Sacred spaces, and sacred times are not terribly important to me. One day is like any other, and one place like another. Some of you reading this will be appalled to hear that the Vatican is no more holy to me than a dumpster. Now this does not mean that I do not appreciate fine Cathedrals, or beautiful Abbeys and Chapels. Rather it means that I believe God can manifest His gracious presence anywhere He so chooses, and He is not impressed by places and times, but instead by humble human hearts…
Yet, human hearts often attach greater importance to one place, or time over another, and I believe that there is a God in this universe Who loves people so desperately that the Divine presence of love, grace, and power will appear to those who yearn for it. Sometimes that search for God in sacred times and spaces yields results not because God honors the place, but the yearning hearts which go there.
I believe that Phil is making a distinction that is very beneficial, and one that we should consider carefully. From Scripture, we know that God does not dwell in buildings and that God is not more present at certain times and days. Yet, we cannot neglect the fact that throughout history people have come into the presence of God in specific places on specific days at specific times. When these occurrences become regular (as in Sunday mornings, for example), it is easy to believe that this time (and certain places) are somehow more holy than others.
Since God’s presence is not limited to certain places and times, why do some people sense his presence or meet with him primarily at certain places and times? By Scripture, we know that this is not an indication of the limit of the presence or activity of God. Instead, as Phil points out in the quote above, finding God primarily at certain places and times is more of an indication of when and where people are actively seeking God.
Even though God is present in all locations, on all days, at all times, and in all situations, people are not always seeking God’s presence and they are not always listening to his voice. People are not always attempting to live by the Spirit of God, in spite of the fact that the Spirit of God is always present. Even those who are followers of Christ are intermittent in the desire to hear and heed the voice of God.
Thus, discipleship in the area of seeking God and following the Spirit of God should take a two-pronged approach. First, we should recognize that people are not always seeking God. Therefore, we should recognize when people are seeking God and encourage them during those times. If someone believes that God is especially present at a certain place, on a certain day, and at a certain time, then we should encourage them to focus on God in that situation. In reality, the person is admitting that they have finally tuned into God as he has been communicating with them. The communication from God did not begin in that moment, but the reception by the individual may have begun in that moment. We should be ready to encourage listening and obeying at that moment.
Second, however, encouraging someone to listen to God at special places and in special times should not be the extent of our discipleship in this respect. As people hear from God and begin to obey him during special occasions, we should teach and demonstrate that God also communicates at other times and in other places. Primarily, this discipleship takes the form of teaching people how to hear the God who is already communicating. Of course, in a person’s life, there are many voices vying for attention. So, in order to teach people how to hear from God at all times and in all places, we should help them recognize the various sources of interference, including the systems of this world, demonic forces, and even their own desires, lusts, pleasures, goals, dreams, etc.
So, there may be sacred times and places in the sense that there may be times and places where people are more likely to attempt to hear God. However, there are no sacred times and places in the sense that God is especially present or especially communicative. As we teach people who God is, as we disciple them as followers of Christ, we should include encouragement to listen for the voice of God at all times and in all places.