What do you think of when you hear Sanctuary? Does an image of a towering cathedral come to mind? Maybe a beautiful field of wildflowers? What about sitting by a stream or the ocean? Or maybe a special place or person?
This question is what the Sisterhood TogetHER leadership team began to tackle a few months ago. Sisterhood TogetHER is a quarterly event that connects women with each other and with God. The leadership team includes six women, of which I’m honored to be one. Some remarkable things happened at, and during the planning of our last event that inspired me to share as a WITNESS blog, which is simply my testimony of seeing God in others. This post features these women alongside the actual script of the event, because they lived it out. (I’ve distinguished the program piece in italics, and our parallel leadership story, in regular font.)
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to events, I can easily freak out when my best laid plans fizzle right before my eyes! And fizzle they did, but instead of freaking out, something else happened. The very thing God inspired us to share with the women, was what He called us to throughout the planning and execution of this event. It was a choice between fear and Him. This team chose Him and something supernatural happened.
The stress spiral started with me going to an Urgent Care in Florida five days before the event. I had been fighting a spell of bronchitis and laryngitis, and experienced unusual pain in my back. I thought my lung had collapsed because breathing was also painful. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, but I did end up being diagnosed with pleurisy, which was not fun at all!
But, let’s rewind a bit to August when God first put the word SANCTUARY on our hearts and minds. We all associated the word with different things, but, oddly enough, the short song Sanctuary came to mind for most of us. Its lyrics are what shaped the event and battled the stress spiral that worked to wrap us in fear and doubt:
The script created a compelling word picture of God’s truth. It was read by members of the leadership team in vignettes that were woven throughout musical worship. This post will barely scratch the surface of the actual experience of the evening, but it’s my hope that you will see the faith that worked in the background, so that the women who attended could be powerfully moved without distractions. Here’s how it began:
- a place of refuge or safety.
- a nature reserve; such as a bird sanctuary.
- a holy place; a temple or church
Did you know the origin of the word is Latin and means holy?
Several things may come to mind when you think of the word sanctuary—but when we add the word holy to it, the list dwindles. Holy embodies the essence of a sanctuary; that means if the Spirit of God isn’t present in a chapel, church, or cathedral, then it’s nothing but an arrangement of brick, mortar, and glass. However, any place that is inhabited by the Holy Spirit, even the crudest structure made of mud and straw, becomes sacred, holy ground.
God’s sanctuary has taken on many forms. In the beginning God dwelled with man in the Garden of Eden until Adam and Eve sinned. Then, in Exodus 25:8, God said to the Israelites, “Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.”
The people then built what is referred to as the tabernacle—which was actually a tent—a portable, earthly dwelling of God that they used as they wandered through the desert.
God’s temple, or sanctuary, is holy because He dwells there. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later that King Solomon built a permanent temple, which would eventually be destroyed. But as we’ll see, God’s desire to be with His people isn’t dependent upon a physical structure.
Fast forward our story of the sanctuary to Jesus’ day. In a conversation with a Samaritan woman, who asked where she was supposed to worship God, Jesus answered, “Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21, 23-24)
In God’s eyes, present day sanctuaries don’t look like cathedrals or sprawling meadows; if you are a follower of Christ, they look like you. God says you are His beautiful, beloved sanctuary, because once Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within you. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says, Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
God’s Spirit raced through the day with you, He guides you, He comforts you, and He dwells within you. Just open your hands and let go of your burden, He is right there to catch it, because He has been waiting for it the whole time. God says you are loved, and you are strong, because you are His. You are His temple…His sanctuary.
Three days before the event, a member of the team discovered that she needed to take their son to a college event and wouldn’t be able to be present. The choice was easy; we all supported that she needed to be with her son. She delegated and planned around her absence and we were confident everything would be fine.
The next day our volunteer who coordinates the production team was suddenly called out of town with work. She lined up a volunteer for media and lighting, but wasn’t able to find one for sound. The race was on to get a sound engineer two days before the event!
During this time, we were all working on the finishing touches of the program script and the words in that last paragraph were what we had to accept and receive ourselves. Instead of choosing to slide down the stress spiral, we chose to believe that God was racing through the day with us, guiding us, comforting us, and dwelling within us.
The Lord of Hosts dwells in you. The word LORD, capitalized, refers to Yahweh, the self-existent, redemptive God. The word hosts is a translation of the Hebrew word sabaoth, meaning “armies”—a reference to the angelic armies of heaven. The truth is that, as a believer in Christ, you actually host the God of angel armies within you. How about that?!
Think about when you host a gathering in your home. What do you do? Well, you probably clean and cook, or cater. You prepare a space that your guests will enjoy. Yet, how often do you forget that you host the living God within you? How squeezed-in is He amongst your emotional clutter, or how often does He have to climb over lies you have planted just so that you can hear His truth? How often do you refuse His grace and instead allow the things of this world to define you? How often has fear and doubt clouded out His power? And how many times has your inner critic discarded His adoring words?
We all experience these struggles—but the alternative is right inside us. The Holy Spirit can easily tear through the shadows of our souls, we just need to give Him room to do so. It’s up to us; we can choose to host the God of angel armies or to entertain the world.
The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:1-2 “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
They say life can be stranger than fiction, and sometimes it is. As the Scripture above talks about us giving our bodies to God, it was extremely ironic that the day before the event a member of the leadership team got struck with appendicitis and was promptly admitted into the hospital for surgery! (Not to say that God caused this, but we knew it was no surprise to Him. We on the other hand were quite surprised!) Cue the freak-out, but no, wait…once again, we chose to believe the truth that the God of angel armies was within us and no matter how many hits of spiritual warfare we took, it wouldn’t change that fact. We knew He had this, we knew His will was good and pleasing and perfect, and we knew we could trust Him.
