Why an ALTAR?

Why do we pray at an Altar? 

The service closed. The altar time began. Annelise, 7 years old, knelt briefly to pray then returned to my side. I stood talking. She interrupted, “Mom, why do we go to the altar?”

I answered quizzically, “To pray.”

She responded, “No, Mom! Why do we go the ALTAR?”

A nudge of the Holy Spirit told me, here’s a child not wanting a simple answer. I quickly finished my conversation and returned to her question. I responded with another question, “What did people do at the altar in the Old Testament at the Tabernacle or the Temple.

“They brought the animals as a sacrifice,” she said. I then explained that when we pray at the altar we offer our own lives as a sacrifice to God for his work. The two altars-the Old Testament and ours at the front of the church- serve the same purpose, I concluded.

Her countenance perked. Her body straightened. I could see the wheels of understanding turning in her small head. “Óh!” she said simply, satisfied by the new meaning her young mind and heart discovered and desired.

Passing on the meaning of sacrifice to the next generation comes with great difficulty. For our nation, sacrifice means giving up a latte or buying a used car versus a new. Perhaps a few people remember rationing gas and turning off lights during the 1970’s energy crisis. But children of the 90’s and the new millennium barely know the meaning of the word as they are showered with gifts at Christmas and birthdays. Television advertisements insist that they deserve the best.

How many children who haven’t grown up in the church even know the meaning of the word “sacrifice?” What purpose does it hold in their vocabulary? Why would they think of placing a lamb on an altar? Animal rights activists would probably prefer the word be banned.

But we must pass the word on to our children. Our lives need to flow sacrificially.Although God hasn’t yet asked any one reading this to literally die a physical death for him, He has asked that we lay down our own will just as Christ laid down his when He died on the cross.

I pray Psalm 20 over my friends, “May He remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.” When we go to the altar, we symbolically place our life as a sacrifice before him. We allow him to purify our heart with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Our children must know the refiner’s fire now rather then in the days of judgment (Malachi 3:2, 3; Zechariah 13:9). They need to be familiar with the altar and its purpose.

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