The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there.
Recently, I read Genesis 12. Genesis 12 deals with the call of Abram when God tells him to leave where he is and to go to a place that God would show him. I’ve read Genesis 12 many times over the years, but what stuck out to me this time was Abram and his consistency in building an altar to God.
Abram built an altar to the LORD during specific times on his journey. He built an altar when he left a familiar place and all of his loved ones to go to a place that was unfamiliar (Genesis 12:7). He built an altar after leaving an unpleasant situation that could have cost him his life (Genesis 13:3-4). He built an altar after God told him that he would be blessed and others would be blessed by him (Genesis 13:18. Abram built an altar in good and bad situations. So why is building an altar so significant?
In the Old Testament the building of altars happened when God’s people wanted to commemorate significant times in their lives when God intervened. Altars were built in times of repentance, forgiveness, as well as in times of joy and celebration. Building an altar to God signified a person’s reverence in and reliance on God. It meant complete surrender to God and the plans of God on one’s life. Building an altar demonstrated that a person consented to whatever God wanted to do in and through him or her. Building an altar meant that a sacrifice was needed. Ultimately, building an altar meant transformation. Something was dying; yet something else was being birthed. Every few steps of Abram’s journey he built an altar to demonstrate to God that he trusted Him. He built an altar ever few steps of the journey to remind himself that it was God who told him to leave so it is God’s responsibility to get him to his destination, and that he relinquished control of the journey into God’s hands.
There was one other time that Abram built an altar. He built an altar after separating from a loved one and being in a place of uncertainty regarding his future. He built an altar during a time when I’m sure he began to wonder if he would receive the promise. Abram built the altar when he stepped fully into obedience and left Lot because Lot was family and wasn’t supposed to go. Sometimes we hold on to reminders of home or reminders of our past as we try to go into the promise, and the environment becomes disrupted. It’s not until we release it all that we experience peace. Once Abram decided that it was best for him and Lot to part ways, he was in complete obedience to what God told him to do, yet wavering and hesitant to move into the promise.
In our wavering and hesitancy, we begin to inwardly ask, “God, did I hear you right? Is this really what you want me to do? I’m alone, and I’m scared, but I want what you have for me.”
We begin to have second thoughts even when it comes to the promise because in order for me to step into the promise, I must leave behind some things and some people that I love. Sometimes we begin to feel guilty and think that we are not worthy of the promise. But it is in these moments that God takes the time to remind us that He is mindful of us. He takes the time to remind us that He meant what He said. He repeats what He says as a way of saying, “You’re on the right path. I got you.”
I believe God wants the same of us today. With each step we take, he wants us to build an altar that begins in our hearts. The altar of our hearts represents the condition of our hearts. God wants to know if we still revere Him and trust Him each step of the way, or has the altar of our hearts been altered in any way? Has your heart been altered on the journey? Do you depend more on self or others than you do on God? Has your heart grown bitter because where you are is not where you want to be? As we embark upon a new year and a new decade, it is a good time to check the condition of your heart to see if you are grateful for where you are and what God has done, even if it’s not the place you desire to be.
The building of the altar of our hearts begins with a “yes” in our heart. The promises of God require a “yes” from you and me. Our “yes” is the altar that we build before God. Each time we say “yes,” we are laying the stones to the build the altar. With each “yes,” we ignite the fire and become the sacrificial offering needed to keep the fire burning.
Walking in complete obedience to God takes courage because it requires a level of dependence and trust in God that we hadn’t really placed in him before. Yes, we obeyed, believed and trusted God for the small things in life; those things that we could do in our own power. But God is calling us to trust Him for those things that can only be accomplished not by might nor by power, but by His Spirit!
Have you built an altar to God lately?
We keep the fire of the altar of hearts burning by placing the sacrificial offering of self in the flames. God wants to do a work in us and we often fight against it. We fight against what we cannot fathom. We fight against what seems impossible. We fight against what is beyond comprehension. But isn’t that the kind of God we serve? A God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ever ask or think?
No need to fight; just time to build.