Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Raising an Altar

Leslie Basham: Here's Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: The key to surrender is realizing that you are just in a tent here. This is not your home. This is not permanent. We are strangers. We are exiles on the earth. Our citizenship is in heaven.

Leslie Basham: It's Wednesday, August 4; and you are listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. What's an altar? We talk about it like it's the front area of a church sanctuary.

What did it mean for those in the Old Testament? Why did they build altars? We'll start to get a picture of this biblical concept as Nancy continues in a series called "Surrender, Facing our Fears."

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We've been talking about Abraham and his wife, Sarah. Abraham, the father of those who believe, who take the promises of God seriously and are willing to stake their lives on God's promises.

Now, Abraham came to be known by his contemporaries as Abraham the Hebrew. You find that reference in Genesis, chapter 14, verse 13. The word "Hebrew" means "stranger" or "alien" and from the perspective of the people who lived in the land of Canaan, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were always something of misfits. They didn't really belong. They were strangers. They were aliens.

But, that was okay because this couple understood that everything that this world offers is temporary at best. So their ultimate citizenship wasn't here on this earth. They were living for an eternal home and that was what made them willing to live as pilgrims, as strangers, as aliens, to not fit into this world and this world system because they had an eternal home for which they were headed.

We read this concept in Hebrews, chapter 11, that great story of the men and woman of faith beginning in verse 13. The Scripture says that all these different Old Testament saints, "these died in faith, not having received the things promised but having seen them and greeted them from afar and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth."

Listen, if you put roots down too deeply into this earth, you'll have a really hard time when God asks you to surrender something that you hold dear. The key to surrender is realizing that you are just in a tent here. This is not your home. This is not permanent. We are strangers. We are exiles on the earth. Our citizenship is in heaven.

And the writer to Hebrews goes on to say in Hebrews 11, verse 14, "For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country that is a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God for he has prepared for them a city."

So, Abraham and Sarah, along with others listed in this great chapter of faith, they were willing to risk everything this world considers essential in order to be eternally secure and to gain the blessing of God. And that's exactly what happened. Though he was an alien on earth from earth's perspective, from heaven's perspective, Abraham was called the friend of God.

The development of Abraham's extraordinary relationship with God can be defined in terms of a series of surrenders that Abraham made to God over the course of his life. And each of those surrenders was based on a revelation of a covenant-keeping, promise-keeping God.

Now, as Abraham made those surrenders, I think one of the most distinct symbols of Abraham's life was this thing called an altar. On four distinct occasions at four distinct stages in his pilgrimage, we are told that Abraham responded to God by building an altar.

You read about the first one in Genesis, chapter 12 [:7] at Shechem. And then the next verse between Bethel and Ai, Abraham built altars in response to God.

And then in chapter 13 [:18] at Hebron, he built another altar to God. At each of these altars, he was saying, "Lord, I've heard what You said. I've heard what You reveal to be true about Yourself. I've heard Your promises and I just want to respond to You by saying, 'I believe Your promises. I receive Your promises and I surrender to You and to Your control my life and everything that matters to me.'"

That's what those altars meant. God has promised. God is faithful so I trust Him and I surrender to Him.

And then the fourth time on a mountain called Moriah, this man, who was called the friend of God, built yet one more altar. Genesis, chapter 22 tells us about how on that altar at God's clear yet incomprehensible direction, Abraham placed his own son, the child of the promise, Isaac, the longed for, the long-awaited child. God said, "Offer him up." And in that moment of supreme surrender and faith, Abraham said, "I trust You, God."

It was a relinquishing of everything he held dear because embodied in that child was all of Abraham's hopes and dreams and aspirations and his future and everything that he had longed for.

Everything that God had promised him was bound up in the life of that child and when God said, "Give up that child" it didn't make any sense at all. But Abraham was a friend of God, he was a stranger and an alien on this earth and he said, "Okay, God, I trust You."

And I want us to notice that all of those earlier altars of sacrifice and surrender and faith, each one of those had been preparing Abraham for the moment when he would be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice.

And so when Mount Moriah came, Genesis 22, Abraham had a track record with God and that's what enabled him to step out in faith and surrender.

And, likewise, each small step of surrender you take, it may be just getting out of bed in the morning when the alarm clock goes off and getting up in time to spend some time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer.

And that's a small surrender; it's an altar you built. It's not a big deal. But as you make that small act of surrender, as you build that altar, every step of surrender that you take confirms that God is worthy of your trust and prepares you to trust Him with bigger surrenders that may be required down the road.

