What Good is an Empty or Troubled House?
by Joseph Franks
The Psalmist writes, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build.” Solomon penned, “The horse is made ready for battle, but victory comes from the Lord.” Perhaps a modern-day paraphrase of these verses might be, “Unless we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit today, all our talk about living for Jesus is just futile noise.” Are we keeping step with the Spirit today, or have we grieved the relationship?
Moses completed the construction of the tabernacle and all its accessories. All was crafted and put in order according to the exact specifications of the Lord. Following this, Moses was commanded to walk about the tabernacle and pour oil on all the furniture, fixtures and priests. This oil-pouring ceremony served one purpose. It taught the Israelites that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was absolutely essential for any profit to come from the tabernacle, its priests, and its worship services. Without the Holy Spirit, all was for naught. Without the indwelling and blessing of the Holy Spirit, the tabernacle was just another pretty mobile home.
Moses did what the Lord commanded; he finished the work. Then it happened! The holy fire that recruited Moses at the burning bush; the holy fire that protected Israel at the edge of the Red Sea; the holy fire that led God’s people through the Sea and into the wilderness; the holy fire that shook Mt. Sinai before the giving of the Ten Commandments; the holy fire that entered the tent of meeting on the outskirts of the camp and caused Moses’ face to shine; that same Holy Spirit, in the form of a flaming cloud, moved into the midst of the camp and dwelt in the tabernacle. How glorious this must have been to have a visible presence of the invisible God dwelling near them. Therefore, it is not surprising that when the visible presence of the Holy Spirit ascended and began to travel down the road, the Israelites quickly packed up and followed. Existence without God’s Holy Spirit was undesired, unwise and unthinkable. What good would a house of worship be if God had left the premises?
A similar event happened at the dedication of Solomon’s temple. Scripture records this impressive spectacle in 2 Chronicles 5:
And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions, and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:11-14)
Solomon finished the house of God, set it in order, and rejoiced with the priests, singers and trumpeters as the glory of the Lord arrived and filled the house. This was just not another impressive building. The temple was not just another empty house of worship. Worship there would not be a waste of time, for God was present in their midst. The Holy Spirit had moved in, and he was ready to sanctify their worship and bless them with his steadfast love.
Sadly, the book of Ezekiel presents the Shekinah Glory Cloud leaving the temple and heading out over the hills. (Ezekiel 8-11) Following God’s exodus, much ceremony and worship continued around the vacant holy of holies, but all was for nothing. Emmanuel or “God with Us” was not present. The Holy Spirit had left the building.
However, Ezekiel promised a later outpouring of God’s holy fire. A day was coming when God would again be found in the midst of his people. God’s elect congregation would again be filled with the glory of the Lord:
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:24-28)
Joel prophesied similarly:
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:27-32)
Perhaps there was a small tasting of this with the new temple built by Ezra. Scripture does not record such, but it was possible that God’s Spirit moved in the building for a time. However, by the time of Herod and Jesus, the Holy Spirit seemed to be operating away from the city and the temple. For one to encounter God, one had to leave the ecclesiastical establishment; follow men like John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Disciples; and worship in the desert.
So when did the promised pouring out of the Holy Spirit occur? Sacred scripture reports that the Pentecostal outpouring presented in Acts 2 was the fulfillment of this prophecy. There, in an upper room, men and women were filled with the promised Holy Spirit. And their experience was normative in some respects. While men today do not hear rushing wind, see flames of fire dancing above their heads, and instantaneously learn foreign languages, they are filled, set apart, and gifted by the Holy Spirit. All Christians are the temple of God. Every single born-again believer is made a temple and filled with the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 3:17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:17-21).
Additionally, there are some glorious differences in the New Covenant. One such advancement is the fact that God promises to never leave or forsake his New Testament temple. Forever he dwells in his people; never will he leave the building. However, Christians maintain a responsibility to “walk in the Spirit”, “live in the Spirit”, “be filled with the Spirit”, “keep in step with the Spirit”, “fan into flame”, and “not grieve the Spirit of God.” Like any marriage, the relationship is permanent, but the richness of the relationship fluctuates.
Therefore friends, let us be reminded of our responsibility to keep the relationship sweet, rich and intimate. Let us fan into flame the Holy Spirit. Let us repent, reconcile, and rekindle the flame that once burned bright. With this thought in mind, I propose the following questions for you to consider in prayer.
- Am I a religious individual who has never come to the Father, through the merit of Christ, and been filled with the Holy Spirit?
- Am I a Holy Spirit filled Christian who has grieved the Holy Spirit by not repenting of sinful deeds? Where have I gone and what have I done despite the gnawing rebuke of the Holy Spirit?
- Am I a Holy Spirit filled Christian who has grieved the Holy Spirit by not repenting of sinful words? Have I not guarded my tongue, and have I communicated improperly and with no remorse or repentance?
- Am I a Holy Spirit filled Christian who has grieved the Holy Spirit by not repenting of sinful thoughts or lusts? Have I congratulated myself on not doing or saying certain sins, meanwhile my heart runs wild with unrighteous longings?
- Am I a Holy Spirit filled Christian who has grieved the Holy Spirit by not following his prompting? What sins of omission am I guilty of committing?
- Am I a Holy Spirit filled Christian who has grieved the Holy Spirit by not spending time with him in prayer? Am I an arrogant, independent worshiper?
As an aid to prayer, it might help to pray or sing the words of some older hymns of the faith. Our issues are nothing new. Sensing a grieved Spirit is common to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ.
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart; wean it from earth; through all its pulses move; stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art, and make me love thee as I ought to love.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies, no sudden rending of the veil of clay, no angel visitant, no opening skies; but take the dimness of my soul away.
Has thou not bid me love thee, God and King? All, all thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind. I see thy cross; there teach my heart to cling. O let me seek thee, and O let me find.
Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh; teach me the struggles of the soul to bear. To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh, teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
Teach me to love thee as thine angels love, one holy passion filling all my frame; the kindling of the heaven-descended Dove, my heart an altar, and thy love the flame.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me. Spirit of the living God, Fall fresh on me.