The Path of Life: “Altar”

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Worship: Prayer



God has chosen to meet people at altars of prayer.

God’s record is quite good.

  • He met with Abel at the altar of sacrifice.
  • He blessed Noah and his family at the altar they built on newly dried land.
  • He rescued Isaac from the deadly obedient hand of Abraham at an altar high on the mountain that would one day be called Zion.

On and on we could go for God was faithful to the altar of prayer whenever men were faithful there, too.

When Moses brought down the divine plan for God’s dwelling place in the earth, an altar was prescribed to stand at the entrance. Prayer, thus begun in the Outer Court, was renewed in the Holy Place with an altar of incense. With such sacrifices God was well pleased. His Shekinah inhabited the Tabernacle as His presence was revealed at the center of the nation. From this high altar of prayer a cloud of glory ruled the day and a holy fire illumined the wilderness night.

God meets people at the altar of prayer.

The Altar of God Demands Response.

Altars are all but invisible these days. We may look at our church platforms and see nothing that looks anything like an altar. Do not be alarmed. The Altar of God is more than a piece of furniture. Just as worship has been liberated from restrictions of time and place, New Covenant prayer is made at an altar of “spirit and truth,” not wood or stone. The Altar of God is the humble human heart reaching for Him in faith.

Faith is a necessity.

  • We can stand in awe of His creation and marvel at the detail of His handiwork but there is no salvation in admiration from a distance.
  • We can be touched by people who carry His name but some of them carry it poorly. Their hands bear no healing power.
  • We can even read the Bible, but if we do not read in faith, if cynicism is our guide as we try to make the Holy Book say what we want it to say, we will not see His face.
  • We can stand in the midst of a crowd, enveloped in the worship of others, but if our hearts are closed, if we are in the audience but not in the congregation, Jesus will be there but He will pass us by.

There was a song we used to sing:

Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.
You’ll find he’s not too busy to answer your cry.
He’s passing by this moment your needs to supply.
Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.

The song got it right.

Prayer is reaching out to touch the Lord. Prayer makes an altar out of wherever we are standing, or sitting, or kneeling or walking around. God meets us at the altar of prayer when our hearts become the altar of prayer.

Reaching Out

We reach out and touch the Lord in so many ways:

  • At our private altar of prayer each day,
  • As we prayerfully read the Bible,
  • With psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with the saints on the Lord’s Day,
  • When the church unites in prayer for the needs of the community and the world, and
  • When the church gathers to pray at the altars.

The Lord’s Day is a day for heartfelt prayer, not empty routine, for reaching out and touching the Lord, not just singing songs and watching the platform people present their program.

Altars are all but invisible these days. But if we are to reach out and touch the Lord we had better find one, make one, use one for prayer.

God has chosen to meet with people at the altar of prayer.


Psalm 43
Give judgment for me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked. … Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling; That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God. Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why are you so disquieted within me? Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Genesis 8:20-21 NIV
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

Genesis 22:9-14 NIV
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Psalm 26:6-8 NIV
I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, O Lord, proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds. I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells.

Hymn of Prayer
Sweet Hour of Prayer
Words: William Walford 1845;
Music: William B. Bradbury 1861

1.Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

2.Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Savior shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

3.Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

4.Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight:
This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise
To seize the everlasting prize;
And shout, while passing through the air,
“Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

The Path of Life: "Altar"

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