In the last four posts we looked at Abraham’s four altars that are recorded in Scripture. In this final post, we’ll consider the significance of altars in our lives.
We examined Abraham’s altars and their general functions as follows:
- Plains of Moreh – Thanksgiving
- Bethel – Repentance
- Mamre – Guidance
- Jehovah-jireh – Worship
Look around at the current state of the world economics, politics, and religion. If there’s anything we have in common with Abraham it’s this: we live in a vile and wicked world and it’s only getting worse. Abraham had to stand alone many times, just as you and I will have to. And while he may not have had many people friends, Abraham didn’t stand alone because everywhere he went he had an altar where he could access God. And that’s what we need if God’s going get the glory from our lives – a direct communication line with God.
Nothing in this world is more precious and necessary for God’s people than open communication with him. Sin hinders it, and holy living enhances it. Having an altar for reaching the Lord is something that Abraham understood, and it’s something we should understand today. Mark it well that God’s got some big plans for you if open communication with him trumps the importance of everything else.
And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. – Exodus 33:11 (KJV)
So as we investigate similarities between Bro. Abraham’s altar and our altars, let’s answer four questions:
- Who should use an altar?
- What happens on an altar?
- When to use an altar?
- Why use an altar?
1. Who Needs an Altar?
Simple answer: all of the saved. Realistic answer: church members of a scriptural New Testament Church.
Here’s why: if a person is saved, the next step is baptism. After that, the person can only be useful to God within a scriptural New Testament Church. Like it, love it, hate it: it doesn’t matter, that’s the way the Bible calls it (see Romans 6:4-5, Col 2:1, Eph 1:22-23, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13).
What this means: if a saved person refuses to get baptized, or be a church member, an altar won’t do them a lick of good. Why? Because they’re rebellious in the first place, by not following the Bible’s command to be a baptized church member. Once these issues are fixed, they’ll be in a place where they can be useful to God, and then they’ll want an altar as quick as they can find one!
Consider your life: who are you responsible for? Are you a single person, only responsible for you? That means you could be greatly helped by having a place where just you and God meet – your own altar. If others come to live with you and you are responsible for them, have an altar where you and they can meet with God – an altar in your home.
26And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service?
27That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped. – Exodus 12:26-27 (KJV)
If you have a family, you’ll want to have a family altar. It could be as simple as a couch, a table, or whatever you want it to be. The main point is that when you call the family together to pray, they should all know what to do, and it’s even more convenient when they automatically know where to meet!
This accomplishes a ton of good all in one fell swoop: it serves as a time to teach your little ones HOW to pray, and it accomplishes meaningful prayer at the same time. You can be sure that the Lord hears the prayers your kids while you teach them how to pray. Why? Because God’s got a stake in it – by answering your little ones’ prayers, he has a great chance to prove himself faithful to them at a young age, which could impact their salvation; use this to your advantage!
And then there’s the altar at your church. Us good Baptists often think that people who go to the altar after the sermon just had their sin stomped all over by the preacher, and they have to repent. While that may be the case (we’ve all been there), here’s something that will help you stay right with God: it’s not yours to judge. It’s a great idea to distance yourself as far as you can from trying to guess why they’re at the altar. When that judgmental thought flickers, turn it into a prayer for God to help them!
Abraham needed an altar and you need an altar; if you don’t already have one, it’s a great idea to get one. Use a personal altar or family altar starting now. And don’t be afraid to use that church altar either. If God tells you to go to the altar at church, who gives a rip what anyone thinks?
2. What happens on an altar?
Let’s look at what happens at an altar; and by that, I mean let’s consider the kind of sacrifice Abraham was performing. Abraham’s method of altar sacrifice involved something being killed – something that had blood to spill. There are Levitical offerings that involve non-living entities, and those don’t fit with what I’m talking about here; but if Levitical sacrifice is on your brain, think about the burnt offering, that one works just fine.
What happens? On an altar, someone deliberately kills something. In other words, to appease the one to whom the offering is made, the offerER deliberately ends the life of something else. How does this apply to us?
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. – Romans 8:13 (KJV)
Paul exhorts us to cut the throat on the sin we have an appetite for. It’s not the same for everyone; in other words, what trips you up may not cause me any problem, and what I struggle with nonstop may be a non-issue to you. It’s different for everyone. But this much is the same for all of us: God want us to make a conscious choice to kill the influence of our sin nature, and in a humble heart, follow through with the act of bringing ourselves under control.
And when this happens at our altar, someone is appeased, and that someone is God. By slaying our sin and worldly desires, a sweet savor fills the nostrils of the Lord, and that’s when he’ll bless us with the most precious commodity available – himself!
After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. – Genesis 15:1
God is pleased with the sacrifice when it’s exactly the way he wants it. He’s looking for you to kill and burn something: your lust, pride, and control over your life. Abraham had to know what to kill and he did. What happened on Abraham’s altar needs to happen on our altars too.
