April 1, 2015

Reverence for the House of God

God has chosen and set apart a holy place where He meets with His people. In 2 Chronicles 7:15-16, we read, “Mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.” When God declared that He would be attentive to prayers made in “this place,” He was not referring to just one specific location. That promise applies wherever the people of God gather to worship Him. It includes the building we are in today, but it also includes your sanctuary—the place where you worship.

In a secular sense, a sanctuary is a place of protection. In Southern Oregon where I live, we have several places designated as animal sanctuaries. There is the Wildlife Safari and another place called Wildlife Images where animals are fed, cared for, and kept safe from predators.

In some ways, that is what the sanctuary is to us. As followers of Christ, we gather in a safe place where we are fed spiritually, nurtured in the faith, and kept from evil. Webster’s dictionary also offers a religious definition: “a house consecrated to the worship of God; a place where divine service is performed.” The definition goes on to refer to the Old Testament, where the word sanctuary indicates “the most sacred part of the Tabernacle, called the Holy of Holies, in which the Ark of the Covenant was kept, and into which no person was allowed to enter except the High Priest, and that only once a year to intercede for the people.”

When Jesus offered His life on Calvary as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind, He gave us access into that holy place which previously had been forbidden to the common man. We read in Hebrews 9:12 that Christ “by his own blood . . . entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” No more middle man. No more need for a high priest to go into the holy place on behalf of the people. Now you and I—just ordinary men and women—can enter into the sanctuary and speak one on one with God himself.

Having been granted access into the sacred place where God dwells, we must be careful to honor it appropriately. We can hinder or facilitate God’s blessing by the way we regard the place where He meets with His people.

Looking at the first verses of 2 Chronicles 7, we find an example of actions in the house of the Lord that honored Him and brought His blessing. We read, “Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house. And the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house. And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” The people had everything in order. They had honored God’s house and had approached God in the right way. For that, God sent His blessing.

In our opening text, God said, “I have chosen and sanctified [or set apart] this house . . .” The area where we are gathered to worship is different from any other room in this building. Most churches include a foyer, Sunday school rooms, an office, and perhaps a kitchen. But the place where we gather for church services is special. It is different. It is our sanctuary, the place set aside for worship. It is where we meet with God.

When we enter a place where the Lord is, we should be careful to show respect. When Moses approached the burning bush, God called to him, saying, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). The ground was not holy because of its location or because of the bush that burned but was not consumed. It was holy because God was there! The word translated “place” in “the place whereon thou standest” is the same root word used in 2 Chronicles 7:15-16, “Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever.” The commonality between the burning bush, and the house of the Lord in Solomon’s day was that God was there! So when we gather in this place in our day, we must be conscious of the fact that God is here.

What actions will indicate our honor and respect for the house of God? In Psalm 27:6, the Psalmist says, “I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy.” In another psalm he speaks of offering a “sacrifice of praise.” Joy and praise are not offered out of a sense of obligation. There is a thanksgiving to God that just wells up within, and it is a sacrifice in the sense that we offer it to God in hope and faith that He will accept it.

In Psalm 95, verse 6, it speaks of reverencing God in a different way. We read, “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.” We kneel in reverence! We come to the house of God to honor Him, and we indicate that by kneeling before Him in prayer.

People can pray out in the woods, by the river, or in their homes, but this place is dedicated specifically for that purpose.

Another way we reverence God’s house is to come frequently to enjoy the presence of the Lord. We are instructed to do so. In Hebrews 10:25 we are admonished not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as some do, but to gather “so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Without question, the Lord’s return is approaching. As we see that day draw near, we need to come to God’s house more and more. The Psalmist felt this desire so strongly that he said, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). People can pray out in the woods, by the river, or in their homes, but this place is dedicated specifically for that purpose.

God responds when we come to His house with a purpose to worship. In the account we read in 2 Chronicles 7, it says that the glory of the Lord filled the place. The priests could not minister and the musicians could not play. Those who had come to worship had created an atmosphere where God could dwell in His fullness, and those in attendance were the beneficiaries. Isn’t that what we want—for God to come down and dwell among us in His fullness?

We have a part in making that happen. Malachi 3:1 tells us, “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in.” The Lord shows up when we do the right thing by delighting in Him. The Prophet Isaiah relates God’s promise to those who take hold of His covenant, “Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people“ (Isaiah 56:6-7). Do you want to be joyful in the house of prayer? Do you want your prayers to be answered? Approach God’s sanctuary with reverence. It is a place where we come to commune with Him, so avail yourself of that opportunity. Delight in Him, and take hold of His promises.

God is quick to respond when we honor Him. However, our actions can have the other effect as well—they can keep the Lord away. We can hinder His blessing by how we act and what we do in His sanctuary.

