In this time period when we are setting up Prayer Rooms, let’s think again about what it means to set aside a place for God and how our thinking has developed. What is sacred space?
The previous generation wrestled with this question and successfully made several course corrections. A certain materialism had developed so that sometimes reverence for the church building had become more important than work for the kingdom.That materialism was countered through teaching that the church was not the building — it was the people.
That generation had to go beyond what they grew up with to adapt to the idea that God would enjoy the sound of children running and laughing in his sanctuary on Tuesday night.They set aside a youth room with old couches and wild paint on the wall.Some made a sweet offering to God and invited in the marginalized, even when parts of the building ended up a little worse for wear.They learned that the church building is a resource for God’s service. They emphasized something else too: Church was not the service on Sunday morning. They worked hard to teach generations of cultural Christians that life with God was a personal relationship lived out 24–7 and that the kingdom of God is within each of us.
Those changes might seem obvious now, but they were not easy to implement.
Now it’s our turn. Perhaps there are a few new things we need to emphasize.
First, is it sometimes hard for us to believe “You are not the church by yourself”? Though the Internet has greatly expanded our access to Christian input, we still need personal contact with each other. We are each one part of Christ’s body. Perhaps we have feet to walk, but we need the rest of the body to accurately see, hear and talk. Hebrews 10:25 does not make it optional. It says don’t neglect gathering together. Although Jesus’ Spirit indwells us the moment we are born again, Jesus also said that where two or three are gathered, he is there in their midst (Matthew 18:20). We experience more of the presence of God in unity and community.
Second, there is such a thing as sacred space. A few months ago I was going through the 24-7 Prayer Manual and was surprised to read, “The Holy Spirit can fill a place as well as a person.” (Greig and Blackwell, The 24-7 Prayer Manual, 32)
I was taken aback. Surely we don’t want to go back to defining church as bricks and mortar? But sure enough, the Bible does give examples of the Spirit filling a place at a certain time (Acts 2:2-4), and filling a group of people who were gathered together (Acts 4:31, Acts 10:44). The Holy Spirit filled those places of encounter. People set aside that time and place to meet with God and he came and filled it. The space became sacred, not in a superstitious or magical way, but because it was set apart for him.
Third, and most important, the whole reason for setting aside space for God is to meet with him. As we spend time in prayer rooms, my hope is that we will become better at recognizing his presence. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NASV) says, “But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Notice that the first, crucial step is to behold – to see. If we do not recognize the presence of God—if we do not have an authentic experience of him—then we will not be transformed, and we will not reflect his glory. In order to spiritually see, we have to remove all the veils—remove all the barriers and all those things that distort our vision of him. We have to meet with God.
This will transform us and transform what we do.
Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 13 is that the value of everything we do is based on its source. Does it come out of a love relationship with God? And does it flow from genuine love for people? Where does love come from? It comes from the God who pours it into our hearts through his Spirit (Romans 5:5).