Stories, thoughts and reflections on the Bible from the WSFC Staff.

Keeping the Light on For God


I have been reading the Book of Exodus lately. In it we discover such great detail regarding the construction, décor, and maintenance of the temple of the Lord. If you’ve ever read through Exodus, then you too have discovered the incredible minutia. Frankly, it can be a bit mind-numbing. Every detail has a corresponding detail. Everything has a purpose and a place – it’s amazing and awe-inspiring, yet, it can be overwhelming.

So, just when my eyes were beginning to gloss over, my heart was captured by these verses:

“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.” Exodus 27:20-21

Here we discover God’s command to the priests that there should always be a light left on in the temple. The inner court must always have illumination. The lamps were to be filled with pure olive oil. The process by which olive oil is harvested and refined is pretty amazing. There are various grades of oil, and the command was such that only the purest form was to be brought to the inner court to keep the lamp burning day and night.

Throughout Biblical history, we discover that oil is often used as a typology of the Holy Spirit and His anointing presence. From this passage, one can surmise that the Lord God desired that there be a visual reminder of His Presence always burning brightly within the temple and before the people. God’s desire for His manifold Presence to be expressed, enjoyed, and exalted remains today. He wants His life-giving Presence and Power to be evident in our churches.

And yet, how often have we been a part of, or at least aware of, congregations in which God’s Presence has not dwelt for some time? These are empty shells, white-washed tombs, and shadows of their former selves. It’s sad to find churches with beautiful architecture, but lacking the life of God’s Spirit. How does this happen? Who is to blame when the lights are barely on, and God is certainly not at home?

The better question might be: “How can we, in our postmodern culture, insure that the Presence of God still burns brightly within our gatherings?” I believe there are two components that are found in the Exodus 27 passage.

The People BRING It

The people of Israel were commanded to bring the pure oil to the temple for the lamp to remain lit. There is a responsibility on their part that is often overlooked today. Our contemporary churches have largely become spectator based in which folks rate the service like that of an episode of American Idol, or So You Think You Can Dance? In large part, the leaders of the local church have a heavy expectation to “bring it,” and if there seems to be a lack of God’s Presence, then the services are rated accordingly. In this passage we discover the opposite expectation. The people were to “bring it.” Let me repeat: THE PEOPLE BRING IT.

Imagine with me what would happen when Spirit-filled believers come together and collectively bring the indwelling Presence of God with them. Our gatherings would be lit up! Church services would be alive with the collective spiritual energy that is generated by God’s people full of God’s Spirit.

Now that’s where the pastor’s role begins.

The Pastor TENDS It

Aaron and his sons were the priests of the temple. They were commanded to tend to the lamp from evening to morning. That would probably involve filling the lamps with oil, keeping the wicks trimmed, and watching the flame.

What is notably absent from this passage? Simply: bringing oil was not their responsibility. The role of the priest involved tending. Today in our churches, we have pastors that are given the same role of keeping the lamp burning with the oil that the people bring.

I have known good and Godly leaders that struggled in their place of ministry service. There are a number of reasons why this could be the case, but it occurs to me that perhaps they were trying to keep a lamp burning without oil. These well-meaning pastors have too great an expectation upon them to be both bringer and tender. That is an undue presumption that leads to a high burnout rate for pastoral leaders. To be sure, our pastors ought to be spiritually alive people that embody the Presence of the Living God. Yet, often they are expected to be the sole source. This is akin to lighting the pastor on fire while everyone stands around and watches the show. Have our churches become Pastor Shows? If so, are we OK with this? What will the fallout be when the heavy yoke of bringer and tender becomes too much?

Let’s stop placing this undue burden upon our church leadership. They are called to tend to that which people bring to the assembly, and not the other way around. This is the appropriate place where the Kingdom of God becomes a partnership: people and pastor.

Together we can keep the light on for God.

Author: John Fehlen

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