Some people walk into a room and suddenly… it’s full.
Full of talk. Full of words. Full of opinions and agendas, served up without invitation for the rest of us to join in. Full of energy – positive or negative – that proceeds to drive every conversation and interaction in its direction. Full of personality that draws attention to itself, shrinking the potential of our contributions by its overpowering, can’t-get-a-word-in-edgewise presence.
Some people walk into a room and suddenly… it’s full of them.
Now, some people fill space because they require our attention in order to feel validated and in control. Some people fill space because they’re afraid of silence or obscurity. Others fill space because they have an agenda to pursue which, for them, is a higher calling than pursuing things like relationship and harmony and community.
There are those, however, who fill space because they sincerely believe they have something to give to God. The problem is that when we fill the space around us with ourselves, we create a vacuum whose suction effectively removes God from that space altogether, leaving us alone with our gifts and no Spirit to power them.
This is what resonates in the words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome when he says,
“…it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Romans 12:3 (The Message)
If you’ve ever worked as a teacher, you might understand this from a programming perspective.
We can plan a lesson, activity or event and approach it with the goal of filling the schedule to meet objectives and create outcomes for the participants. This would involve lots of detail as we seek to maximize every moment for the greatest potential gain of knowledge, skill or understanding. After all, as the teacher, you are responsible for providing your students with every opportunity to learn. Right?
In the church, this approach has been heralded for every kind of teaching. If you plan it (well), not only will they come, but they will learn and grow and succeed in the future because of your ability to fill the time.
The hole in this bucket, however, is created by the assumption that we know what they need to know. We can fill an hour or a weekend or a sermon series with every bullet point we think important, but that implies that we somehow know what needs to be heard by our students. Even when the Spirit of God is leading us to serve as teachers, none of us is so perfect a mouthpiece for the Holy that we can single-handedly (or, single-mouthedly) communicate God’s truth to His people.
I think we often misinterpret our Kingdom-work in this way – as a call to fill the room with our gifts, our vision and our passion (God-given though they may be).
What if we were to follow God’s instructions to King Solomon instead? Instructions given to this gifted, passionate leader regarding the building of God’s Temple – the place where God Himself would live?
“About this Temple you are building – what’s important is that you live the way I’ve set out for you and do what I tell you, following my instructions carefully and obediently. Then I’ll complete in you the promise I made to David your father. I’ll personally take up my residence among the Israelites – I won’t desert my people Israel.” I Kings 6:11-13 (The Message)
God tells Solomon that what’s important is how the people LIVE and that they DO what God has instructed. This is their work – to live obedient lives in front of God and one another! And what does God promise to do in response to their faithfulness? He will fill the space in the Temple. He will move in and live in community with them. He will be near and He will be present; God with us.
Physically, God instructed Solomon to build a building that would house His presence in an unprecedented way.
Israel was to follow the detailed instructions God gave in order to create space for Him to fill!
The exciting part of this story is that Israel did just that. They completed the Temple and created space for God to live among them. And God, in His faithful fulfillment of promise, moved into the neighborhood.
“When the priests left the Holy Place, a cloud filled theTemple of God. The priests couldn’t carry out their priestly duties because of the cloud – the glory of God filled theTemple of God!” I Kings 8:10-11 (The Message)
Oh, that we would live lives so faithful to the detailed instructions of our Lord that the space we create for Him here would be filled, not with ourselves, but with the glory of Emmanuel.
The presence of God.