For many years I’ve been fascinated by St. Petersburg. It’s a city that emerged from the swamp land of the Neva due to Peter the Great’s vision and determination to position Russia as a European centre of power and culture. When you look at a swamp and see a vision of a great city, however, there is also inevitably a great cost. In the style of most autocrats Peter the Great met this cost by the traditional combination of taxing the people and conscripting slave labour. The palaces and fortresses, cathedrals and boulevards, were built by cruel means. I’ve just been reading in the book of Exodus about another vision, a vision given to Moses for a tabernacle where God would dwell in the midst of His people. What really struck me about the nature of the tabernacle wasn’t the magnificent opulence of the project but the way in which it was funded and built and what that says about God and man.
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.
– Exodus 25:1-8 (ESV)
I love the extent to which this is a role reversal from how earthly rulers fund their visions. No tax, no mandatory contributions, no arm twisting. God chooses to dwell within the midst of His people in a sanctuary not built by tax or demands but by a willing offering as their hearts move them. He explains the vision in terms of what is needed but He doesn’t demand anything from anyone. By doing so He sets an amazing precedent; the extent to which God dwells in the midst of His people depends on the generosity of their heart’s response to Him.
We’ve just had Vision Sunday at my church. My pastors Jon and Dee Cook spoke of what God has placed on their heart for the church and for the cities it’s planted in. They spoke of the focus that the church has in this season in order to see the vision realised. So what should happen now? I believe that Jon and Dee have a God-given vision for how He will dwell in and change this city so the next step has to be willing and generous hearts. Our hearts should be moved by the vision so that we willingly offer of what we have to see that vision realised.
How amazing is it that after a journey out of Egypt where the people have grumbled and complained, accused Him of betraying them, whinged and whined, God wants to dwell among them and do so based on how much they want Him there. Wow, given some of the things that they said when they were faced with the Red Sea that seems like a huge gamble. He knows they’re flaky and they moan, yet He reveals the vision and trusts their hearts to make it happen. Even the building of the tabernacle represents this principle; God doesn’t do what was the social norm for the age and use slave labour to realise things:
“See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you.”
– Exodus 31:1-6 (ESV)
It wasn’t just an offering of finances that would make the vision a reality, though that was a major part of it. God filled specific people with His Spirit and with particular abilities and skills to do what was required. Instead of just using masses of untrained slaves, God uses it as an opportunity to bless people with outstanding abilities so that they may fulfil their purpose in an amazing way. He essentially gives calling and gifting to people so that they can serve Him to build His house; I don’t think that parallel even needs explaining! If we believe in the vision then we should be watching our own lives for what God may do to make us a part of it.
Jon often says at church that we don’t take an offering, we receive one. Here is God laying down that exact principle, receiving from His people based on their desire to have Him dwell in the midst. In a few weeks time we have the Heart for The House offering; the challenged of Exodus 25:2 is that God wants to do great things living in our midst, are we going to rise up in generosity to build His dwelling?
I know I’ve talked in this blog entry about my own church, but where do you go? This is a principle that I think we can all apply in our lives. If we go to a church then we should have a belief in the vision of its leaders and the will of our God to dwell there amongst His people. It’s like King David said, he would not offer a sacrifice that cost him nothing. (2 Samuel 24:24) He wanted to make a sacrifice, he wanted to feel the pinch on the royal purse strings because it showed that He was valuing God and what He had done. Will we be the same? Will we rise up and show God we want Him to dwell in our midst by giving generously to see the vision realised? Will you go to your home church and invest in the vision?