the Lord. To begin with, we must look at the outer court so we can understand the inner court. So what is the outer court? It represents ministry to the people, the offering up of sacrifices. It is visible and public, full of action. Its ministers are in plain view and easily identified. There is much work to be done. Because it is public, everyone has access to it. This is where all the activity is. The Levites stand in the outer court to minister to the people.
But read our text again. Who is serving in this outer court? The Levites who went astray and worshipped idols. Part of “bearing their iniquity” is that they are forbidden from drawing near to the Lord in the inner court. They are forever bound to the outer court, the ministry to the people. They are not permitted to go any deeper. Is this not a tragedy? “They shall not come near unto Me, to do the office of a priest unto Me, nor to come near to any of My holy things, in the most holy place: but they shall bear their shame, and their abominations which they have committed.” (v.13)
Here is the greatest single problem with Organized Religion: it cannot bring people any deeper into God than it can go itself. Its people are destined to remain in the outer court. Technically speaking, they are “in the sanctuary”, but they are far from God, and cannot draw near to Him. It is better to be out of “church” and “in God” that to be “in church” and “away from God”. How nice it would be to have both, but the reality is that God and “church” often contradict one another. Many have come to realize that they have to choose between the two. The ministers of the outer court are in love with their ministry to the people, with the elements and instruments of the work, and with their status and position in the outer court. They cannot lead us where they are unwilling to go. Of course, I am speaking generally. I think it is wrong to assume that anyone who pastors a church is part of this group. That would be incorrect. We are talking about an inward thing. I am not saying you must leave the outer court in order to obey God. But I will say this: if you are not willing to forsake the ministry of the outer court then you cannot minister in the inner court. You cannot stand in both courts at the same time.
MINISTRY TO PEOPLE OR MINISTRY TO THE LORD?
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and they honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Isaiah 12a)
Let me get right to the heart of the matter. What is it about Organized Religion that grieves me the most? I think it is this: the impression it gives that there is no inner court at all, that the outer court is all that there is. Everything centers around ministry to the people, and the ministry to the Lord is forgotten, or worse, is done in such a way that it deceives the people into thinking they are ministering to the Lord when they are not.
I wish a pastor could get up in front of the congregation and say, “It is good for us to be here, and it is right for us to fellowship, but you must understand that this is only the outer court. Everything we are doing is for ourselves. We have yet to touch God. There is an inner court in which we stop ministering to one another, and must minister to the Lord. That is where we are going. We cannot be satisfied until the Lord is satisfied.” If this is the pastor’s heart then praise God for it! But how many pastors have you heard say that? And how many, having said it and begun to practice it, would remain in the pastorate for long?
The ministry of the outer court is important, but we have made it important for the wrong reasons. Instead of seeing it as the means through which we enter the inner court, we have made it the entire focus. We are more interested in “curb appeal”, making the outer court look good to visitors and meaningful for those seeking a “worship experience”, while the Lord Himself stands in the inner court, forgotten and ignored. How we feel about the service and whether or not we got anything out of it has become more important than whether or not the Lord’s Need is met. Can you not see how far we have fallen?
May I say frankly that the Lord WILL NOT come forth out of the inner court, out of the Holy Place, to meet you in the outer court, no matter how devoted, sincere, or zealous you are. The way is open in Christ, but you must go to Him, and to do so you must pass through the outer court to get to where He is in the inner court. Now just observe how we do the exact opposite. We gather together in the outer court and pray, shout, sing, worship, and expect the Lord to shower us with His presence or move upon us in a tangible way, i.e., “fall upon us” or “visit us” or “show up”. From start to finish this process takes about thirty minutes to an hour, and sure enough, there is some kind of “manifestation” produced so as to make everyone believe that the Lord responded to them. Nonsense! He will not meet you in the shallowness of the outer court once a week for an hour or so at a time convenient to you and your schedule. You must enter the Holy Place of the inner court to draw near to God. The lesser approaches the Greater, not the other way around.
It may be helpful to go back to the time in my life when the Lord first began to deal with me about ministering to the Lord. Many people believe I had a falling out with the church, and have developed my particular philosophy since then. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Lord began to deal with me and show me things while I was still very much a part of Churchianity. Eventually, my decision to live according to the Truth caused me to have a falling out with the church. So the falling out was the end result of where the revelation brought me, and not the by-product of having been “hurt” or disillusioned (and I always have to emphasize that one can never have a falling out with the True Church, the Body of Christ, because that is not the same thing as Churchianity).