The sanctuary is not a dining room or a meeting hall. When we come here, our primary purpose is not to see old friends. This is a house of prayer. Of course, some communication goes on; we are brothers and sisters in the Lord and we enjoy having fellowship with one another. However, we come to this sanctuary to seek God. The Prophet Habbakuk said, “The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habbakuk 2:20).

Psalm 84:4 says, “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee.” You could say, “Blessed are they that spend their time praising thee.” Those that “dwell” in God’s house have one overriding purpose when they come, and that is to praise the Lord. This is where God’s glory dwells. The sound that comes from this building should be the sound of praise or worship. God said that His ears would be “attent to the prayer that is made in this place,” not the conversation that is made in this place.

In our circles, we want to avoid the casual approach that seems commonplace today. If we were expecting to meet with the President or Prime Minister, we would dress for the occasion and approach the meeting with the respect due to the dignitary. We are coming in here to meet with Almighty God! He is far more worthy of honor and reverence than any individual on this earth.

We want to come into God’s house reverently, considerately, circumspectly—we want to consider where we are and show proper respect. The Word of God tells us that the Queen of Sheba, who came to meet with Solomon, recognized his love for the Lord just by the way he went up into the house of God. We want people to know that we appreciate the Lord by the way we come into His house and by the way we act when we are in His house. Leviticus 19:30 says, “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary; I am the Lord.” It doesn’t get any more plain than that.

Because this is a special place, there are certain activities that we are very cautious about because they have potential for distracting our focus or that of others. God’s house is not a place for casual use of cellphones, texting, or surfing the internet. God wants to meet with us here. Let’s give God a chance! If we have a need for conversation, God has plenty to say to us. Talk to the Lord! Remember, this is His house and He has come here to dwell among us.

We avoid bringing food into the sanctuary. I cannot see entering this holy place to come before the Lord with a hamburger in hand. There are other places for that. We do not come in and sit casually sipping a cup of coffee or tea. Of course, an infant may need a bottle, or a toddler may get thirsty and need a sip of water, but we want to be careful. We are coming before the Lord God Almighty. It is not uncommon to see signs saying “No Food or Drink” in secular venues, and people have no problem honoring that request. How much more should we honor this house, and indicate by the way we treat it that it is a sacred place!

We want to be careful to leave the cares of work and business outside. Do not let them consume the time that has been set aside for worship.

We should do our best to set our minds on God when we enter the sanctuary. God told the people of Judah that they had done evil in His sight because they had “set their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to pollute it” (Jeremiah 7:30). In other words, something else had become more important than worshiping God when they entered the sanctuary. We want to be careful to leave the cares of work and business outside. Do not let them consume the time that has been set aside for worship. That can happen. We probably have all knelt down and found that our minds were filled with the day’s assignments, or some other matter. However, as we tarry in prayer, we can tell God, “Lord, I can deal with those things later. Help me to focus on You!” When that is our true desire, it does not take long before we find that He is right there, and our prayer begins to be an offering of praise. We can ask the Lord’s help in putting aside those things which distract us. We want to set our minds on Him when we come in God’s house to worship.

We do not conduct business in the sanctuary. We do not buy and sell. As recently as a few years ago, places of business were not even open on Sunday. Do you see how a lack of honor and respect has crept into our society? We want to keep that trend toward materialism outside of the church. We come here to worship Him.

In Scripture, the only times we see the Lord angry was when His house was desecrated by commercial activities. He dealt with this situation in John chapter 2, and then again in Matthew 21. Jesus went into the Temple and cast out those who bought and sold there, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers. He said to them, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12-13). If the Lord was angry about it, we must be careful not to do business in God’s house.

We do not play games in God’s house. In fact, we teach our children at a young age that they should not run in church. Though my children are grown, I know it is a challenge to keep little ones quiet for an hour or more. However, as parents we want to pass on to our children a reverence for God’s house. We want them to understand that this is a special place. If we neglect this teaching for just one generation, it will be lost.

It cost the Lord something to grant us access to His sanctuary. One of the beauties of Calvary was that He opened up this privilege to us. The house of God is sanctified, just as the Old Testament Holy of Holies was sanctified. Blood was offered there; Christ’s Blood has been offered for our sanctuary. We must never take that for granted.

We are the ones who benefit when we honor His house. When we offer God reverence, we are blessed. We want to feel His Spirit when we come into His house. We want to see God at work. He is waiting for hungry hearts so that He can fill them, and we must do what we can to facilitate that.

If you do not know the Lord today, the best way to begin to honor Him is to ask Him into your heart. When that happens, honor and reverence and praise will be the natural response. A desire to pray and worship Him will naturally spring up within your heart.

We are thankful for this house of prayer. We are thankful for a God who bends low to meet with us. We want God’s blessing, and one way we can receive it is to honor His house.

apostolic faith magazine