We were designed to go from strength-to-strength (Psalm 84:5) and from glory-to-glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18) God's desire is to release blessings into our lives so that we can grow in our understanding of who we are as His children. Growth happens in cycles, which is one of the reasons God ordained for us to follow His Biblical calendar. As we align ourselves with the Lord's timing and purposes, we will grow to be more like Him. The cycles God set up are meant to lead us into greater intimacy with Him and higher levels of blessing.
Psalm 84:5 says, "Blessed are those who strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage." Holman's Dictionary defines pilgrimage as "a journey, especially a religious trek to a site at which God has revealed Himself in the past." In the Old Testament we can see how the Israelites went to Bethel, Gilgal, Shiloh, Beersheba and Mt. Horeb in their quest to find God. After David relocated the ark to Jerusalem, it became the place to go to commune with the Lord. Three times a year adult male Israelites were required to appear before the Lord for the major feasts. (Exodus 23:14-17, 34:18-23, Deuteronomy 16:16) These three journeys to Jerusalem are known as the "pilgrim feasts."
Those who have traveled to Jerusalem know that the City sits on a high elevation. In the journey to honor God one had to go up. This is called "Aliyah" or "the going up." In every year, season and circumstance of our lives, we are called upward. We must always choose the higher path as it leads to greater strength and greater glory.
The three pilgrim feasts in the calendar year include Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. A transaction and growth occur as we celebrate each one, and the journey mirrors the walk through the Tabernacle. At the first stop to the Outer Court we meet with the Passover Lamb who redeemed us and cleanses us so that we are ready for the next stop. Without the atonement and cleansing there cannot be the anointing by the pouring out of the Spirit of God. The second stop in the Holy Place is where we receive provision for our journey and empowerment by the Spirit of God. Now we are ready to travel to the most blessed season of our journey. It is the time when we get to come into the Presence of God—to tabernacle with Him in the Most Holy Place and to celebrate with joy the glory of the Lord.
Tonight, Jews will begin celebrating the three fall feasts—The Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. This month is one of great celebration for God's people as they blow the shofar 100 times in their worship service. This is a season to celebrate what God has already done and to rehearse what has been promised. (Believers recognize that Passover and Pentecost have been fulfilled, but the fall feasts remain to be fulfilled.)
The blowing of the ram's horn during Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year) is done as a call to repentance. Genesis 22 is traditionally read in synagogues—the story of God providing a substitute atonement for Isaac after Abraham placed him on the altar of sacrifice. Ten days after the Feast of Trumpets, the most holy day on the calendar is celebrated—the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. Even though the Jews read about the substitutionary atonement provided for Abraham, many do not understand that the ultimate sacrifice was already made on Passover through the blood of Messiah Yeshua.
All of us need to set our hearts on pilgrimage so that we can grow closer to God. As vessels that carry God's glory, we carry the light of His love on our journey so that we bring others into God's Kingdom. One day the Lord will return for His Bride, the Church, to the sound of the trumpet. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) We want to be ready!
If we were to study the growth cycle of different kinds of plants, we would be in awe of the systems that God developed for them to mature into beautiful specimens. Such is the case for the sunflower. Have you ever driven by a field of sunflowers with their golden heads all facing the same direction and wondered why? There is an internal mechanism in these plants that enables them to turn to the sun. The scientific term is "heliotropism"--"helio" meaning sun and "tropism" meaning turn. This is also called "solar tracking."
The sunflower only has a single blossom so its goal is to grow a head that can produce as many seeds as possible. Inside the green parts of the plant is a hormone called "auxins" that are sensitive to light. The auxins migrate to the shaded part of the stem and behind the bud head to stimulate cell growth so that the shaded side of the plant grows longer and faster than the rest of the plant. Then the flower head follows the arc of the sun. At night, it repositions itself so that it is east facing and can begin the process of following the sun all over again in the morning. Note that even on a cloudy or rainy day the sunflowers still follow the sun.
By turning its face toward the sun, the sunflower takes full advantage of the light for photosynthesis, the process whereby it obtains energy for growth. Once the flower matures, it no longer tracks the sun but faces east all the time. By facing east, the flower is warmed by the morning sun and attracts pollinators, primarily bees, who travel from head to head and fertilize the centers so that they produce seeds. Is this not fascinating?
