But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.
There are as many reasons for going to church as there are people who go. At face value, we can probably group them into sets. Some go to pray, others to praise. Some go out of desire, others out of duty. Some go to learn, others to look. And on it goes. Despite the category our reasons fall under, they’re still very personal. Why I go to church, what I hope to receive, how I participate, and the significance I attach to it are unique to me. We might think gathering in the same place indicates worshipers share common needs and interests. Surely, certain facets of the church appeal to all of them. This isn’t necessarily so. It’s quite possible what one likes most—the pastor’s sense of humor, let’s say—another cares for least. When we assemble for worship, our joint experience conveys singular meaning and benefits to each of us.
Where we are is we really all we have in common across the board. Individual variables take over from there. Yet once we’re comfortable in our church—i.e., the actual structure—familiarity with our surroundings dulls our appreciation of the place. If we worship in a storefront sanctuary or a gothic cathedral, we should be actively, habitually aware it’s a holy place specifically set aside to encounter God’s presence and experience His love. Passing or entering any church, we should consciously remind ourselves it’s founded on His Word, built for His glory, and occupied by His presence. After railing against Israel’s vain pursuits in chapter 2, Habakkuk hoists the final verse like a victory flag for the eternally present God. His basic message is, everything you chase will turn up dead on arrival. “But the LORD is in his holy temple.” It’s His temple. He abides there always and forever. Because He’s there, where we are becomes more than enough to share with worshipers around us. Your church, my church, and every other church are holy places.
Building a physical home for His presence was God’s idea, not ours. In Exodus 25.8, He instructs Moses, “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” Theologians call God’s perpetual residence among us “Shekinah,” descriptively translating Hebrew for “resting place” as “divine presence.” (It shouldn’t go unnoted that it’s grammatically feminine, which may give pause those who limit God to the male gender.) Today, we invoke and experience Shekinah by faith—which, as Christians living by faith and not sight, is exactly what we should do. Several times in the Old Testament, however, God visibly manifests His temple presence. For instance, after Moses puts finishing touches on the sanctuary, Exodus 40:35 says, “Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”
Any time God requests something that will bless Him, what we do for Him ultimately blesses us. He asks His people to build a home for His presence. They obey, and He immediately honors His promise to dwell among them. Yet Moses and the people soon realize the sanctuary also puts before them a powerfully visible reminder of God’s presence in their community. It’s no different now. Although we accept Shekinah by faith, inability to visually perceive God’s glory in the sanctuary has no bearing on its actuality. Indeed, every brick in every church was and is built on His pledge to live among us. When we look at any house of worship, we see past its architecture and affiliation to rejoice in its universal proclamation that God abides among us. Every church on every corner testifies to His presence in our communities.
Besides declaring God abides in His holy place, Habakkuk also enjoins the earth to be silent before Him. God’s house is soundproof. He muffles the din of life, controversies, and vanities to speak clearly with us. If noisy distractions detract from how well we hear Him, they came to church with us. Most often, no one else hears the racket drowning out God’s voice because it’s blasting away inside our heads. Habakkuk tells us to be silent, which isn’t the same as being quiet. Quietness damps noise; silence eliminates it. The prophet advises us to clear our heads to receive God’s Word and experience Shekinah with open minds. Our world stops while we’re in the sanctuary. The work assignment hanging over our head evaporates. The funky neighbor hassling us disappears. Brunch plans leave our thoughts until we finish communing with God. Conflicts vying for our attention will eventually die anyway. What sounds so urgent today will be gone tomorrow. But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.
(Tomorrow: Power Transfer)
All holy places. All occupied by God's presence. Before entering any of them, we clear our minds of distractions, our world waits outside, and we come before Him in silence.
Personal Postscript: Pray for Us
My partner flew to Detroit this morning for what likely will be his last visit in this life with his mother. Her physicians say everything indicates she’ll leave us within the week. We both trust it’s best for her; a few years ago, a stroke took all her mobility and much of her speech. She recently had a series of secondary strokes that further incapacitated her. This once vibrant and exceedingly gracious lady—and she truly is a lady—has been encumbered by too many limitations and indignities far too long. When God calls her, she’ll at last be free.
In our nearly 18 years together, God has been exceedingly kind, sparing us to deal with major grief just once, when we lost his dad several years ago. But our inexperience with death leaves neither of us feeling sufficiently prepared. He needs your prayers, as does his entire family. I also ask you pray for me, as I stand beside him and them. In closing, I must express my deep affection and admiration for all of you. Knowing you’re there soothes our spirits and calms our fears.