I was occupying my usual place in the church one Sunday morning, singing and worshiping the Lord, just as I had done for countless Sunday mornings my entire life. Nothing unusual or out of the ordinary was going on. It is difficult to describe what I perceived next, but I can only say that a sense of deep loneliness came over me, a sort of grief. Soon I stopped singing altogether and just listened to those around me. Then I opened my eyes and looked around. I had no reason to feel lonely; I perceived that this sensation was not mine, but the Lord was allowing me to share something which was coming from Him.
I realized that we were singing ABOUT the Lord, but not TO the Lord. We were talking ABOUT the Lord, but not TO the Lord. We have seen people do this with senior citizens, talking about them as if they were not present, thinking they do not know the difference, while they silently suffer the humility of being treated as if they are not even there. It was then that I understood that we treat the Lord the same way.
It was not as if this was a particularly bad service. I have been in bad services, and this one was pretty good! But that made it even worse. The better “our” service, the more the Lord seemed to be left out. It was like having a birthday party for someone and getting so excited about the food and the drinks and the music and our new clothes and the presents that we did not notice the person having the birthday is sitting over in the corner, alone. I saw that “our” service really was “ours” – for us, and not for the Lord. The singing, the praying, the preaching, the offering, everything was for us, and WHETHER THE LORD WAS SATISFIED OR NOT we would be there the next Sunday doing the exact same thing BECAUSE IT SATISFIED US.
I was so affected by what had been revealed to me that I sat down, took out a piece of paper, and wrote down these words so I would not forget that moment: “It is not what *I* need or what *I* want. I am come before you, Lord, to meet YOUR Need, to satisfy YOUR Want, to yield to YOUR Desire. I am not come to RECEIVE a single thing from You, but rather to GIVE all that I have and all that I am.” I still have this piece of paper today. In some small way I felt that the Lord was satisfied with this simple surrender; indeed, satisfied and pleased in a way that could not be equaled with all the singing and praying and giving and preaching that we were doing. According to outward appearance, we were “on fire” and “alive”, but I had seen things the way the Lord saw them: “You have a name that you are living, but you are dead.” (Revelation 3:1b)
When we see things as God sees them it is a critical moment in our walk with Him. We can easily dismiss the experience and continued on as before. We can argue against it, rationalize it away, or forget about the whole thing. I am convinced that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who go through the same experience on Sunday morning but they choose to ignore it. The reality is too painful to deal with, too upsetting to question.
But as I continued to ponder this experience I realized that if what I had seen was true then much of what I had been doing in the Name of Jesus was a waste of time, was not pleasing to God, was not acceptable to God, and did nothing to meet His Need or satisfy His heart. It did, of course, meet MY needs and satisfy MY heart. How wonderful to be in front of the people as they listened to me preach and teach and lead worship! Sunday was the best day of the week, for it was then that everyone could appreciate just what an anointed man of God I really was! They were happy to let me lead them, and I was happy to be their leader, and so everyone was happy. Everyone, it seems, but the Lord, Who called to us from within the inner court while we played “church” in the outer court.
I learned that even something as spiritual-sounding as “wanting His presence” is tainted by the egocentricity of the outer-court worshipper. We want the “presence” so bad that we are willing to manufacture it and give the Lord credit for something which is fleshly and profane. What we really seek is not the “presence”, but the “presents”. As such, we have lost the ability to discern the difference between God and man, between Spirit and flesh, between holy and common. Every new thing which comes along sweeps us right off our feet, and later we wonder how we could have been so deceived, and why we feel so empty inside. We are chasing fantasies and illusions, meetings and manifestations, not the living God of the inner court.