3. When to use an altar?
29And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
30And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down. – 1 Kings 18:28-30 (KJV)
When’s the best time to use your altar? I’ve heard some say that the best time to meet with God is first thing in the morning; before the worries and cares of your day come yelling in your ear, it’s good to get with God before that noise finds you. There’s a lot of merit to this line of thinking.
And then there are those who meet with God at night, and their reasoning is similar – everyone’s asleep, and the daytime’s spent. Being a night-owl, this is where I fit.
But of all the things said about the best time to meet with God, the most important is this: it needs to happen regularly. Everyday. The time of day doesn’t matter, it’s specific to the person. Just so it happens some time during the day.
It’s senseless to force rigid morning devotions on a 3rd-shift truck driver – a brother I know who fits this description would laugh at you. And it’s just as senseless for him to think everyone needs to meet with God at 6 in the evening like he could.
The advantage of having a regular altar is that it will help give a place to associate with a time of day, thus making your meetings with God more habitual. Studies have shown that if a person does something for 21 days, they’re on their way to developing a lifelong habit. Having a habitual time at a habitual altar will do wonders for your relationship with God.
God is interested in seeing faithfulness in his people over the long-term. And like any long-term project, the only way to tackle it (and succeed) is one step at a time, on a day-by-day basis. God would rather get the glory over the life of an individual than have the individual be a flash in the pan, do a lot of good and then never be heard from again.
Paul knew this, as he talks about spiritual maturity. To go from a babe in Christ to a teen (figuratively speaking), to spiritually mature requires long-term growth. No 8-month old ever had the body and capability of a 33 year-old man. It takes years to develop the normal life skills and abilities of a 33 year-old man. Imagine that – you greet a new coworker, offer a hand shake, and the only thing he says is, “goo goo gah gah” because he’s secretly only 8 months old. I’m laughing at how dumb of an example that is, so hopefully you get the point!
Abraham’s spirituality was developed over time. His regular use of an altar meant regular dealings with God. When should we use an altar? For best results, use daily.
4. Why use an altar
Abraham wasn’t perfect, and he needed to confess his sins to the Lord. We’re no different, and when we mess up, we need to get it right with him. The longer we wait, the greater the danger in allowing things into our lives that could erupt into huge messes. Abraham had to eventually repent for his sin in Egypt, and at his altar at Bethel, he fixed things with God. When we mess up, let’s find God at an altar and fix things.
5Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6 (KJV)
Sometimes the most important thing I can know is that I don’t know the first thing about what’s going on. In other words, by acknowledging a need for help, the next step becomes considering where it will come from.
What did Solomon want? He wanted wisdom, because the only thing he understood was that he needed a lot of help to do a good job judging and ruling over Israel. God’s dealings at Abraham’s altar at Mamre were generally guidance. And if there’s anything we need nowadays as things are getting worse and worse it’s heaven’s guidance. When we don’t know what to do, let’s get help at an altar.
Has God been good to you? It’s too easy to say yes, so let’s dig a little deeper: how has God been good to you? Even a shallow assessment of God’s benefits give a child of God a lot to be grateful for. At the plains of Moreh, Abraham built an altar. Based on the events of Abraham’s life just before that, (i.e., God making some huge promises), Abraham had a lot to be thankful for. Next time you’re at your altar, use it to lift up your thanks to the one who deserves all the thanks in the world.
And if God’s children get thankful, it won’t be long and the next thing they’ll be is smitten with his greatness. There’s no one else so worthy of all of our esteem and reverence as the Lord. Sometimes I like to sit down with a mandolin to sing and play before the Lord at my altar to delight in, think about, and adore his lovely name. When’s the last time you worshiped him at your altar?
Just like Abraham, we should use altars for repentance, guidance, thanksgiving, and worship. Because just like Abraham, we need to confess our sins, need God’s help in knowing what to do, have a lot to be thankful for, and should let the Lord know that we love him more than anything.
Today we asked the question, “who needs an altar”. We found that the answer to this question is every church member wanting to be close to God. Anyone with the capability of being useful to God (which is every church member) would be hugely benefited by having and using an altar.
What happens on an altar? Something dies. In other words, we’re killing something to please God. In our lives, we need to butcher our own inhibitions for the glory of Christ. By doing this, something is killed, and God is pleased by our sacrifice.
When to use the altar: it’s not tied to a better-or-best time of day, it’s tied to being used EVERY day. Only by regularly using our altar are we able to maintain that precious relationship with the Lord – the one we should want, and even more, the one he craves to have with us.
When considering why we should use an altar, consider handling a relationship with a good friend. When I’m wrong, I should apologize. Sometimes I need his advice, and other times I need to tell them thanks. And every now and then it’s good to throw an arm around him and tell him how glad I am to have him as a friend. It’s no different with God: our altars are good for repentance, guidance, thanksgiving, and worship.
By studying Abraham’s use of altars, we can apply a practice of one of the greatest heroes of the faith to our own lives. Just like Abraham, we can use an altar to communicate with God. Let’s never forget that it wasn’t Abraham that made Abraham great, but God that made Abraham great. So I leave you with this question: is using an altar for you?