This was a great time in Jewish history. After 70 years of captivity, they were going home. King Cyrus gave them the go-ahead to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. He even provided much of what they needed to get the job done. Over 40,000 people packed up their things for the long, happy journey.
I love that the first thing they did upon arriving in Jerusalem, was to repair the altar. And as soon as they could, they began using it for the sacrifices they had so long been unable to make.
They repaired that altar, even though they had a bit of fear concerning the people around them. But they did not let their fear paralyze them. They celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, offered the regular burnt sacrifices, the New Moon sacrifice, and all the sacrifices for all the sacred feasts. Plus freewill offerings! That altar got a workout. And all of this happened before the temple foundations was even laid.
I like this example. It demonstrates the priorities that we should have when doing God’s work. How many good projects fail when God’s people get ahead of Him? We are excited to get started on that building project, or that outreach program, or hiring a pastor. But we don’t spend a lot of time dealing with the sin in our own lives, worshiping God and praising Him for who He is, and seeking God’s direction first.
The Jews in Ezra took two years at that altar before going ahead with the building project. Two years before the temple foundation was even laid.
We are a people who demand instant gratification. It’s hard to wait, even for the light to change. But so often in Scripture God tells us to wait, to be still, to seek His kingdom, to hear from Him.
Let’s face it. We like to win. We like to be the first church in town with a state of the art sound system, or the catchy named coffee shop in our foyer, or the satellite site, the largest sanctuary, anything that will make us stand out as THE church.
None of those things are necessarily bad. But I wonder if sometimes we get focused on the project, and forget to wait for God’s direction before jumping in. I wonder if our projects are counter-productive when we allow sin to go unchecked in our hearts, if we don’t wait on God’s timing and direction.
Do we want God’s blessings on our efforts? Whether it’s the events of our day, or a major decision we must make, or a big project in our churches, I would suggest we follow the example here in Ezra.
Spend time… a lot of time… at the altar; wait on God… no matter how long it takes; then follow his lead and get busy doing what He asks. That seems to me what getting our priorities straight looks like.