Daily Devotional for Thursday August 14, 2003
The altar, a place of prayer and sacrifice unto the Lord
( Genesis 8:20, 12:7, 13:18, 22:9, 26:25, 33:20, 35:7 )
The altar, a place of prayer and sacrifice unto the Lord. The altar has always been a special place. It was where man went to meet God. In the Old Testament, it was on the altar that man sacrificed animals to God for his sins. Since Jesus came, and was the perfect one-time sacrifice for the sins of all mankind, the altar is now a place where man comes to spend time in prayer to God. Of course you don't have to go to an altar to pray, but there is something special about having a place to go and talk to God.
I remember as a young boy in the little Methodist church my family attended, the altar was a special place. It was a reverent place. It was a place where people went and got down on their knees and prayed to God about the needs in their life. It was a place where people would spend hours on their face in prayer. People came to that altar to accept Christ as their Savior. People stood at that altar and got married. People came to that altar to view the body of a loved one that had gone to be with the Lord. It was a holy place.
I will never forget on Palm Sunday several years ago, I was preaching at St. Marks United Methodist in Pensacola, Florida. It was a beautiful old church in a very nice part of town. As I was preaching, I got off my message and began to talk about the altar. I remember talking about how the altar was a place for prayer, NOT flowers. As soon as I said those words, I remembered that I was in a very elegant and beautiful United Methodist Church on Palm Sunday. Without even looking, I already knew that the altar was lined with tons of flowers, and it was.
Realizing that I was now in trouble, I walked down off the platform and down to the altar and stood in the midst of the beautiful flowers, and started to talk about the little Methodist Church I grew up in, and how the altar was a place of prayer, a place to come and travail before God. I remember saying that one of the problems in the church today was that people have forgotten what the altar was there for, and some people had never even knelt and prayed at the altar in their life.
In talking, I made a sweeping gesture with my hand to move some of the flowers to the side to clear out an area at the altar. However, being fully in the Spirit and "in the moment," my had was moving too quick and I knocked over one planter, which knocked over the one next to it, and soon, like dominoes, about 10 of the beautiful plants had fallen down and there were flowers and dirt all over the altar. As you can imagine, the congregation of this very staid and majestic church was in complete silence and shock. I am sure the pastor was wondering why he ever invited me to preach. The place was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
At this point, I figured I was in so deep, there was no turning back. So I looked at the people, and told them that I was done preaching. I told them that there was not one person in that congregation that didn't have a need in their life, and I wanted them to come down to the altar and pray, and I would be there to pray with them. Well, I am quite sure coming to the altar and praying was NOT something the people in this church did very often, if ever. As I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, not one person was moving from their seat, and I remember telling God to do something. He did.
All of a sudden, I saw coming down the aisle a little old woman. My fear was she was the head of the flower committee and was coming up to scold me. However, she slowly made her way down to the altar, stood in front of me, and took my hand. She looked up and said,"Brother Keller, I remember when we used to come to this altar and pray for hours." She let go of my hand, moved to the side, got on her knees, and began to pray. Within moments, several more people began to move to the altar, and soon, the entire church had left their seats, and come to that altar to pray.
I share that story with you today for two reasons. First, start taking advantage of the altar in your church. It is NOT just there for decoration, or a place to put the pretty flowers. IT IS A HOLY PLACE. IT IS A PLACE OF PRAYER. Second, you should have an altar in your home. You need a special place in your home that is set aside from all of the day to day activities. A quiet place where you can go to be alone with the Lord. A place where you can read His Word, or just spend that quality time alone with Him. There is NOTHING more powerful than you and your family taking time each day to gather around the family altar and hear God's Word and pray together!
I love you and care about you so much. I pray that you will never look at the altar in your church the same way again. I pray that you will make time to spend time with God at that altar. In the Old Testament, the altar was a place of sacrifice. It is still a place of sacrifice. It is the place where we come to give ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, committing our lives to Him. I also pray that if you do not have an altar in your home, you will pray about making one. What a great legacy for your children to grow up in a home with such a holy place, to reinforce that you and your house serve the Lord!
May the altar, a place of sacrifice, always be a reminder of the sacrifice that Christ made when he died for our sins. May the altar, a place of prayer, always be a reminder that we are totally dependent on God.
In His love and service, Your friend and brother in Christ, Bill Keller