Plainly and simply, we are blessed to be God’s people. We have nothing to offer Him and yet He continually reaches to us in love by His Gospel so that we would know exactly what that love looks like. It is fully seated in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ, who atoned for the sins of the whole world—the whole world. And then what is equally astounding is that He keeps the promise He made in Ezekiel 34 where He said: “And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel” (vv.13-14).
All of this talk of “the mountains of Israel” is a reference to worship. It is referring to the reality that as members of God’s family, in a sense, we are lifted up and out of the world around us and set apart—which is literally what the word “holy” means. It means set apart. In holiness, God Himself feeds His holy people. He takes care of us. He makes His presence in our midst and shepherds us. And this can’t be overstated. God says over an over throughout this particular section that He is the mover and not us. “I will…” He says over and over. He even emphasizes it when He declares “I myself…” He does that in vv. 15 and 16: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…”
This text draws us to see Psalm 23 in a very clear way. The Lord is indeed our shepherd and we shall not want. He makes us to lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside still waters. He restores our souls.
God is good.
Knowing all of this, the Old Testament writers set the stage for us to understand that when we come into the presence of God in Holy Worship, there is something in particular we ought to be ready to do. No, it isn’t necessarily to sing His praises, although that does come as a natural response to the Gospel of our forgiveness. And no, it isn’t to get so comfortable in His holy dwelling that we kick our feet up on the pews like we’re at the movies or make a lot of racket in the nave before during or after the service. The “doing” is described by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 as a particular demeanor: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.”
Solomon urges believers to guard their steps when entering into God’s house, that is, we are humble, reverent, and meditative. And then in the midst of that demeanor, we are poised rather naturally to be ready to listen—to hear and receive His word, which is the food given in the good grazing land—rather than to prattle on with a less-than-tuned heart, mind, and spirit so that getting the most of our time in the Lord’s presence is jeopardized.
Believe it or not, we have an actual room designed to remind and teach this very important truth. It’s called the narthex. It’s the room you pass through on your way from the lobby to the nave. The word narthex comes from the Greek word “narthekas,” which means “to purge.” The narthex is that space between the outside world and the grazing land into which God is calling and setting us. It is that space where we can begin to shake loose the noise and distraction in order to “guard our steps.” It is a place to begin the quiet reverence and meditation that is to be maintained in the nave—before, during, and after the service.
It’s also that place where we can go—child or adult—to recalibrate when we just can’t shake those things loose. And speaking of kids, it’s the perfect spot to take the fussiest of our little ones (who are simply doing what children do) to settle them while still keeping them close to the action and with the intention of getting them back into the house and into the presence of their Savior…where they absolutely belong!
Again, God is good. His Word declares this. And we, His people, know this. As we make our way into His holy house for worship each and every time it is offered, give thanks to Him and be at peace knowing that He will calm and comfort you, and He will give you all that is required for meeting a not-so-calm- and not-so-comforting world beyond the doors of His Divine Service!