Even with this new challenge, our team carried on, enveloped in a noticeably, strange peace. We prayed and prayed and prayed. We knew God was going to move in powerful ways in the hearts of women the next day, and the evil one was trying to get us off our game. We scrambled, adapted and prayed some more, but no one ever despaired. We engaged in the battle with confidence knowing that God was in control and that He would be glorified, no matter what. Then guess what happened next…this strange peace swelled to supernatural levels when, after multiple attempts, a sound engineer was finally found! And we praised The Lord!!
When we choose God, He provides life-giving transformation. You might be reading this, and not fully understand or believe it, and that’s okay; we are all at different places on our spiritual journey. Just let me tell you that God transforms you by offering His truth, which changes the way you think. One way we give the Spirit of God more room to do this is through confession. If you haven’t given Jesus your heart, no worries—this is a safe place to just be, to explore, and, if led, to accept His grace.
We’re going to take a moment to come before the LORD in silent confession for times we’ve struggled with believing we are His masterpiece and temple. In whatever way you feel led, take a couple minutes to give the Holy Spirit your struggles, ask for forgiveness and pray for God’s transformation. [SILENT CONFESSION & WORSHIP]
And now, by the same Holy Spirit, let us accept His perpetual grace and give Him praise.
Sing a new song to the Lord!
Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!
Sing to the Lord; praise his name.
Each day proclaim the good news that he saves.
Publish his glorious deeds among the nations.
Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.
Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
He is to be feared above all gods.
The gods of other nations are mere idols,
but the Lord made the heavens!
Honor and majesty surround him;
strength and beauty fill his sanctuary.
The sovereign LORD of hosts has the grace to always be there for the one who comes to Him in faith. The King of glory, who commands the armies of heaven, and who has already defeated all His enemies in this world, is none other than Jesus Christ. He is the LORD of hosts and you are His sanctuary. Psalm 91:2 says, This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.
Grab hold of that peace in your heart, and delight in God’s love for you.
We assembled early the evening of the event, grabbing hold of that peace. My laryngitis lingered, making the extra speaking parts I had acquired, due to the loss leadership team members, a concern. But everyone knew who was in charge and if anyone hadn’t already checked their ego at the door they did when we saw a host of volunteers show up to help with set-up and production.
By this time, we had heard that our gal was recovering well after her surgery, and we praised God again. Although, mid-way through the event another leader had to leave to tend to her infant. This took us down to three leaders, but we knew we were in the best hands ever. Jesus carried the night—He was the real Host of the evening and we were all happy to defer to Him.
We thought that a meaningful and powerful way to seal the evening would be to experience communion together. The Lord’s Supper is a sacred meal of bread and wine that was first shared by Jesus with his disciples the night before he died, and is still shared by Christ’s followers today.
Not only is Jesus the focus of this meal, but He is invisibly present and powerfully active as the meal’s Host, and (in a way we cannot fully understand) He is the meal itself.
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:14-20)
Holy Communion represents the fulfillment of the old covenant celebration of God’s redemption with a new covenant of forgiveness and grace. It is an outward expression of our belief in this redemption and the remembrance of its cost.
Not only do we experience the vertical dimension of God drawing us to himself we also experience the horizontal dimension of God drawing us to Christian unity with each other. The communion table is open to all who believe that Jesus is who He says He is – God’s Son. He is the host who sits with us – sharing the burden of our deepest struggles, and the ability to free us from them. So, whether you’ve followed Jesus for years or you have just chosen to follow Him, we want to invite you into this sacred remembrance.
I Corinthians 11:28 says… come to this meal in holy awe. We invite you to come forward and participate in Holy Communion, offered by the Lord of Hosts, who you host; as a sanctuary—pure and holy, tried and true. [COMMUNION & WORSHIP]
[CLOSING] As you leave from here and live out the truth that you host the Lord of Hosts, claim His peace and know that you are beloved, and empowered to love.
Months before, six women sat around a table tuning into what the Lord wanted us to do for the ladies who would carve out a couple hours to be with Him. Little did we know that the word SANCTUARY would become so alive for us. Far less did we know that He would have us live out the peace He wanted us to convey. The women on this team carried the mantle of that supernatural peace with grace and astounding faith. They operated out of a confidence in the indwelled Spirit of God, and didn’t allow the stress spiral to pull them into the dark spaces of fear and doubt. Whether or not they were present that night, every leader kept their eyes pinned on Jesus and their hearts knelt in prayer.
I invite you into that experience as well. When your world seems like it’s falling down around you, cling to God, your refuge and safe place. When lies and doubts beat you down, turn to the Lord of Hosts for the truth. And when you feel out of control, trust that you are a sanctuary of the most powerful God, who makes you pure and holy, tried and true. Through confession give Him room to transform you, and with thanksgiving, live out the peace that exceeds anything we can understand.
In this way others can catch a glimpse of God in you, just like I caught in the incredible women I serve beside on the Sisterhood TogetHER leadership team. I witnessed my sweet sisters: Jaime, Heather, Katie, Lauren and Sharliss’ steely faith, unyielding spiritual confidence, selfless servanthood and unwavering determination to glorify God. They are all beautiful sanctuaries, tried and true!
“Glory to God in the highest heaven
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
What you think about God is the most important thing about you. How does the idea of God indwelling in you change how you think about Him and yourself?
Bring to mind the people in your life who demonstrate the peace that exceeds understanding.
Spend time in contemplative prayer and make more room for God by confessing the lies and doubts that can pull you into a stress spiral. Go to His word for truth about who He is and who you are to Him.
As a Christian Life Coach, I can help you move from where you are to where God wants you to be. If you are interested in growing more as a disciple and/or expanding your emotional intelligence, then let’s chat. I’d love to be your champion in what God is calling you to do!
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