I remember when I was younger I would go to visit my dad for the summer, and I’d walk into my uncle’s church for the first time in months, I would feel this overwhelming presence over me. It was like every weight that I’d had, every worry that I’d been feeling, every hindrance between me and God completely dissipated. I didn’t feel that way in every church I walked into, there was something different about the atmosphere there. It was not the building or the people but rather the sanctuary I embraced.
For church people “sanctuary” refers to the room in the building where people hear God’s word and worship His name. Sanctuary is actually defined as a holy place and a place of refuge. In a day where we have church in theaters and gymnasiums, is it so ridiculous to think that sanctuary is no longer referring to a building? Another definition is called the “Holy of Holies” within the tabernacle, it’s a place that only the people who were nearest to God could go to be with Him.
That is my definition of sanctuary, it doesn’t matter what building it’s in or what else we use a specific room for – a sanctuary is a place that you go to expecting to be in God’s presence. And I will be so bold as to say, this is what’s missing in churches today. We go into a building once used for parties or movies or games and on this particular Sunday morning (between 10:30 am and 12 pm, and that pastor better not go one minute late) is now being used to sing songs about Jesus & hear a pastor preach a message. And I’ll go even bolder to say that sometimes, that building is a church that has been decked out in the best church decorations & top of the line equipment to be used for said songs and said message…
I’m going to time out here to highlight the fact that this issue is not just a visual issue of where we think we should worship, but also a heart issue of “do we go in expecting anything other than music & a sermon?”
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
In John 4:20-24 he’s speaking against those who could only worship in a specific place, but also those who would worship half-heartedly. “You worship what you do not know” Do you know Jesus? Do you remember Him? The man who died on a cross to forgive you of your past? Those sins & pain from your life before? That depression, disease or addiction of a previous life? Is that who you go to church to see? Or do you go to a building with lovely people who sing beautifully and it stirs you for a moment, then you listen to a funny pastor preach a sermon that challenges you to be a better person?
So here it is … my challenge to anyone who might decide to read this silly woman’s words
Create your sanctuary! Have a place, in your home or car that is an atmosphere for your King! A place that welcomes HIM. A place where His presence is expected. And you go there with a resolve that nothing will keep you from Him.
Make your church building, room, theater, chapel a sanctuary. Go into it expecting Jesus almighty to show up. Sometimes His presence will fall on a church people like a cloud – Thick and peaceful as if He is trying to engulf every part of you in an embrace and you just can’t quite convince yourself to leave it. Sometimes it’s like a rain – Fresh and powerful, it’s renewing and it seems to wash away every weight that you’ve been carrying. Sometimes like fire – it’s convicting and transforming as you feel a power rise up in you through the Holy Spirit and you understand the incredible life God has in store for you as you walk in that spirit.
My heart yearns for God’s presence, I long to feel Him next to me. I ache for the churches that haven’t created a sanctuary for Jesus in their building. Not a room but a place that He is welcome. Where the only agenda is Jesus shows up! In a world of media and advertisement and entertainment, churches are scrambling to get the lost in their doors (which is what we’re supposed to be doing) and it’s a struggle for many to figure out the formula. We need events and outreaches and small groups, welcome packages and retreats… and what un-churched people get from those is a sense of belonging and love from good people. Once we get them to our church, let’s make sure that Jesus is there – that they have a sanctuary. Because that’s what they actually need and that’s what we’re advertising.
You know what Jesus needed in order to get people to follow Him? His presence … and when His physical body was gone … the Holy Spirit. If churches will get more of Him – people will come because there’s something different about that church.