It was a mistake turned into a moment of clarity. I was listening to a sermon where in the preacher mentioned a song he’d been listening to and got a sermon from. It turned out not to be a Christian song, or a Christian artist. Not that a preacher can’t listen to any genre of music but it was early morning and I wanted to hear from God and this snafu bothered me and sent my mind wandering. So in order to get me reigned back in I typed “Christian music” into the search bar of my apple music. The first song in a long list of the “A” list music was a song called “The Gospel” by Ryan Stevenson, a contemporary artist. He had me hooked in the first line of the chorus:
“Can we get back to the altar?”
My friend Anne and I had spent much of the evening at our Bible Journaling class last night talking about the altar. Or to clarify, the emptiness of the altar.
More of the lyrics to Ryan’s song are:
To the captive, it looks like freedom
To the orphan it looks like home
To the skeptic, it might sound crazy
To believe in a God Who loves
In a world where hearts are breaking
And we’re lost in the mess we’ve made
Like a blinding light, in the dead of night
It’s the Gospel, the Gospel that makes a way
Aren’t those amazing lyrics, and how true! The Gospel is the only things that makes a way through this ever so consuming world we live in. And the altar… oh…. it’s that place of refuge for me. It’s where I go every Sunday, not out of religious piety, but because every Sunday or service I still feel as though I’m the captive, the orphan, the skeptic. I need to feel the love of God and it’s in that place that I feel it. So to see and empty altar breaks my heart for God.
So why doesn’t’ the church get back to the altar? Why is it so taboo to go there? I once heard it said that there are two reasons you should go to the altar.
- Because you think you need it or
- Because you think you don’t.
I know I need it. I have issues. My family has issues. My world has issues. There’s always something I can talk to God about. And I know out of the many people sitting in the pews behind me there are others that feel the same. So why aren’t they meeting me there?
It’s purely speculation but a few possible reasons may be:
- Because we fear Judgement
I told Anne last night that one of the hardest hits and the greatest pains I’ve ever received was the feeling or witnessing of the judgement of fellow believers. Not accepted in my weirdness that I call Shari. Or, seeing someone else looked down upon because they didn’t quite measure up to standards of humanity. And I believe that many don’t go to the altar because they don’t want the eyes in the back of their heads wondering why they’re there. I’ll tell you in advance… I’m a sinner. That’s why I’m there. And for many other reasons, but I got there by not caring who stared at the back of my head, because inside my head, at that altar, is where I’m not judged. Not one time when I’ve gone to the altar have I felt judged by God. Only loved.
2. Because we’re Jaded
The world is such a wicked trickster. It wears us out and wears us down to when we finally make our way into church we hear… “it’s hopeless, there’s no point, it won’t fix it.” And we buy the lie. Or we hear “Nobody else is going, why should I?” It’s almost as if we feel that going to the altar is making us the sacrifice. And the skeptic in us believes that the altar is no longer a necessity in life. It’s an Old Testament ritualistic notion, and that’s the biggest lie of all.
3. Because We’re Sitting Jake
Meaning: everything’s awesome! The altar is for people who need Jesus to help them out of trouble, right? You could better stop that sentence at “the altar is for people who need Jesus.” And everyone needs Jesus. Sitting jake one day may find you sitting in puddle of tears and despair the next day. Life can turn on a dime.
The altar can certainly be anywhere you are but I’ m speaking of the lack of time spent at the altar of our churches. It used to be when we’d go into a service, we’d start at the altar. And I can tell you first hand it made a difference in the service and ushered in the presence of God that could be physically felt. But that practice is long since forgotten. It perhaps takes up precious time and someone might miss 10 minutes of their favorite show, or Sunday pregame conversation.
God honors the altar. And we’re missing out on one of the greatest blessings by not making it a priority in life. One of the seeds missing from the harvest of our church is the seeds not sown in prayer. We could reap so much more of the goodness and the glory of God if we’d sow on our knees the seeds of a grateful, repentent and humble heart.