You see, altars speak of sacrifice, of devotion, of surrender, of being consumed. They speak of a life that is wholly given up to the one for whom the altar is built.

In some of our churches we have a place, a location, an object at the front of the sanctuary that we identify as an altar. And we don't light fires and offer literal sacrifices on those places but they are intended to serve as visible reminders of what should be a spiritual reality for every child of God.

The hymn writer put it this way, *My heart an altar and thy love the flame, offering up ourselves in full surrender to God." So the surrender points that Abraham and Sarah faced over the course of their lives are probably similar to some that you have faced in your life.

For example, I think about Abraham and Sarah being called to leave their hometown, the place where all their family was, the place where they had grown up and leaving family and friends behind.

Maybe you have had to do that, to leave what was comfortable and familiar and to go to a new city where you did not know a soul and you did it because you thought, This is what God wants. Your emotions were screaming, You can't do this. But faith said, "Trust God, step out and do it."

Abraham surrendered the best land option to his nephew, Lot. And there were times when you have been asked to make a choice to sacrifice your own interest for the sake of others.

If you are a mother, you do that every day. And then that time came when Lot was in a backslidden condition and Abraham took on this massive military machine to rescue him from his captures.

Well, there may be times when you have to stay involved and pursue the heart of a mate, a son, a daughter, a parent who has a rebellious heart and is far from the Lord and God is calling you to stay involved, stay engaged, stay in the pursuit in that relationship.

When Abraham refused to accept the spoils of war from an ungodly king"¦there may be a time when you have to turn down a lucrative offer because you know it's not pleasing to the Lord. It's not His will for your life and you have to trust, God is going to meet my needs even though I am not willing to take ethical shortcuts to receive this benefit. So, you say, "Thanks, but no thanks. I turn it down."

I think of Sarah living for 25 years after God has promised them this multiple seed, this progeny, these children and grandchildren for generations to come. But for 25 years she has no children, living with infertility.

And I know there are women who love God with all their hearts and are walking by faith and are surrendering to God and their hearts are longing to have a child and yet God has not chosen to bless them with a child.

And so when you surrender that longing to God, when you offer it up to Him and you say, "Lord, I trust You to fulfill Your purposes and to know and to do what is best for my life." And you surrender that desire to Him.

I think of Sarah submitting to a husband who sometimes made wrong decisions. We read about that in Genesis 12 and Genesis 20 but First Peter 3 comments on her obedience and it says that she trusted in God, not ultimately in her husband.

And because she trusted in God, she did what was right and what was right was to obey her husband. But as a result she was freed from fear. And when you submit to your husband, trusting God even when your husband makes a decision that looks wrong, and may be wrong, and God says, "Trust me. Let me be God. Let me work in that man's heart. Let me change the king's heart because the king's heart is in the Lord's hand."

When you submit to God-ordained authority, you're saying, "Lord, I build an altar of sacrifice, surrender and faith."

And even if it comes to (what for a mom must be the ultimate sacrifice) giving up the life of a child that you consider dearer than your own life, if you know that you have been walking with God, then even in that moment"¦and I think about my widowed mom who had to face the loss of a 22-year-old son in a car accident, and no, it has not been easy.

And yes, it has been hard; but ultimately she has had to come, as you have to come, to that point of saying, "God, I trust You. You don't make mistakes. You know what You are doing."

And so when it comes to those uncertainties that keep us from walking by faith, that keep us from surrender, that keep us from making those sacrifices, like Abraham, we have what the Scripture calls great and precious promises, promises from God's Word, promises that powerfully counteract our deepest fears and reservations.

And if we trust those promises and we trust the God who made them, we consider Him faithful who has promised, we will be given courage to make every sacrifice that He may ask.

Leslie Basham: That's Nancy Leigh DeMoss. She's been pointing us to the promises of Scripture. We want you to really understand what those promises are. There is a pamphlet that can help you read and remember God's promises.

It's called Promises to Live By. Dwelling on the promises of God in these pages will help you face your fears and live a surrendered life.

We'd like to send you a copy as our gift when you make a donation of any size to Revive Our Hearts. You can send your donation to Revive Our Hearts or call 1-800-569-5959. And you can also donate on-line at ReviveOurHearts.com.

If you haven't taken a look at all of Nancy's helpful books and tapes, you can browse our Web site. You might find some material that perfectly fits your current situation.

Tomorrow, we'll find out how the desire to control can interfere with living a surrendered life. Please join us for the next Revive Our Hearts.

 Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is a ministry partnership of Life Action Ministries.

*George Croly, "Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart."

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