A Hurt and An Altar

by Andy Wood on April 30, 2010

in Tense Truths

Yesterday I was talking to an old friend on the phone, and heard myself say something before I realized what I was saying.  (Does that ever happen to you, or am I just weird?) 

Before I tell you what I said, I guess I need to fill in some white space first.

A few days ago I had an experience that left me disappointed and hurt.  The details aren’t important; what is important is what happened in my heart as a result of it.  I will tell you that it was a church wound (one of the most difficult of all), and that I had similar initial feelings to other kinds of pain in my life.  I wanted to go into a cave and hide.  I was fearful of being hurt again.  I wanted to be angry and pout.

But almost immediately, I noticed another kind of result in my spirit.  I was sobered.  Humbled.  Unusually aware of the holiness, wisdom, and love of God.  Emotionally and mentally aware that God is no man, that I can fool, manipulate, or even impress Him.  Even more aware that neither I nor any man can despise the profound work of grace He has made in my life.

And regardless of how any of us behave, He still owns His church.  I can sit on my high horse or hide in my cave all I want, but at the end of the day, He is still God, and still expects me to reflect His character and power.  And He will even use busybodies, gossips, accusers and politickers in Church World to make His case.

Ouch.

I don’t know that I have ever been in a painful situation in which I was more aware of the awareness of God.  And if I may say so, even in the pain, I felt safe and loved.

Here is what I said to my friend, after I filled in some details: 

“I’m hurting, but I’m hurting on an altar.” 

As soon as I said it, even though he was in a hurry to get off the phone, we shared this amazing moment of silence.  Something akin to what must have happened when Simon Peter blurted out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 

It was the silence of awareness:  Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.

A Meeting Place

Altar.  It’s a quaint word you only hear in Church World.  In Evangelical circles we speak of “coming down to the altar,” or “putting your all on the altar.”

The Old Testament speaks of altars often.  Abraham built an altar here, then there.  So did Isaac, Jacob, and a bunch of others.  There were altars in the tabernacle and the temple.  And there were bad altars, made to pagan gods.  So you see a lot of tearing down altars and building up altars.

But what exactly is one?

An altar, in Old Testament terms, was a meeting place with God.  And it almost always involved a fire and some sort of exchange in which an animal was killed and the blood poured out as a sacrifice for sin.

Altars were places for worshipping God.  For dealing with our tendencies to live on our own terms (sin).  For finding forgiveness and hope and direction and union with our Creator.

Last August my friend Mickey spoke at a men’s retreat I attended.  He was speaking of altars.  And he said something that rocked my world.  Here’s my paraphrase:

“We talk all the time about coming to an altar in church life.  But I want to remind you that altars are places where things die.”

“I’m hurting, but I’m hurting on an altar.”

In other words, my pain had become a meeting place with God.  I wish I could say that every time somebody hurt my feelings, betrayed my trust, or did anything to produce a wound, that I responded this way.  We’d both know better.

But this time was different.  In finding my way to a meeting place with the Lord, I recognized that my only recourse was to run to Him, to cling to His promises, to wait on His timing, and to humble myself under His mighty hand.  There would be no one-day cure here.  But there would be healing.

“I’m hurting, but I’m hurting on an altar.”

In other words, instead of my hurts drawing attention to how low-down people could be, I was instead exposed more to the content of my own character.  I could look soberly at areas that still needed growth and healing.  But I could also testify of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to take something that was once lifeless and dark and make it pure and holy.

The challenge at the same time is not to listen to the voices of accusation in my head, who just want to paralyze me by pointing out the obvious or shackle me to a past that even God has forgotten. 

“I’m hurting, but I’m hurting on an altar.”

In other words, even in the wake of surprises or disappointments, I have again been given cause to commune with my Creator in the strangest of places – a place of death.  And there I have been reminded that dead people don’t whine.  They don’t pout or get even.  They don’t react to bad news with bad thoughts or worse behavior.

Out of that place of communion I could hear His voice.  Find His direction.  Receive His peace.  Revel in His love.  Experience new revelation of who He is.

A Price to be Paid

But such a revelation comes at a price.  Just ask Abraham. 

Today we speak of the Lord being our provider, but it was Abraham’s unenviable opportunity to experience that first.  And it came when God asked from him the unthinkable.  “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Genesis 22:2). 

It was there, with his son on an altar, and not before, that the Friend of God believed in the Lord to be his provider. 

So what do you do with your hurts or disappointments?  Where do you turn when the past comes calling, shame comes creeping, or people come collecting on debts you don’t owe?

Come to the altar.  To the meeting place with the Lord.  To the place of promise and restoration and transformation and deliverance.  To the place where sin is covered, vision is born anew and the past is d-e-a-d. 

In New Testament terms the altar has a name:

Jesus.

And what does He ask in return?

Your trust.  And your all.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Chaffin April 30, 2010 at 7:20 am

I know the specific wound to which you refer. What convicts me is that, had our situations be reversed and I had been the one wounded, I can’t say with 100% certainty that I would not respond in my flesh instead of my faith. I’m so inspired to see you use this is an opportunity to declare you dependence on Him. And, while there will, no doubt, be other other wounds, pain, struggle and crisis to endure in the future, I pray that as you lay this particular pain on the altar, that it will soon die.

Andy Wood April 30, 2010 at 7:35 am

Thanks, Eric, for your support and friendship. You remind me of the four men who wouldn’t abandon their lame friend and found a way to get him to Jesus – even if it did leave a hole in the roof!

Dan May 5, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Thanks for this, Andy. I just shared it on my Facebook feed for others. I certainly can relate.

Nyasha November 4, 2010 at 6:34 am

Am actually going through some intense pain myself due to a failed relationship and what you wrote has really spoken to my spirit. When you go through disappointments its real easy to think your alone but as God’s children he is always with us he will never leave leave us for me thats my comfort.

Andy Wood November 4, 2010 at 9:39 am

Nyasha,
Thank God that He remains steadfast, and actually presses in, when other relationships disappoint or fail. While I am so sorry you are dealing with such intense pain, I am so grateful that your spirit is open to receiving from the Lord. Please know of my prayer for you today.

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