THOSE WHO MINISTER TO THE LORD MAINTAIN THE SANCTITY OF THE INNER COURT
“But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near to Me to minister unto Me, and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord God: they shall enter into My sanctuary, and they shall come near to My table, to minister unto Me, and they shall keep My charge.” (Ezekiel 44:15, 16)
Now that we have sufficiently identified the ministry of the outer court we turn our attention to the ministry of the inner court. Keep in mind that this is Ezekiel’s temple, not the Tabernacle, and not the Temple of Solomon. It is different from all others. But we are not trying to identify each individual room or item, we are simply taking note of the difference between the outer and the inner. The outer court is comprised of many things, as is the inner court. But we are more interested in the ministry itself, and how the ministry to people is compared to the ministry to the Lord. These two are NOT the same.
What is significant about the sons of Zadok, and how is it applicable to us today? The sons of Zadok were selected to minister to the Lord because they “kept the charge” of the sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from the Lord and worshipped idols. In plain language it means this: when things began to decline and the temple was defiled, the sons of Zadok decided they would no longer try to keep the outer court sanctified, but they moved into the inner court and continued to minister to the Lord. When the outer court was defiled, they were determined to maintain the holiness of the inner court.
This is of extreme importance to us. It is no great thing to point out the many ways in which the outer court has fallen, although it surprises me that more people do not see it. Even so, being able to articulate all that is wrong is of very little use if we cannot with equal conviction state what our response to it should be. After we see the problems with the outer court, there seems to be only two viable options: stay where we are and try to change it, or forsake it and go deeper. It seems that all of us, at one time or another, have tried to “change the system” but sooner or later we have met with frustration and aggravation. Immediately when we receive light from the Lord we want everyone else to walk according to that light, but it does not happen. So the only real choice is to go deeper.
The sons of Zadok decided that the outer court was not worth saving, and they sought to preserve the sanctity of the inner court. They did not try to change the outer court, they simply left it in favor of the inner court. It was either that or lose the whole Testimony. Forced to make a choice, they decided to minister to the Lord. Eventually both courts were restored. The sons of Zadok are a type of overcomer, standing in the inner court, ministering to the Lord on behalf of everyone else, thus preserving both courts – even though to the people in the outer court IT SEEMS as if the ones in the inner court are doing nothing. Indeed, IT SEEMS as if the ones in the inner court have disappeared altogether, and they are, perhaps, written off as having “gone astray”, when the exact opposite is true.
THEY WILL COME NEAR TO ME… AND STAND BEFORE ME… AND OFFER UNTO ME
“They shall come near to Me to minister unto Me, and they shall stand before Me to offer unto Me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 44:15b)
Ezekiel 44 illustrates for us what it means to be an overcomer. When the Church as a whole has failed to maintain the Testimony, God will raise up overcomers from within the Church who will maintain the Testimony on behalf of the others who are unable or unwilling to maintain it. People will ask, “Do you think I am an overcomer?” But what does it matter what I think? I know you are called to be an overcomer. But look to yourself and you will know instantly if you are an overcomer or not. Everyone is called to be an overcomer, but alas, everyone does not overcome. We do not overcome because we are overcomers; we are overcomers because we overcome. Read that sentence again very carefully: because being called as an overcomer does not make you one, but living as an overcomer definitely means you are one. There is nothing mystical about it. It bears repeating that the overcomers are no better than the rest, they simply rise up and fulfill God’s original intention for them, while the others do not.
If you are an overcomer then the Testimony of Jesus is present in you. Now looking at things as a whole, while the Testimony may be present in some individuals, it is clear that the corporate Testimony is broken down today. God is not the author of confusion, but confusion abounds in our churches. God is not the author of discord and strife, but discord and strife abounds in our churches. So there is not a clear Testimony – it is, for the most part, unclear at best, and contradictory at worst. The Church as a whole has not fulfilled God’s intention for it. That is another way of saying that the Lord’s Need is not being met. His Desire is not being fulfilled. His Will is not being done. It is not enough for us to examine the outer court and make some cosmetic changes. If we have failed in the ministry of the inner court then we have failed altogether, and THAT is where the root of our problem lies.
Many people have come forward to give us a “New Testament” style or pattern for meeting together. Different forms of church government are being tried. Meeting in cell groups or meeting in homes is being presented as an alternative. The house church has at last begun to call itself a “radical movement”. Before long it may very well turn into a sort of unofficial denomination. We do not want to question or criticize the motives of those involved, and some of these things are well and good, but we want to point out that all of these things pertain to the outer court. Very little if any emphasis is placed on the inner court at all. With some exceptions, there is little ministry to the Lord, no more or less than there is in a “regular” church building. Whether you meet in a church building or in a living room or under a tree, what difference does it make if you are, spiritually and mentally, in the outer court the whole time? It is not a new method or a new system or a new movement that we need, but a new heart that draws near to God to meet His Need in the inner court.
