“Now the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance.”
Years ago while reading this passage the Lord caught my attention with the special instructions He gave Israel’s encampment in the wilderness. Instead of just skimming through (like I often did when reading the book of Numbers), I actually stopped and pondered what this would have looked like and how it would have impacted the formation of Israel’s community and national identity. The insights that followed gripped my heart and formed in my mind a more clear picture of God’s design for community. I’ve been reaching for it ever since.
ISRAEL’S WILDERNESS COMMUNITY
The nation was ordered to pitch their tents, in order of tribe, and facing center, a location distinctly marked by the placement of the Tabernacle–the dwelling place of God. The front doors of every family in Israel actually faced the Tabernacle, that simple tent which housed the worship, the prayers, the sacrifices and the Presence. Suspended above the Tabernacle and reaching far into the sky rested the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night–the glory of God. For 40 years God led this people through the wilderness from place to place. Wherever the glory rested, in that place the priests would set the Tabernacle and the nation would follow by arranging their tents on every side, each facing the Tabernacle. True community is theocentric.*
When God designed community He ensured His own preeminence. He ordered the people to build their lives around the place (literal) of prayer, worship, sacrifice, and of the glory. Even as the throne of God sits in the centerpiece of the heavenly Jerusalem, surrounded by a myriad of angelic worshippers, so the Shekinah glory rested at the center of worshipping Israel. It was ‘Heaven on Earth.’
Imagine for a moment the reality of an entire generation literally building their lives around the Glory. Each morning every man, woman and child from every tribe in Israel who would exit their tents would be greeted by the pillar of cloud hovering over the place of prayer and worship and reaching into the heavens. Each night, as they entered into their tents to lay their heads the light from the pillar of fire flooded their homes.
SOME OF OUR JOURNEY IN COMMUNITY
In late 2007, my wife and I found ourselves in a dynamic season of transition. We had just endured a year of significant trials and testing, from which we had emerged more passionately in love with Jesus and eager to see His kingdom come in our lives. Around that time we began hosting simple gatherings in our home along with the friends who lived with us. We brought together some of our good friends and some of the young adults we had relationships though the high school ministry we led in the years preceding. We had no agenda other than to be together and encounter Jesus. We shared meals and simply learned to linger long in the presence of the Lord together.
It wasn’t long before we recognized the special life in our gatherings. The presence of the Lord was profound and often rested heavily among us late into the night. The worship was uninhibited. Often when the guitar began to be strummed the whole room would begin lifting their own song to the Lord. The scriptures were illuminated to us as we prayed, worshipped and soaked in the word of God. One would sing out their spontaneous chorus and everyone would join them. Then another, and another. The designated ‘worship leader’ almost didn’t have to ‘lead.’ Dynamic ministry one to another brought strength and joy to our hearts. Our cups overflowed.
The Lord taught us many things during the year that we gathered in that manner, in our home as well as the homes of our friends nearby. In fact I believe much of the DNA of what is now Catalyst Training School originally seeded in our hearts in that season. A number of the training series I teach today came during that year. Evangelistic outreaches and other kingdom exploits were birthed as the Holy Spirit spoke to us in prayer and sent us out. More than anything we were simply introduced (or reintroduced) to the ecstasy of fellowship when Christ and His glory is supreme. It was our season under the cloud and fire.
THE CHURCH AS COMMUNITY
I believe God is restoring the Church to true community. He desires a company of believers who order their lives around the glory of God and the worship of Him. This has always been His design for community; if has never changed. When the church returns her focal point to the glory of God, she rediscovers her own identity and purpose. Historically whenever she has deviated from the centerpiece of God’s glory, even in the name of ‘meeting needs’ and ‘loving people’, she has lost her balance in the current of the world. True community revolves around the Presence of God, not simply the interests of man. Our best efforts, even in ministry, can lead us astray when lose sight of His glory. A wholesale return to the supremacy of God’s glory in the church is our only hope. This is the birthplace of true community.
Let My people go, that they may worship Me in the wilderness. Exodus 7:16
to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:21
*Theocentric means God-centered.