I know…the church isn’t a building. I know…God doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. (Acts 17) I know, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit through the new covenant. But I want to take issue with the over-compensatory swing away from the “building” or the “house of the Lord”.
David loved to go to the place of worship. And when I say place I mean a literal location with a building hosting a gathering of worshippers. He loved the house of the Lord! In fact, in one Psalm he said, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’”. He loved going to the building where everyone convened to sing songs, pray prayers, offer sacrifices and sit under the spoken law of God. He looked forward to that time spent in that place. He loved “going to church”, so to speak, even though I know it’s a cardinal sin to speak of church as a place these days. I get it.
But for a moment, let David’s zeal for the house--the actual locale where God was worshipped by the masses of Israel--sink into your system. Even in the New Testament when Jesus was on the scene, he felt a passion for the temple, the synagogue. So much so that when it was being abused as a house of profit instead of prayer, he went off, turning tables and whipping money-changers cleansing the temple with fiery words of warning: “This house shall be called a house of prayer and you are making it a den of thievery!” The disciples saw and heard his passion for the purity of this place remembering the words of Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume him”. David wrote this, Jesus embodied this, the disciples took note of it and wrote it down as inspired Scripture. The house of God was a big deal.
Even in the early church we see in Acts that believers spent “everyday in the temple courts” and “house to house”…again, it wasn’t an either/or…”both places have a place”. The scenery has changed, but the basic principle is the same…do you love going to a actual place and worshipping God with other people? Do you love the house of the Lord? Does zeal for that house consume you because you care about pure worship (I’m not speaking of just music) coming from purified worshippers? Does you heart beat with the Psalmist when he says he was glad when people said, “It’s time to go to the house of God”!? Have you backed into the ditch on the other side of the road dismissing the need for collective gatherings replacing it with a modern movement of “God-gadabouts”, a transient scattered mess of “Jesus-gypsies”. Suffice it to say, there’s still a “place for a place”, and this music/poet David loved the house of God so much so that he imagined that “there would be a there up there” when the next life picked up where this life left off. He longed for and loved the house of the Lord so much, he wanted there to be one forever.
He couldn’t imagine the afterlife without a gathering of worshippers in the “house of the Lord”. This was his final wish. This was his everlasting imagination.
We know that we are the temple of God now, but this shouldn’t diminish our passion to get with others to celebrate the presence of God. In our effort to be expansive in our thinking, let us not forget the merit and meaning of gathering in a place and experiencing “the person of God in a place of God” with others who see that it’s more than an individualized, homogenized relationship with God; it’s about a bunch of people hungry for God’s house convening there to make much of Him. When it’s done right, it will make you want to gather like this forever and ever.
In Revelation John talks about looking forward to the “dwelling of God come down to be among men”. Since the Spirit dwells within men already, he is clearly talking about dwelling in terms of God’s home or residence being made manifest in our midst. He can’t wait for Heaven because it is in every way a house and in every way a home. Maybe this is why New and Old Testament prophets and priests and kings and apostles spoke of this place with such affection, because it wasn’t the limitation of God’s presence to a particular plot of land acreage or building square footage, it was the opportunity to assemble in one place, one space, to seek and savor God’s presence.
What a great place to land this popular psalm. Heaven.
Never have I longed for heaven’s habitat more as my heart and body ages. The past two years I have felt my heart and my flesh yearning for the shores of that great land welcoming it, like the ancients, from a distance. Like the psalmist my heart says with increased knowing and ardent feeling, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand days elsewhere.” My blood is stirred for that place of rest.
I lean toward it even now as I conclude this cursory study of this beautiful piece of sacred script, the 23rd Psalm.
I look forward to going and gathering this weekend with the church in the church building. I really do love it and I’m glad God’s not going to do away with it in the great by and by.
“I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”…and ever…and ever…etc.