The Importance of Altars

Photo by Pam Ecrement from Alberta, Canada

Most of us associate altars with the place at the front of the room in our church where we often see candlesticks and a Bible and sometimes a vase of flowers. There is usually a cloth covering it and everything looks lovely and clean. It is where many of us came to pledge our vows in marriage or dedicated our children to God. We know or sense it is a sacred place that should result in our respect. And from time to time we may pause and recall how often the Israelites built altars, how often Abraham and other heroes did.

Some of us who have seen the Narnia series of movies recall the scene of the stone table altar in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe where Aslan was bound and slain. This scene perhaps gives us a truer reminder of the altar’s place and purpose. It was not nearly so pretty or pristine. The scene is one of anguish that can pierce our hearts.

As we continue to follow Much Afraid in Hinds Feet on High Places, we see altars again. When Much Afraid discovered that the Chief Shepherd would not accompany her in person each step of the journey to the High Places, but rather that Sorrow and Suffering would be the companions chosen she feared he would not fulfill his promises to her. As their trek progressed and took paths which seemed to lead away from the High Places, Much Afraid was more uncertain. Her interaction with the Chief Shepherd brought a question to her from him asking if she trusted him enough to follow him wherever he would lead her.

Photo by Lukas Hartmann from Pexels

It would be then that Much Afraid grappled with her fear and pledged to follow the Chief Shepherd wherever he led (even when it appeared to be going in the opposite direction of the High Places). And as she did so, she gathered together a little pile of rocks and made a small altar. What she placed on the altar was “her trembling, rebelling will.” How great a sacrifice that would be for her.

“A little spurt of flame came from somewhere, and in an instant nothing but a heap of ashes was lying on the altar. That is to say, she thought at first there was only ashes, but the Shepherd told her to look closer, and there among the ashes she saw a little stone of some kind, a dark-colored, common-looking pebble.”

Hannah Hurnard

And in the story the Shepherd would tell Much Afraid to pick up the pebble and take it with her “as a memorial of the altar which you built, and all that it stands for.”

The poignant scene is one that nudges us to linger and consider the meaning of altars and look at what we may have seen about them in the Old Testament stories. More than the altar Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac upon gives us testimony of God’s purposes for them even though we may not pause often to consider their meaning or importance.

What would it mean for you, for me, to build an altar upon which to lay our “rebelling will?

To consider the meaning of altars Jack Hayford wrote:

“Altars are a memorial of the places where God meets us.

Altars represent the occasion and place where we have had a personal encounter with God. We may not always be able to make a physical altar, but there can be one established in our hearts. When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating the grandest altar of all, the Cross of Calvary. The Son of God was the ultimate sacrifice, and His work on the Cross reconciled all humankind to God, made possible for our lives to be infused with meaning, for our sins to be forgiven and to give us the promise of eternal life.”

Jack Hayford

Hayford goes on to make note of some of the different forms of altars we discover as we read in the Bible. These include: “a place of encounter, a place of forgiveness, a place of worship, a place of covenant, a place of intercession, and a place of ‘altering’ us.” That was certainly evident in the example of the first altar Much Afraid was asked to build.

Photo by Pam Ecrement from Alberta, Canada

But it would not be the only time Much Afraid would need to stop on the way to the High Places and build an altar and offer something on it. Despite her promise to follow the Chief Shepherd wherever he would lead, progressing up the slopes would challenge her lame feet, willing heart, and fearful spirit many times over.

“Oh, no! no! No!” Much Afraid almost shrieked. “That path is utterly impossible. The deer may be able to manage it, but no human being could. I could never get up there. I would fall headlong and be broken in pieces on those awful rocks.”

Hannah Hurnard

How much are we like Much Afraid when the path before us appears foreboding and treacherous? How often do we commit to follow Christ and then shrink back again when the endurance we need weakens and the courage we must gain seems beyond our reach to attain?

So much was sacrificed for us when we deserved nothing.

“There is a place of ‘altaring’ and a price of altering. Altars have a price–God intends that something be ‘altered’ in us when we come to altars. To receive the promise means we make way for the transformation.”

Jack Hayford

What do we, you, and I, need to lay on the altar we are asked to build?

Are we willing to pay the price for the “altaring” to bring transformation, so our life and love look more like God’s?

“At the altar, the price is paid for renewal when we’ve been at a distance, for securing hope we may have thought was lost and for receiving promise, even if it’s in an unpleasant environment.”

Jack Hayford
Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels

14 thoughts on “The Importance of Altars

  1. Thanks for sharing the My Big Fat Menopausal Life’s Share the Wealth Party – Have a fabulous weekend!

  2. The hardest part is putting things you love on that alter. God asks for obedience. Look at Abraham and his son. What his son must have thought as they were working. Thanks for linking up to #trafficjamweekend

    1. You’re so right! Thanks for your comments and I agree it would be extraordinary for his son.😊

  3. Beautiful post, Pam. Altars were so important in Scripture. It is the place we meet with God, but more so, where He meets us. The quotes from Jack Hayford are powerful ones to think on. I have several of his books and it may just be time to pull one out. I have been thinking of making 2022, the year of the re-read. I’m beginning to lean that way more and more.

    1. Thank you, Joanne💕. I was blessed by finding that from Jack Hayford. He has blessed me often with his insightful words and teaching. Re-reading is something I don’t do often except of course in his Word, but He nudges me periodically to do so. What is your favorite Jack Hayford book?

      1. I used to listen to his radio program years back but we no longer get it here. I think I have 3 favorites of his – Rebuilding the Real You, Worship His Majesty and The Power of Blessing.

  4. I think if I had seen ahead of time the struggles I would face, I would also quake at thinking Sorrow and Suffering would be walking beside me instead of the Chief Shepherd. As a child, I couldn’t fathom a lifetime of sticking to God – and I remember being overwhelmed at that commitment – that I would fail. I’m turning over in my mind the altars in my life – I’d love an interactive bible study – because they have also intrigued me as has your discussion of them.

    1. I had a view of God that meant He would be punitive about my messy mistakes and it took quite awhile to discover who He really was even though I was raised in a Christian home. I also believed after committing to Him, there was no grace for repeat mistakes. Lots of bad theology had to be overcome. I see more now how I too have gone on a trek to the High Places and Much Afraid and I have more in common than I might have guessed. The series is going to extend into next week and I sense the Lord has purpose for it. It all started during a quiet time when He dropped Much Afraid in my spirit and I searched on shelf and found I still had it and started to read it. The richness I think the Lord wanted me to rediscover and expand has been a sweet time for me and I am blessed others have been impacted by his nudge to me💕

  5. Much to think about here, Pam. I’m wondering if a touch of “rebelling will” might be found in all of us – especially when we think we have it all figured out how He is going to use us.

    I read Hinds Feet on High Places years ago. It definitely made a big impression on me.

    1. I think we likely can all say “guilty” Jerralea. It was a whispered nudge from the Lord saying Much Afraid that caused me to search for and reread the book and write what I didn’t know would become a 3 week series😊

  6. The Bible teaches us that altars are very important. I love that they are both “a place of altaring and a price altering.” Dogma and ritual and altars serve to remind that we are entering sacred territory that demand full respect and honour. Thank you for discussing altars.

  7. I have never been a formal or ceremonious kind of person, but I am fascinated by altars. God was strict with the Israelites about visual reminders. As humans, we want to be able to SEE. But God encouraged altars to commemorate His work in their lives. I love that.

    1. Amen, Ashley! He gives all manner of exposure to Him and the truth because He loves us so much and doesn’t want us to miss it💕

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