Throughout Old Testament Scripture we read that altars were created to commemorate some act that God performed on behalf of His people. Whether it was to mark the creation of a covenant, celebrate a victory, remember a promise, mourn a defeat, or forge a relationship, altars were created to memorialize what God had done for His people so they would not forget, so they would remember and have something to point to when sharing with their children and their children’s children.
An altar was a sacred place; it was where we came to make offerings and to atone for our sins. It is where we laid down our burdens and our sins and came clean before God. The altar of God was a place without pretense or pride, we humbled ourselves before God and acknowledged our lack, our inability, our weakness, and utter brokenness.
In our churches today, altars are seen much the same. The altar is a place where we come forward seeking forgiveness, provision, strength, guidance, and interceding for those we love. In our churches the altar has become a place where we bear our deepest pain, struggles, desires, failures, and fatigues. It’s not to wonder that the altar has become known as the mourner’s bench or the sinner’s rail, a place one comes to when they’ve sinned or need help, but this is exactly what the altar is for! God wants for us to come to Him with our troubles, He want to be the balm that soothes our weary souls, He wants to offer forgiveness, and discernment, and direction. God wants us to come to His altar with all our troubles and to lay them down.
The altar is a place of release, a place where we can unburden our hearts to the one who already knows everything and loves us regardless. The one who died for us even while we were living in our sin and brokenness. It is no wonder that people are drawn to the altar when they don’t believe they have any place else to turn.
I love Christmas movies! I love the feelgood nature of the, and there seems to be an unlimited number of movies to make you shed tears of joy. I’ve noticed that when it comes to Christmas movies, most of them, at some point, find the protagonist at a church, at an altar, asking God for help, for guidance, for Him to intercede in a miraculous way. In some cases, it is just a plea for a sign to show God is there. The altar is so much more than a place or a thing. It is where we come to meet God. It is where some of us have made life altering decisions, experienced the Holy Spirit in a way that is inexpressible. It is a place where we not only come to meet God, but also a place where we can point to and say, “that spot right there is where I met Jesus for the first time.”
We have a lot of altar calls happening in churches right now. If your church is like my church, we are opening the altars every week as a place for people to come forward and meet God. Whatever the reason, they come with their heads in their hands, tears streaming down their face, knowing that awaiting them are the loving arms of the Father. Each week, people walk forward to seek forgiveness, ask for provision, seek wisdom and direction for challenges in their lives. The altar is part of our public worship and a sharing of our deepest hurts in a safe community that loves and supports us.
While thinking about this today, I began to wonder why our altars are a mourner’s bench and a sinner’s rail, and not a seat of worship and praise? Why do our altars see more tears of brokenness than tears of joy?
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100
While this year has been incredibly hard for millions and millions of people. I have been trying to focus on all the ways that God has continued to bless me, my family, friends, and my church. Trying to see each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow. God is teaching me patience, grace, and more patience. During all the hardship, fear, anxiety, struggles, and feelings of absolute inadequacy in the face of so much, God has remained faithful. Each day I find something else to praise God for, some new way He has blessed me, or that I just hadn’t noticed before.
I want to go to the altar, not to ask or to receive but to give to God the only thing I have, my praise, my gratitude, my thanksgiving. What an amazing testimony it would be if just one Sunday, instead of opening the altar for people to bring their wants and needs, instead to bring their praise and worship. What a witness to have a church full of people fill the front of the room around the altar to just thank God for all He is doing in their lives, amid their troubles, in the midst of uncertainty, in the middle of the mess, we thank God for all He has done to bless our lives, to show us favor, to provide for our needs, and to never leave or forsake us.
A church full of people, on their knees at the altar of God just giving praise and thanksgiving?
The altar of God is always open, the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts so we don’t actually have to go to a place to ask for forgiveness, provision, peace and direction. We can do that from anywhere. On our knees at our bedside or an altar in the church. The important part is to go there. My challenge to each of us is to remember that along with our requests, along with our wants and needs, we should always remember to thank, in advance and with expectation the one to whom we owe all things.