I see a correlation between the sunflowers and our growth as Christians. First, God planted each of us in the ideal place for relationship with Him. "...He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:26-27) Then, He placed within us the desire to worship. Everyone has their own "auxins," so to speak. David recognized this and expressed it in Psalm 27. "My heart says of you, 'Seek His face!' Your face, Lord, I will seek." (Verse 8) In Psalm 105:4 it says, "Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always." Even when we go through dark times and the Lord is not so visible, we need to turn toward Him to help us in our time of need.
As we seek the Lord and find Him, we will be growing in the likeness of Him. God delights in watching us produce the fruits of His Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) It is through our growth in the Spirit that we will begin to plant seeds in others so that the Lord will have a magnificent harvest. When seed is planted in good soil it "produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." (Matthew 13:23)
One day the Lord will return for His harvest. Scriptures tells us He will come from the east and all of us will face toward Him, our Lord and Master. Matthew describes how it will look: "For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." (Matthews 24:27) What a glorious day it will be! We must keep facing the Son to be ready for that day.
Did you ever ask God about your reputation in heaven through your worship on earth? Tommy Tenney, in his book Finding Favor with the King - Preparing for Your Moment in His Presence, suggests that we do so. He asks, "What would happen if the church established a reputation for extravagant excellence with her King and Bridegroom?" "Is God eager to suspend the schedules of His Kingdom to attend our worship services, or does He rarely show up in His manifest glory?" Tenney continues: "Nothing attracts God's presence and His intervening power like focused and single-minded worship...When you focus your attention on the wrong thing, you are actually worshiping it...Worship is never more important than when the enemy launches a plot to destroy your destiny! Learn to worship with the enemy at your table...If you have the heart of the King, then your enemies become His enemies and your problems become footstools for Divine Solutions."
The enemy's plan is to distract us from worshiping the King. He knows that worship is the gateway to intimacy with our Lord. We are told in John 15:7, "If you abide in me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you." (NKJV) In an article by Patricia King in April 2006, she writes about this subject. "Intimacy—this is the battlefield. This is what the enemy desires to steal more than anything! If he can steal our intimacy with the Lord, he gets everything..." She discovered in her desperation that she carried unbelief. "I was hoping to be intimate, but was not believing I could be." Pat recalled Hebrews 11:6. "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must first believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." "I began to worship from a different perspective. Instead of hoping to be intimate, I believed I was. This was not based on what I felt—it was based on what was true."
In Psalm 23:5 King David wrote, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Tenney tells us that our worship must focus on the King alone. "If you learn to worship while the enemy sits across from you at the same table; if you learn to pay such close attention to the King that you forget about the enemy staring you in the face...Then you win." No matter how we feel, and no matter what we are facing, we must give the Lord our highest worship. Mary demonstrated this when she poured out the entire content of her alabaster jar to anoint Jesus. The crowd that had gathered witnessed Mary's selfless act of love, but they were offended by her lavish devotion. Jesus told them, "I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." (Matthew 26:13)
Some characteristics of highest worship include the following: It is all-consuming, it is humble, it is done in brokenness, it is sacrificial, and it costs us everything. We see this in the relationship that Jesus had with His Father. While on earth, we have opportunities to give the Lord the highest worship. This happens when we give him the sacrifice of praise in the dark night of our souls, amid loss, sorrow and pain. Jesus said that Father God seeks worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth. (John 4:23) Our sacrificial worship has a fragrance that is different from any other. It rises above the worship of heaven.
Remember that God is the one who placed a yearning for His Presence within us. He wants us to be overwhelmed with the desire to run after Him with all that is within us. We must say like the Shulamite in Song of Solomon, "Draw me away!" "Set me as a seal upon your heart." And saying these things, we must be prepared to give it all. Jesus gave it all for love and His intercessions are prompted by love. We have a promise from God that we must embrace: "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:12-13)
In the movie called "The Ten Commandments" we hear an interesting conversation between Moses and his wife Zipporah. Moses is questioning why God had not delivered his people. Zipporah responds, "Can a man judge God? No Moses! We cannot see His whole purpose." We can see in Scripture part of God's plan and what he instructs Moses to say to Pharaoh, who will not release God's people: "But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." (Exodus 9:16) God even had a purpose for Pharaoh!
