“He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’” (Genesis 28:12–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version).
Have you ever experienced God in such a powerful way that the location seemed to be holy ground? A popular worship song of the 1970s and 1980s rejoiced that “We are standing on holy ground, and I know that there are angels all around.” Early in my relationship with Christ, I assumed such holy ground was always a house of worship. Since then, I have found other “holy ground” locations.
One particular location was a Catholic retreat center in the Hudson Valley, where my church held several retreats. Mount Saint Alphonsus had a magnificent chapel and incredible places of worship. However, the grounds around the building were where I would most meet God. I would often refer to these grounds as “the New York annex of heaven” because I always seemed to meet God there: particularly sitting by the river. There was nothing particularly unique about the location, but people came there expecting to meet God, so He did not disappoint them.
The ancient Celts had a term, “thin spaces.” They believed there were places where the veil between the physical world and the spiritual realm was very thin and supernatural spiritual experiences could be expected there. For me, Mount Saint Alphonsus was a thin space. Was the place inherently holy? Maybe not; but the property had been set apart for the Lord’s service in 1907, people went there expecting to meet God, and He will honor an expectant, receptive heart wherever He finds it. For those of us who devoted a weekend to meet with God, that land became holy ground. (Sadly, the retreat center closed in 2012 due to very natural-world-type financial difficulties.)
The entire earth belongs to God (Psalms 24:1). Any ground can be holy when we acknowledge Him there. Any space can be thin. Perhaps at least part of the reason why so many Christians feel God’s presence when they visit Israel is that they come expecting to meet Jesus in His earthly homeland. For those of us who may not get that opportunity, any place can be holy ground: a favorite campground; a quiet place along a shoreline; or any location where a significant moment in your life occurred. The spot on the boardwalk where my best friend and I accepted salvation through faith in Jesus may have been just a nice place to take a walk in the summer for most people, but to this day, I cannot go there without remembering that I met God in a powerful way there. For me, that part of the boardwalk becomes holy ground, no matter how other people approach it.
The Book of Genesis recounts several occasions where the patriarchs built altars to remember an encounter with God. One such case was the story of Jacob. He had tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing he had intended to give to Jacob’s fraternal twin brother, Esau. Now, Esau was furious and intent on killing him. So, Jacob was fleeing from his family’s home to seek refuge with his mother’s family in Haran, about 400 miles away. Along the way, as we read in the scripture passage above, God met him in a vision while he slept.
In that vision, God reminded Jacob that He would be with him always. Even though Jacob was now isolated from his parents—in fact, from everybody and everything he had ever known—he was not away from God. The God he worshiped was not restricted to Beersheba. He was not limited to the shrines or altars where Jacob’s ancestors had worshiped Him. God assured Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” The covenant God had made with Jacob’s grandfather Abraham stood secure, no matter where Jacob went.
Because of this encounter, Jacob recognized the place as holy ground. He assumed that he had slept at the very gate of heaven. The location, a town called Luz, may have been just an ordinary place. Jacob was resting his head on an ordinary stone. However, he had an extraordinary encounter with God.
There is only one reasonable response when God appears to us and hallows the ground on which we stand. We must worship Him. Jacob set up his stone as an altar. The ordinary rock became a place to worship God. Centuries later, his descendants, the Israelites, continued to worship God there. Luz became known as “Bethel,” the house of God. Centuries later, it was one of the most popular places to worship God before the temple was built in Jerusalem.
Perhaps we cannot force God’s hand and tell Him where He can give us our life-changing revelations. But, we can make ourselves ready to receive His presence and blessings. We can set aside sacred time and sacred places in our everyday lives to meet with Him. He will meet us wherever we choose to meet Him. Pick a time every day; find a place to worship Him in prayer and Bible reading; and consecrate that time and place. Choose holy ground, and God will choose to meet with you.
Do you have a particular “holy ground” or “thin space” where you encounter the Lord regularly? Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.