From the ranks of the outer court the Lord is drawing people to minister to Him in the inner court. We are not saying the outer court has no use. Again, we should see the outer court as a means to an End, as the path one must take in order to access the inner court. That is ALL it is, a path. The problem is when we become stymied in the outer court and take up our residence there, when the ministry to the people becomes more important than the ministry to the Lord. Worse, when THAT becomes the End, and we never go deeper, and still worse, when we prevent OTHERS from going deeper. The fact remains that some are discovering a deeper purpose for themselves in God than what lies in the outer court, and are pressing inward. It is not so much a matter of disillusionment as it is a matter of dissatisfaction.
So in the context of this passage, what must happen in order for us to minister to the Lord? It involves two preparatory things: “draw near” and “stand before Me”. We cannot offer anything or do anything until we first draw near to Him and stand before Him. I wonder: how much time have we spent just standing (or sitting or kneeling or lying) before the Lord, just to minister to Him? Is this the foundation for everything we do, or is it an occasional thing we experience, as we try to fit Him into our busy schedule? The Lord of the work is more important than the work of the Lord.
What does the fat and the blood typify? It represents the presentation of our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). This temple is unique in that the altar is the center of everything. This temple is a square, and in the middle of the square lies the altar, upon which those who minister to the Lord offer up the fat and the blood. Clearly, the altar represents the Cross, for to minister to the Lord in this way means a complete and thorough death to Self. You see, in the outer court you might be a “somebody”, but in the inner court you are a “nobody”, because in the inner court Christ has the preeminence as All in All. There is no room for your ego or your title or your position. You are shielded from the prying eyes of others, hidden from the praise and the criticism of men.
Another interesting feature is the clothing worn by the priests who minister to the Lord in the inner court. We notice two things: first, they must wear linen so as not to produce any sweat (vv.17, 18). Sweat represents the works of the flesh. In the inner court one must learn to stand, not to strive. “Peace, be still” is the order of the day. What a contrast to the noisy activity of the outer court. To not do what the Lord has told us to do is sin, but to go ahead and do what we have not been commanded to do is sin as well. The second thing we notice (v.19) is that they must change their garments when they go out of the inner court, and they must put them on again when they return. They are not allowed to wear their linen into the outer court. Yes, there are times when the priests of the inner court must go into the outer court, and we will discuss that shortly. But the reason for the change of clothing is interesting: “they shall not sanctify the people with their garments.”
In other words, those who minister to the Lord in the inner court are not allowed to impart anything of the inner court to those around them. Again, the God of the inner court will not come forth to meet us in the outer court, we must go to Him in the inner court and offer up the fat and the blood upon the altar by taking up our Cross every day. This simply means that each of us must learn to seek God for ourselves. I cannot carry your Cross, and you cannot carry mine. We cannot rely upon others to touch God for us, no matter how spiritual or holy they seem to be. For that reason, the ones coming forth from the inner court ACCORDING TO OUTWARD APPEARANCE seem no different than anyone else. There is no room for them to glory in themselves. If we are not careful we may disregard them as no different than anyone else, but if we look closely we will sometimes see them “changing clothes” as they pass from the outer court, into the inner court, and back again. This hiddenness is not only characteristic of those who know the Lord, it is absolutely essential. It will require a sensitive heart, a discerning eye, and a listening ear to recognize and learn from them.
THEY WILL TEACH WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE AND UNACCEPTABLE
“And they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.” (Ezekiel 44:23)
If I may paraphrase verse 23, I take this to mean, “Those who minister to the Lord in the inner court are best qualified to teach others concerning what does and does not satisfy the Lord and meet His Need.” It may be that we have done quite a number of things which are pleasing to us or to one another but they are not pleasing to the Lord in the slightest. Thus, it is profane, and it is unclean. It is a blemished sacrifice, and it is unacceptable. Again, in Romans 12, we see the terms “holy and acceptable” used in conjunction with the sacrifice of ourselves to God. The converse of that would be “unholy and unacceptable.” Some people think God will just accept whatever we do in His Name. But we know that the Lord accepted Abel and his offering, but rejected Cain and his offering (Genesis 4:4, 5).