We do not see things from God's perspective. He knows the end from the beginning. "...I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning; from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purposes will stand, and I will do all that I please...What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do." (Isaiah 46:9-11) Our perspective on a situation is not complete; God's is. "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’" (Isaiah 55:8-9)
During a recent family vacation, I got an interesting understanding of this concept. The Horseshoe Falls of Niagara Falls are situated between the United States and Canada. In the United States there is another set of falls called The Bridal Veil Falls. The Falls are fed by the Niagara River that is split by a large island called Goat Island. There are two bridges between the island and the United States Niagara mainland and one bridge between the American and Canadian side of the Falls. As we walked around on the first day, I was totally confused about the layout of all of this. It was not until we ate dinner on the Canadian side of the Falls at a restaurant with a revolving observation tower that I could understand the layout of all the sites and how to move from one location to another. At this higher elevation I had a full perspective.
All of us have had or will have a situation in our lives that we do not understand, and we may be tempted to question God about what He allows or ordains. We may even be angry with God because we think we have a better way of doing things. This is where faith and trust in the love of God comes in. Everything He does and says is driven by love! He is invested in our welfare and partners with us to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.
The end of Psalm 23 is so comforting and encourages our belief in a compassionate and loving God who is always looking after our welfare. Verse 6 says, "So why do I fear the future? For Your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life..." (TPT) King David praises the Lord's purposes in Psalm 33:10-15. "The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from His dwelling place He watches all who live on earth—He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do." We are blessed to have the God of the Universe watching over all of us and lovingly directing our lives. As the writer of Proverbs says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Like a city of refuge talked about in the Bible, the sixth month of Elul is considered a "haven in time." As we enter this month on the Hebrew calendar, we should be going after the blessings of God for it. One of the reasons Elul is such a blessing is that it is a time when God extended forgiveness and mercy to His people. During the previous two months, the Israelites fell into significant sin, the sin of worshiping the golden calf and the sin of unbelief by the 10 spies and the rest of the tribes of Israel. Not only did God forgive His people, but He made a way for them and us to have special accessibility to Him.
During Elul God spoke to Moses and said, "Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain." (Exodus 34:1-2) Moses climbed to the top of the mountain, and the Lord passed in front of him proclaiming, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sins..." (Exodus 34:6-7) In addition, the Lord gave Moses instructions on how the people should live to have favor with Him. Here is part of the covenant He made on the Mountain: "I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God." (Exodus 34:24)
Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai and returned carrying the radiance of the Lord on his face. This meeting was the first of many times when Moses would speak with the Lord face to face. In these subsequent meetings, the Lord instructed him about the Sabbath and told him how to build the Tabernacle and its contents, how to clothe the priests and how to set up the Tabernacle. Upon the completion of the Tabernacle, "the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle." (Exodus 40:34)
God's desire has always been to dwell with His people. This is one of the reasons He has ordained times of resting, feasting and celebrations during every week, month and year. The Jews know that this month of Elul is a time of preparation for the "High Holy Days" of Tishrei--the seventh month. God so delights in having us draw near to Him that He cannot wait until the seventh month. He wants to be part of our everyday lives and to share special intimacy with us now. He demonstrated this when He sent Jesus to earth to dwell with us. Dwelling is a word for Tabernacle. This is what the Bible says about Jesus: "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." (John 1:14) Jesus lived in the flesh for 33 years. Though the Lord set up specific times during the year when we are to prepare to meet Him, He also enjoys showing up in unexpected times and ways. Elul is the month when the Jews say, "The King is in the field!"
Let us use this month to seek the Lord more diligently and expectantly. Let us make Elul a time of devotion to Him where we purposely seek Him. Remember that in a haven people are able to rest, regroup, find peace and prepare for the future. Perhaps the Lord will honor us with His manifested Presence in a unique way as we wait upon Him. We are giving Him extra special time in order to pursue His extra special blessings!
Joan E. Mathias