The returned Israelites set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples, and they offered burnt-offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening. Ezra 3:3
King Cyrus allowed 50,000 Israelites to return from exile in Persia. They were given freedom and fortune with the assignment of “rebuilding the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.” While captive, they were far from the holy place where God was worshipped. They were marked by sorrow and lament, wondering if they would ever again worship in the temple. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” They longed for the joyful worship they knew in Jerusalem. (Ps 137)
Upon returning to their homeland, their first act was to build an altar upon the site where the original altar had stood, so that they could begin to offer worship and sacrifices as Moses had commanded. God’s people were always building altars, a holy place to give thanks to God and to remind themselves of what God had done for them.
Like the Israelites, do you feel far from God? Have you doubted you’ll ever reconnect with God? Then, do as the Israelites did; return to an earlier moment of your life with God, recall the nature of God’s actions for you, create a holy place where you can willfully offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving. And sometimes, when your life doesn’t feel joyful, saying no to the negative emotions that oppress and yes to the truth of God’s goodness does feel like a sacrifice. This is where joy begins.
I imagine the Israelite’s were excited about their return to Jerusalem; I know they were afraid of the people they would encounter (Ez 3:3). So what did they do? They began to worship God, twice a day, offering sacrifices that reminded them of God’s protection and provision.
Like the Israelites, do you live in the midst of fear? Then, do as the Israelites did; come to God regularly. Do not let fear keep the nearness of God from your heart. Imagine your heart as an altar dedicated to God. Every time fear threatens: pause, be still for a moment, turn your attention away from the source of your fear and focus on God’s face of love. When you are in the presence of the Lord of life, fear fades away.
Are you plagued by perfectionism? Then do as the Israelites did. They didn’t wait until the proper temple was built to begin their worship. They started where they were with what they had. Now is the time to worship, here is the place you meet the Holy. Jesus gladly receives you and shares his joy.