Back in September when I was struggling in our wait for E, I read Psalm 43.
Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43:3-5 ESV, emphasis mine)
The word altar snagged in my mind like a thread pulled so that you notice it over and over again.
Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. (Genesis 12:7-8 ESV, emphasis mine)
God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. (Genesis 35:1-7 ESV, emphasis mine)
These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7 ESV, emphasis mine)
And in the middle of the hardest days of this past year, the Holy Spirit whispered to me that the altar isn’t about my getting what I want. The altar is where God reveals Himself to me. The altar is His grace-covered invitation to dwell with Him. And when God reveals Himself, the only reasonable response is awe and worship. The altar is stacking the stones where He has shown Himself faithful.
Since those hard days of September, I’ve had the word altar lingering. I’ve been looking for it and studying its uses.
Merriam-Webster has these two definitions for altar.
1: a usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship
2: a table on which the eucharistic elements are consecrated or which serves as a center of worship or ritual
That first definition stands out because of the reference to incense. In Luke 1, a favorite passage for me, when Zechariah’s name was chosen to go into the temple he has a special encounter.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (Luke 1:8-11 ESV)
When I was writing about my prayer journal, I started studying the relationship between prayer and incense, especially in the tabernacle. In this passage, we find Zechariah at the altar of incense praying when he encounters an angel with a message from God. God revealing Himself through prayer has been a huge theme in my life the past few years, and especially as we have walked this adoption journey. Also, “the whole multitude of the people were praying” reminds me of our tribe who prays so faithfully for E.
The second dictionary definition reminded me of the words I wear on a leather cuff around my wrist many days–break and pour. A visible reminder of my mission to break and pour like Jesus did.
I’ve got all of these thoughts swirling around as we begin this new year, and I’m excited to dig into them over the coming months. One thing I know for certain–He is always, always worthy of my worship. Gathered with my church family with beautiful songs or circled around the dining room table with my family or simply when I open the backdoor to see the sunrise–no matter my circumstances or my emotions, I can always go to the altar of God. I worship and remember and praise Him not only because of what He has done for me, though certainly the weight of that flattens me, but because of who He is.
Practically, I’m looking at our morning routines and changing those up a bit. I’m looking for ways to start our mornings with more meaning, more worship. My daily time with my Bible cracked and hot coffee in the morning has become my manna, my sustenance from God. I want to invite my girls into a morning space of worship as well. And when God gives us the call with a court date, I want our hearts and home to be full and ready to be a safe place for E to experience the love and joy of our Great God. For certainly He has used our journey to her to reveal Himself in new and life-changing ways. I pray this year you find us stacking stones and moving with eyes of wonder. We aren’t just building a life or a legacy. We’re building an altar. For He is Worthy of our praise, forever and always.
Psalm 43 says it well, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.”