I remember my Word of the Year for 2011. Home. It was the year we were preparing to move our young family thousands of miles from every home they had ever known. I knew I would need a way to define what home meant in order to stay the course of the lifelong calling of God upon our lives.
While our current calling is stateside with a ministry which resettles refugees, we remain a thousand or more miles from the other homes we have known. We are a year and a half into the process of our move, and I continue to ask what it really means to build a home for God which supports our family and welcomes others.
As the holidays approach, I think of the refugees we serve who desire to make true, life-giving, and sustainable homes in the U.S. They seek to do this even while they remain displaced and far, far away from many loved ones. And I think of you, similarly, seeking to build a home, ultimately for the living God, in places which are thousands of miles and oceans and cultures away from the homes you once knew so well.
As I ask myself this question, I ask you as well:
“How do we build a home for God wherever we are in this great, wide world?”
The answer is at once simple and yet complex. Building a home for God depends deeply upon finding a resting place of security and love which is ours in God. Yet this work must also be intricate and intentional as we live amidst diverse environments and cultures.
I was recently reading through the book of Exodus, and I found parallels between the Israelites’ construction of the tabernacle during their wilderness years and our construction of similar dwelling places for God in the places and spaces of our own sojourning. As we consider these similarities, we remember to keep holding the tension between this intricate construction of a tabernacle and the assurance of the veil torn in two which yields constant access to the presence of God.
So I offer to you some key elements of what it looks like to build a home for God wherever you are:
- We must build or obtain a physical home: For the Israelites, the first element was the construction of the outer curtains and their frames. Before there were inner elements, there were the outer ones. In our journey, we must find a physical place to live wherever we are. When we found our flat in Hungary after much searching, I remember taking a deep breath and thanking God for all of the elements which came together to find the right place for us to live. For many missionaries, this piece is crucial to thrive in the work of our calling. Furthermore, it is important enough to be a selective process. As we pray and give this element to God, we find that he will provide just what we need.
- The construction of a home involves skilled artistry: For the Israelites, they needed skilled workers who could find and sew together the right materials in the correct size and color. In addition, other artisans were needed to weave in specific designs. For us, this means that we remember that the unique gifts we have weren’t left in our home countries. We may be good at decorating or language learning or meeting new people, or some other thing. But we must remember that the specific abilities which make us special are needed for important aspects of the homes we will construct. As we manifest the ‘poema’ or poem of God’s workmanship through our lives (Ephesians 2:10), our home begins to take the specific shape of God in us.
- We must be prepared to sacrifice, but there is also space to grieve: In the building of the tabernacle, the next step is the construction of the altar upon which sacrifices will be made. Metaphorically, our building of homes for God involves costly, even perpetual, sacrifice on the altar of our lives. In worship to God, we give our love for our families far away, our existing friendships, our comfort, our status, and more to live where we are. However, there is also a spacious courtyard which surrounds this altar, allowing us space to commune with God in our grief and time to surrender these losses to Him.
- The oil of readiness must continually burn: The Israelites were called to prepare fine oil for the lamp stands of the tabernacle. Furthermore, Aaron and his sons were to make sure the lamp stands in the holiest place were continuously lit before the Ark of the Covenant. Similarly, our lamps must always be lit. In times of plenty or want, we are to be ever giving the light of the Gospel both to ourselves, as our own soul nourishment, and to all who experience the presence of God through us. Just as the central dwelling place of God in the tabernacle was the ultimate destination of God’s home, so with us we most centrally bear the light of God as we possess a living, vibrant home where we behold Him, in His faithful character and matchless love. We can have no home for Him without His presence sustaining our lives.
- We are clothed in priestly garments: The building of the tabernacle included detailed instructions for the garments of the high priest, Aaron. Yahweh declares His people to be a ‘kingdom of priests, a holy nation’ in Exodus 19:6. Peter reiterates this in I Peter 2:9 for all who trust Jesus, saying, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Our garments are perfection and can never be taken from us. They were bought with the exquisite, unfathomable price of the life of God’s own Son. As we continually acknowledge this truth, we can minister as living intercessors for the lives of others with both confidence and humility. Whether in intercessory prayer to our Great High Priest, Jesus, or through being in relationship with others as His hands and feet, our homes radiate gorgeous light from the holy of holies of God.
Wherever you are, I pray you feel hope and encouragement to stay the course of building a home for God. You may feel far behind where had you hoped to be in some areas of construction. But rest assured that as you allow your light to shine, you represent to the world our beautiful Immanuel, ‘God with us.’
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