When God divided the tribes of Israel into their groups, He selected the tribe of Levi to be His most chosen men. It was they who would do the work of the Tabernacle - carrying it from place to place, setting it up, tearing it down, making sure that each time, the Tabernacle met the holy requirements of God's dwelling place. It sounds like an honor and yet, not really.
The Levites were not allowed to own their own land. They lived on God's land, on God's provisions. They couldn't build a camp for themselves. They couldn't leave a legacy on their own name. Everything they had was God's, and in a world that was suddenly becoming wealth-oriented, it was a tough spot to be. On top of that, the Levites did the work of the Tabernacle, but none of the work in the Tabernacle. Only a select few - the line of Aaron - could do the work in the Tabernacle, namely offering sacrifices, burning incense, coming before the Lord, entering His presence. The majority of the Levites? They couldn't even set eyes on the holy things.
As God lays out His law for the Tent, He provides very specific instructions for the way things are supposed to go. When it's time to pack up and move, it is the priests who go in and meticulously cover, in multiple layers, all of the holy items. The priests secure the holy things under blanket and leather and wrap to the apparatuses on which the holy things are to be carried. The priests make sure the carrying poles are set in perfect place. And when all is well and hidden, the Levites come in and do the heavy lifting. When they come to a new place, the Levites bring the holy things to rest, but it is the priests who uncover them once all common men have left the premises.
Kind of a tough pill to swallow. You spend your whole life toting 15,000+ pounds of Tabernacle, and you never get to see what lies inside. You know it's important. You know it's special. You're close enough you can touch it and yet, if you do, you will die. It's right before your eyes, but you never get to see it. And when you go home, you have only what God has given you and that can only increase the frustration you feel over not being able to see more of Him. Right? It's not a great gig.
But today is not really that different. Not for most of us. Oh, there are times in my life I have seen the holy things. It's really cool; I'll just be honest. Hopefully, you've had those moments, too. You catch a glimpse of something of God, and it's overwhelming. Every ounce of your body feels it as the vision hits your eyes. Holy is an ache that I can never quite describe.
Most of us, though, have these moments few and far between. It's much more likely that we're spending our lives toting the Tabernacle, doing the work of the Tent and wondering what that little holy thing is like. We're setting things up. We're making sure they're right. We're carrying, caring for and creating a holy place without so often, if ever, seeing what's actually going on in there.
I remember thinking something like this when I compiled some of my final stats for my chaplain program in December. In the course of four months, I had contact with 440 patients, which does not count family members, community members, colleagues, and staff. That is 440+ opportunities for holy, and you know what? I cannot quantify or even qualify one overtly holy thing in all of that, even though I know such things were there. Even though I sensed their presence. Even though that's what I was working toward. I was carrying the burden of making a place for God. I was caring for the opportunity of His presence. I was creating a space in which God might be able to work. Something holy was going on, but only God knows what that is.
That's the place where most of us spend our lives - laboring for the holy with such limited experience of the holy. We just don't get to see all the things we do for God's kingdom. We don't get to see all the fruit. For those of you in ministry - formal or informal - you kind of understand these moments. You do something totally normal and routine, completely blah, for the hundred millionth time, having never heard a word about it. Then you get that one little voice that tells you what it meant to them. It doesn't seem anything to you any more; you've had so many of these moments that you almost forget them. All of a sudden, however, it's holy again. And you start to wonder what other holy things you've allowed for without knowing it, just by carrying, caring for, and creating a space.
It's no easy burden. It's a heavy weight. More than 7 tons of Tabernacle. Hundreds of miles. Thousands of steps. Nowhere to go but where God has led you, nothing to have but that which He has given you. Nothing of yourself, everything of God, and aggravatingly, the holy things so often remain under wraps. Like I said - it's not a great gig.
But it's incredible.
To those who wonder what their ministry means - again, whatever you ministry is, formal or informal, obvious or a little obscure - take heart. Work diligently. There's a reason God has put you in the service of this place. Labor for the Lord's presence. Create a holy space. We are God's chosen people. You are God's chosen person.
We all want to do the holy work. But the truth is that most of us have been chosen only to work for the holy. We may never see what it is of God that's just under our noses, but we know it's there. And that's enough. We make space for Him to do the Holy, and what an incredible gift that is to the community of God.