My visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was a bit disheartening, to say the least. Traveling with a group from my college, I had no grand expectations for this cathedral—it was simply one on a list of many attractions we would see during our two weeks in England. Impressive as the structure of St. Paul’s was with majestic scenes painted on the domed ceiling and towering, gold-etched walls, what struck me most was the eight-pound admission fee.
Now, I know the $16 or so I paid to view the cathedral went toward maintenance of the building, which is centuries old. Four different cathedrals have actually stood in that spot, the first erected in 640 AD. Anybody can see that it costs a lot of money to keep the main tower in tact and to clean this mammoth space.
Still, when tourists came in with cameras around their necks, cathedral staff quickly restrained them from snapping any photos. “This is a house of worship, first and foremost,” an announcer would speak from the front. “Please do not disturb the worship by taking photos of St. Paul’s Cathedral.” I was instantly turned off by this request. By charging an admission fee, cathedral staff communicate that St. Paul’s is a tourist attraction. By restricting photography, however, they attempt to justify it as a house of worship.
The illustration of this manmade temple leads me to inspect the sanctuary of my own heart, the one for which I am responsible (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 2 Corinthians 6:16). Upon inspection, I am afraid I do this with my own life, trying to justify wrong behaviors by making righteous appearances. How exactly does this play out? Let’s examine the motives of such behavior.
Costly Maintenance. All too often, we rely on ourselves to clean the temple instead of asking God to do His work in us. When I buy countless Christian self-help books or CDs by Christian artists that I hope will spur me to greater depths of a relationship with God, I may actually begin to believe that intimacy with God can be purchased. The products themselves are not bad, but the emphasis we put on them can be damaging. The fact is, I am guilty of giving into a consumer mindset, which is part of my manmade faith. In the meantime, God can be found close by—in my Bible or on the receiving end of my prayers—just waiting for me to ask Him into my house of worship.
Ultimatums. When my heart is lacking and I depend on anything other than God to fill it, whether it be a ministry role or title, relationships or the purchased products mentioned above, I am essentially putting out an ultimatum or an admission price for God to come in. (Lord, I would be closer to You if only I had a special role in this ministry or if I just had someone older and wiser to mentor me or if I had a better church …) How ridiculous is it to make God feel unwelcome in our houses, to make Him jump through hoops to get to us? He is the very one we seek, yet we give Him ultimatums all the time, asking Him to show up under our rules.
God can and will work with minimum materials to provide maximum impact—He just needs our surrendered hearts. He does not live in temples made by human hands (Acts 7:48), nor does He live by our rules or ultimatums. If it is to be a true house of worship, admission must be free of charge.
An Open House. If I am a house of worship, what am I communicating to those I interact with daily? Will others cross my path and feel turned off and unwelcome by their encounter with my temple? I hope that they instead find God fully residing there. I hope they will feel at home and loved—not taken aback like I was by the mixed messages of St. Paul’s.
To put things in perspective, Acts 7:49-50 further expounds on God’s choice in dwelling places. “As the prophet says,‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you ever build me a temple as good as that?’asks the Lord. ‘Could you build a dwelling place for me?Didn’t I make everything in heaven and earth?’”
Knowing that I could never build a house for God to live in better than He Himself could build sets me free. The fact that He resides in heaven with the earth as His footstool and still chooses to dwell in me is simply amazing. And it leads to a great deal of responsibility on my part to freely open the doors of my house to God and others—and to realize that the best and longest-lasting maintenance can be done only by Him.