Mark over at Pragmatic-Eclectic has written a couple of great posts using Elijah’s time at the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17) as an analogy for the respite many of us feel after migrating out of the institutional church settings. I couldn’t possibly improve on what he’s said, so go read them here and here.
His posts have got me thinking, not only about where I am personally, but about our tendency to want to stay in places of rest. In particular this sentence stood out to me today:
“Over and over you will want to build a tabernacle and just stay in one place.”
That one hit home in particular, because a few years ago, “The Tabernacle” was the name we chose when we launched a short-lived ministry attempting to establish 24-7 worship in our area.
Looking back at that effort, I think God was pleased enough with our desire for Him, our desire to create a space where He was at home within the worship of people who love Him. But I can also look back and see the subtle way in which our effort was misguided. Nothing inherently wrong with 24-7 worship…but the way we were doing it focused on a destination, rather than the journey.
How often do we do this in our discipleship? How often do we experience some good thing from God, and want to camp there? Quite often, it seems. There are more “camps” in my town than I can count, formed by well-intended Christians who experienced some aspect or revelation of God and decided, “This is ‘it’; we have ‘arrived.'” It seems that not even Simon Peter of the Bible was immune to temptation; on the mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus manifested His glory, the first thing Peter wanted to do was build three tabernacles to commemorate it–that is, until the voice of God interrupted him and set his focus back on Jesus.
How easily we forget that the whole essence of discipleship is following Jesus. And following Jesus means Jesus is on the move. He may have us make camp and rest from time to time, but eventually we will move on. But so many times, we like the camp so much that we want to turn it into the destination. Build a tabernacle. Package it. Institutionalize it. It’s all the same stuff–it’s about turning a journey into a destination, and taking control.
When I talk about journeys versus destinations, I’m not really talking specifically about where we live, or what church community we happen to belong to. That pattern differs from person to person, and I’m not suggesting people should just float around for the heck of it. Our journey might include changes in those areas, or not…but I think/hope you know what I mean. Whether it be in a ministry endeavor, or a revelation, or a manifestation of God…we always seem to be trying to arrive. To stop. To stay. To get God to stay.
It misses the whole point of Jesus coming to us, doesn’t it? God makes it clear that He doesn’t dwell in houses made by human hands; and because of Jesus’ great sacrifice, God’s dwelling place is now with us. The tabernacle moves with us along the journey because we are the tabernacle. Any attempt we make at building a tabernacle is for man’s benefit, not God’s. That was the fatal flaw in our plan–as it is in so many other plans we humans make to build God’s house instead of be God’s house.
As Mark suggested…many of us have found a place of rest, a “Cherith”, in a place lovingly known as “outside the institutions.” But we must also realize that “away” is not a destination, either. Some of us left because we got hurt, and that woke us up to the frailties and flaws of the institutions. But deep down, I think most of us left because we were honestly looking for something more, something that couldn’t be found where we were. So we broke camp and started on a journey, and that’s a good thing. We started to seek God in earnest for ourselves again, and began to grow as we followed after Jesus. But it is a serious mistake to begin believing that leaving institutional Christianity caused us to grow on our journey. Following Jesus is what causes the growth. Nothing else.
If we forget this critical truth, then we will become just as stagnant outside the walls as we were within them. We will once again build a tabernacle in the wilderness, say we’ve arrived, and tell everyone we know that “non-institutional Christianity” is the only way to find the real Jesus. And we will be just as wrong as before–because this isn’t about destinations, or arriving. It’s about following.
The destination is for the next life. We need to remember that this one is a journey. We should not be seeking to arrive, but to follow Jesus, and reveal His kingdom as much as we can along the way. We are the tabernacle, and the tabernacle goes where He goes. I guess what I am saying is that what is most important is not whether we are in the institutions or out of them–but whether we are following Jesus along the way.