Sacred Space

I walked into the drafty motel room on a cold Saturday afternoon, pushing the door closed with my foot and setting my bags down on the thin, worn carpet. Surveying the room in the dim light, there were two double beds with a nightstand, a small round table and chair, and a long bureau with a TV sitting on top. Nothing unusual, but a little more drab than usual… think early sixties “Bates Motel” decor and you’ll have the picture. Traveling over 40,000 miles a year in Arkansas, I spend several nights each month on the road. The year is 2006.

We serve church leaders and pastors. The Arkansas Baptist State Convention is composed of dozens of men and women who are truly passionate about helping churches fulfill their mission to spread the powerful, life-changing truth about Jesus. Based in Little Rock, we go in-person to train, speak, and encourage Christians in over 1,500 churches. We do it out of a sense of divine calling.

But we still get tempted to do things we shouldn’t. I do, anyway.

It was in that particular motel that God spoke to me about the temptation to watch things on television where no one else could see what I might be doing… except Him. As I stood there looking at the room, He brought to mind how many times I had been tempted before. How I would often call my wife as an escape, exposing the temptation by telling her about it. It worked. By uncovering instead of hiding a temptation, I found that I didn’t “want to” anymore (Ephesians 5:11, 1 Peter 5:9, James 4:7). The “attraction” and “pull” of the sin dissipated and became more manageable. Jesus did that when He was tempted (Matthew 4:3-4). He became adversarial and so should I. But this moment was different.

You don’t know what has gone on here in the past, but I do. And they haven’t left.” The thoughts that formed in my mind were His thoughts. He was showing me something I needed to understand. God speaks in many different ways in the Bible, and He does speak and He speaks clearly still, whether…

  • through prayer (an ongoing inner conversation between Him and me),
  • through the Scriptures (an awareness that the text I am reading is something He is speaking to me),
  • through the church (those moments when through a believing friend, a pastor’s sermon, or a small group discussion I realize He is speaking), or
  • through circumstances (reaching a conclusion that God is guiding through my experiences).

Frozen in place, standing in the middle of that motel room, I began to understand that I had been experiencing a pattern of temptation that was more intense in some places than in others. Hundreds of people had stayed in that room before me. Hundreds of nights. Hundreds of temptations. It was a place where a husband had cheated on his wife; where a woman had degraded herself; where a young man had tried to drown his troubles in alcohol or drugs; and where a child had been abused. I don’t know the details. I do know that in some hotels, I experienced much more temptation than in others. It was happening there.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am culpable for my response to temptation. In fact, I cannot be tempted unless some part of me “wants” to do it. James writes, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14). Nevertheless, there is an ancient, intelligent, and unseen personality at work behind many of our temptations: Jesus teaches us to pray against the temptation offered by the “evil one” (Matthew 6:13). Sometimes demons take up residence in people. They can also hang out in hotel rooms.

Interestingly, when Jesus cast the demons out of the Gadarene man, the evil ones “begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country” (Mark 5:10). They liked that place. They wanted to stay in that geographical region. And for whatever reason, they were attached to that motel room I was in, exacerbating the away-from-home temptations of every man and woman who stayed there, night after night, and year after year.

In Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul writes “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” The Greek word simply translated “place” can refer to someone’s territory or a dwelling, but in some contexts it can also describe a sanctuary or a holy place. Paul is teaching that strong, out-of-control emotions (like anger) can create a point-of-entry for the devil into a person’s life. If I fail to process my emotions and hurts before the Lord, letting Him into my hurts, and exercising forgiveness, then I am allowing myself to be unduly and persistently influenced by a demon… seriously. To give in to sin is an invitation to the enemy to come and “camp out” in my life. I knew this, standing there in the middle of that motel room.

So, I didn’t call my wife that night. I called on Him. I prayed, “Lord, I don’t know what’s gone on in this place before I got here. But I do know I am being tempted to use this place as a hideout for my own sin… and I don’t want that. So Lord, I want this to be holy ground. I want to be alone here with You. I want this room to be a place where–at any time–You can speak to me without interference from the enemy. Just You and me, and nobody else.”

And everything changed. The demons had a bad night. I had time alone with Him. The dreary room had become a sacred space… and so did my heart.

[Author’s Note: This post was originally published January 19, 2013 at and later migrated to]

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