I have in my possession something I am willing to wager no one else reading these words has. My senior year of college, I spent a semester studying in Israel. My group of friends had a three day weekend and no plans, so we decided that we would go camping by the sea. We randomly picked a place along the Mediterranean coast on our travel map: the ancient Persian port city of Dor.
We packed three days’ worth of supplies, hopped in a taxi, showed the driver the map, and set off. After three hours of driving on a highway, the driver turned off onto a sandy path (which hardly constituted a road), drove about two miles and stopped, saying, “Here you go.”
All around us was deserted beach. No city, no vendors, no nothing. Just beach.
We didn’t understand that the Old English typeface labeling Dor on the map meant that it was not an actual city with people in it and stuff, but a ruin. So there we stood, six American students alone on a deserted beach in the middle of Israel.
It was awesome.
That night we slept in sleeping bags on the beach under a starry sky I can’t even begin to describe. The next morning, a few of us decided to go for a run up the beach. As I was running, a glimmer of light by the water caught my eye. I stopped, and there, half-buried in the sand where the water lapped up on the shore, was a bottle, and in the bottle was a rolled up piece of paper. I had found a genuine message in a bottle!
Here’s a picture of the actual one:
What is written on a message in a bottle found like that? Maybe a distress call from shipwreck survivors, or a plea for help from a kidnapping victim being carried off by international terrorists. Maybe it contained the map to an otherwise lost treasure. It might have been some desperate person’s last ditch effort to reach the outside world hoping that they might be sought and found. Lives might have hung in the balance!
What would you have done?
What did I do?
Well, I didn’t have a corkscrew, and I certainly didn’t want to ruin my find by shoving the cork into the bottle.
So I waited. For two months, I waited.
Does this frustrate you? My defense was, “Look, its complicated. I know the message could be important, but isn’t it also important that I get to preserve my souvenir?” The message could’ve changed my life or saved someone else’s, but as far as I was concerned, the sheer luck of finding the bottle itself was enough of a life-change for one day.
So I stuffed it away in my pack.
I believe that when it comes to worshiping the Lord, this is where many of us are. We’ve been given a “message in a bottle,” a declaration from Christ Himself that we were made for relationship with God, but we hesitate to engage Him because our situation is complicated.
Maybe we learn along the way to appreciate, even treasure the outward trappings of worship, but don’t really engage the message contained in it. Maybe we even financially invest in acquiring worship music to listen to. But when it comes to really worshiping God, bowing our hearts and selves in reverence and adoration before Him, we seldom do. All the trappings of religion have complicated things.
But Jesus seeks to uncomplicate things and engage our hearts with an invitation to quench a thirst we may not even know we have—thirst for life as it was meant to be. And we find this best in worship. Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” We were created for the presence of God.
And His word, like a message in a bottle, tells us of what is to come in the glory we await: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” Revelation 21:22-25
In glory there will be no temple because the Lord God Himself will be the center of worship. If you are in Christ, you will be there for all eternity.
This life is a vapor, and well over 99.999% of your existence as a believer will be in the glorious presence of God, the Lover of your soul. And your reputation will not precede you there. Everything will be as it was always meant to be, and you will know true worship, unfettered by the complications you feel even now.
As glorious as that will be, the great news for today is that our God, right here and now, seeks worshipers who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
To worship the Lord is the invitation to a foretaste of the Glory you will know forever. But it not enough to just possess this message. Engage the message.
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).