Our inability to perceive, know, or discern the difference between what is and what is not pleasing to God will open the door to all manner of spiritual and religious deception. Abel knew that the Lord wanted “the fat and the blood”, a life for a life, but Cain offered up something produced by his own sweat (good works) without stopping to the think if he was truly meeting the Lord’s Need. In essence, Abel stood in the inner court while Cain stood in the outer court. Both offered sacrifices, but one was accepted while the other was not. I wonder: out of all the “sacrifices of praise” offered on a Sunday morning, how many are accepted, and how many are rejected? Listen to me! If only we would draw near to God and stand before Him to minister to Him we will come into possession of a remarkable sense of discernment as to the Lord’s Purpose, His Kingdom, His Will, His Desire, His Need. Only then can we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to Him. His pleasure will be our pleasure, and His displeasure will be our displeasure. If we do not know what the Lord wants, how can we pray? How can we teach others? How can we obey the Master if we do not know the Master’s will? And how can we know the Master’s will if we do not know the Master? Only those who minister to the Lord can know the Lord.
I mentioned earlier that there are times when the priest of the inner court comes forth into the outer court. Here we see that though their primary ministry is to the Lord, they will on occasion have a ministry to the people. What do they do? They teach others the difference between the holy and the profane, between the unclean and the clean. They will demonstrate the difference between what Abel offers up and what Cain offers up. When the priests come forth from the inner court they teach people how to minister to the Lord, how to meet the Lord’s Need, how to offer up sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to Him. The Hebrew word “teach” in this verse is interesting. Among other things, it means “to lay a foundation” or “to establish”. The basis, the foundation of all ministry is to the Lord first. Learning how to meet the Lord’s Need, and then doing it, is what it means to be a priest of the Lord; teaching others to do it is even more honorable. We are not saying there is no place for ministering to people, but we are saying that it is of secondary importance. If we make the outer court more important than the inner court then we have failed. If we have met everyone’s need it means nothing if the Lord’s Need has not been met.
The altar, the Cross, is central to Ezekiel’s temple, because to devote oneself to minister to the Lord will require a death-attitude to everything outside of the inner court. The praise and the criticism of man, the expectations of people, the demands of family and friends, the many needs and opportunities which present themselves to us, our own aspirations and ambitions about what WE want to do or what WE are gifted to do, our own ideas as to what is holy and unholy, acceptable and unacceptable: all of it must go. Our fruitfulness is not what we are to one another, but what we are to Him.
“I am their inheritance: and ye shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession.” (Ezekiel 44:28b)
What does it mean to minister to the Lord? It means…
– Not my will, but Your Will
– Not my Kingdom, but Your Kingdom
– Not my glory, but Your Glory
– Not my needs, but Your Need
It means that in times past we may have served the Lord with the expectation of a future reward, but now we serve the Lord with the realization that He is our Inheritance now. It means that it times past we may have viewed prayer as a way to achieve our own ends, but now we pray in order to ensure that the Lord’s End is achieved. It means in times past we were obsessed with our needs and getting what we wanted, but now we are obsessed with God’s Need, His Desire, and making sure He gets what He wants from us.
It means that in times past our greatest joy was to been seen doing something for God, serving in the outer court, busy with many things; but now, being dissatisfied with that and having discovered Him, our greatest joy is sitting before the Lord in the inner court, quiet and stilled as a child, that we may know Him. In a word, to minister to the Lord is to be content and satisfied, free of ambition, conscious of needing nothing, since He is All in All to us. We were created to love Him; we were created to be loved by Him.
O Lord, make us ministers and priests unto You first and foremost. Teach us to come into the inner court and meet You there. Teach us to seek first Your Kingdom and Your Righteousness, Your Desire, Your Heart, Your Need, Your Satisfaction, Your Glory. You are our Possession, our Inheritance, our Reward. May we never be satisfied with anything less.
Permission is granted for non-commercial (free) distribution provided this notice appears.
PRIESTS of the LORD, Parts 1-2 [Chip Brogden] 1