It’s common in the history of Christendom that great truths are so often expressed that it loses their gravity, weight, and impact on the mind and hearts of the believer. It is a sad and unfortunate thing how truth reduces to a cliche, but regardless of its everyday modern use, the truth is still the truth, and we should be guilty of allowing its truthfulness to flood and affect our minds.
Such is the word “altar.” Altar, to some, engenders feelings of reverence or sadness like a vigil. Or of burning packs of wood similar to a bonfire. However, the word depicted in the Old Testament isn’t a place to enjoy warmth or pleasant memories. The altar of the Tabernacle, that transient tent of meeting that represented worship to the God that brought Israel out of Egypt, was a bloody place. It was a place sprinkled with the blood of bullocks, goats, and doves. It was a serious place. One could not approach the altar or bring anything they wanted; right down to the priests’ clothes, one had to be mindful in how they presented the sacrifices unto the Lord. Furthermore, it wasn’t a place of celebration or fanfare but sacred reflection and abasement. What was the cause for such an austere ceremony? Chiefly, something had to die whenever one approached the altar; two lives arrived one life remained. And it was the death of the sacrifice that made a relationship with God possible. This renewed relationship gives rise to praise, joy, and peace.
You may ask, ‘What does this have to do with prayer?’ I would ask, ‘How couldn’t it be different?’ Prayer is the place where we as believers come to offer ourselves before the Lord and to the Lord. It is a privileged place where communion and fellowship with His Spirit are possible. A place of offering, surrendering, and yielding to His will for your life. As it stands, because of our humanity, it is also a place where something dies-us. That is, our will submits to the better, more thought-out will of God. In this special place of union with God, communion comes at a cost, and fellowship comes with a price. It is here we sacrifice our worries, concerns, and needs, where we gain life in His Spirit, become recipients of His grace, and raise with joy and peace in our hearts. At this prayer altar, we leave our burdens, for the goats offered in the Old Testament didn’t get back up. We die to whatever selfishness, anxiety, or pride that would hinder us from walking in the Spirit. Oh, it is in this place where we recall the works of God and render thanks and sacrifices of praise.
Dear child of God, do not delay to make frequent use of this altar. Under our new covenant, in approaching the throne of God, we aren’t limited to certain times of the year; we may come as freely and as often as we desire. May the fire of prayer burn upon this altar as was intended in the days of old; “Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.”
– Leviticus 6:13 [ESV]