“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” Exodus 25:8
It has crossed my mind many times over the years, yet the thought never lingered like it did tonight. I was reading Psalm 77 over and over again. I felt the need to study the words that God had inspired the psalmist to pen. I needed to know what God was telling me. Then, I came to a verse 13, “Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; Who is so great a God as our God?” That word…sanctuary…the word that has entered and left my mind in the past; it jumped up and grabbed me. Sanctuary.
When I was a kiddo growing up in the church, the sanctuary was always a place of reverence. You were quiet, walked never ran, make sure you were attentive to what was being preached from the pulpit and respected the sanctuary as a holy place. Now, keep in mind I experienced the church in the 70’s, when my Grandma would happily whack any kid who didn’t respect the sanctuary with her Bible, hymnal, or hand. Everyone’s parents and grandparents did. It was normal to see a kid yanked up by the ear, and dragged out of church for not being respectful. Yep, the sanctuary was a special place.
Fast forward to our current day and age. Where did the sanctuary go? Kids were now running around the “worship center” playing tag before and after services. Adults were having full conversations during the songs, rather than singing praises. Folks were putting their feet up on the cushy stadium seats in front of them. Kids were having a a crunching on snacks, and adults were sipping their coffee. Suddenly, there was no sanctuary in sight. Just the causal humdrum worship center or auditorium.
The name change to “worship center” and “auditorium” had puzzled me at times over the years, but I never paid it much attention…until now. It was what I had known for the greater part of the last 15 years of my life. It was normal, until something changed and made me realize how important the sanctuary once was, and needs again to be.
About 8 months ago, my need for a true sanctuary jumped up and bit me. My family felt called to make the gut wrenching decision of changing our church home. Months of prayer, and seeking wise counsel went into that decision. God ultimately showed us that we needed a change. Our worship had become shallow, and our relationships with Him had suffered from. We were missing something. God led us to a new place. A place of healing, love, joy. Ultimately and most importantly, we once again grew close to God…closer to Him than ever before.
There were lots of differences in our new church from those to which I was accustomed. One that stuck out to me was the sanctuary. You know, the place you go into for worship and to hear the pastor deliver the message. No longer was it called the “worship center” or the “auditorium”, it was again called the sanctuary. I started to notice that attitudes in this sanctuary were different than I was used to. Children who were allowed to run wild in a “worship center” environment, were now expected to be reverent in the “sanctuary”. It became a place of true worship, no longer a place for a concert, and a coffee break on Sunday morning. It became the place where folks prayed together, weeped together, and worshiped God in a mighty way. The sanctuary was once again…a sanctuary.
If you consider the meaning of the word, sanctuary is described as a: refuge, shelter, temple, and holy place. As I read those descriptions, and then again visited Psalm 77:13, “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them”…I began to wonder if the modern church wasn’t loosing something by changing the name of the gathering place where the church body meet with and worships God. Have we lost the reverence for this holy place by not identifying it as such?
I know you’re asking, “why on earth would word choice change how the church meets with God?” Consider this… the word sanctuary is used more than 100 times in scripture. “Worship center” and “auditorium” are never once used. Gathering in the sanctuary is biblical. God calls us to do it. Here in Psalm 77:13, He tells us to make a sanctuary. He never called us to make a “worship center”. Also, by changing the name, we take away the identification that comes with sanctuary. The identification as a holy place, a temple, our meeting place with God. In turn, we have also removed teaching the importance of the sanctuary to our children, or to the new believer. We’ve lost a sense of reverence for God in our worship.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Don’t think I’m saying that if you go to a church where the sanctuary is called a worship center that you are some sort of sinful heathen, I’m just asking…are we missing something wonderful in our community meeting with God by removing the teachings and reverence of a holy meeting place with God. Sanctuary or not, we all are sinful heathens saved by the mighty power of God’s grace, mercy, and unending love for us.
A sanctuary isn’t just a place that we meet for worship in the church, we are also called to make our bodies as such. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples [sanctuary] of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own”.
Our bodies should be made a holy place as well, a shelter, a temple to our mighty God. We should show our bodies just as much reverence as we show the temple…the sanctuary. If we don’t revere the sanctuary as holy, then how on earth will we view our bodies as holy? So, if we as the church are willing to change the name of our holy place, what else are we willing to change? What else is the modern church willing to overlook?
I hear of so many churches these days who water down God’s word, and manipulate it to equal “feel good” preaching. God is not a “genie in a bottle” who is going to grant you three wishes. He is not an ATM, or a promise of great career success. God didn’t call us to be “happy”. God has called us to be holy. Dear Sister, I fear that the modern church has lost sight of that. Could it be that changing the “sanctuary” just the beginning?
Just a little something to think about as you go into church the next time. Do you go in to your meeting place with a reverence for God? Do you prepare to meet with Him in a holy place? Have you prepared your heart as a sanctuary?
Lord, please allow me to dwell in your presence. Let me live out the song that you’ve brought to my mind tonight. “It is you LORD who came to save the heart and soul of every man? It is you LORD who knows my weaknesses, who gives me strength with Thine own hand. LORD prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.” Thank you LORD for loving me, even in my sin dear LORD. Use my life LORD as a way to bring glory to you. Amen.
*song lyrics by John W. Thompson & Randy Scaggs