September 25, 2015 • Life for Leaders
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.’”
When God told Abram to leave Haran and go “to the land that I will show you” (12:1), Abram went in obedience and faith (12:4). Finally, after a journey of about 400 miles, Abram and his entourage arrived at Shechem in the land of Canaan (12:6). When the Lord told Abram that he would give this land to Abram’s offspring, Abram “built there an altar to the LORD” (12:7).
Genesis does not tell us why Abram built an altar. Presumably, he did so in order to offer sacrifices to God, though this is not stated explicitly in the text. But, sacrifices or not, the altar itself is a visible, tangible acknowledgement of the Lord. It is a way for Abram to say in action, “Lord, we have arrived here because of you. We thank you and dedicate ourselves to you once again.” Moreover, the existence of this altar would be to Abram and his associates, whenever they were in Shechem, a reminder of the Lord. (In 12:8, Abram moves on to a new location and builds another altar.)
As I think about Abram’s act of altar building, I wonder what in my life is like an altar. I don’t build literal altars, of course, stacking up stones for literal sacrifices. But are there things in my life that serve as altars, things that say emphatically, “I acknowledge you, Lord,” things that remind me consistently of God’s sovereign grace?
Yes, I have many “altars” in this sense. In my office, for example, there are photographs that remind me of God’s grace in my life: a picture of me and my grandfather, my best friend and hero when I was young; a photo of me with Lloyd Ogilvie and Howard Butt, Jr., two men who, more than any others, mentored me and helped me discover God’s plans for my life; a photo of me shaking the hand of Billy Graham, whose preaching led me to Christ when I was a boy; a picture of me and my dad when I was a toddler. All of these photos remind me of God’s grace in my life. They inspire me to be like the extraordinary men who have motivated me, taught me, modeled faithfulness for me, and loved me. These photos are “altars” because they produce more than nostalgia in me. Rather, they point me to the Lord with gratitude and humility. When I put them up in my office, I am saying, “You have brought me here, Lord. I acknowledge you, thank you, and dedicate myself to you.”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you have any “altars” in your life? What are the tangible objects that point your mind and heart to the Lord?
If you can’t think of any “altars,” what might you “build” in order to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and remember his grace?
Gracious God, sometimes when we arrive at our destination, whether literally or figuratively, we think we are there by our own efforts. But the example of Abram reminds us that we have accomplished everything in our lives because of your grace at work in and around us. Thus, like Abram, we need “altars” to turn our hearts toward you in gratitude and humility. Whether we build these or simply recognize them, may we see around us that which reminds us of you and refreshes our devotion to you. Amen.
Photo Credit: Photo by inkflo via CC0 Public Domain and pixabay.com.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Thank you for this devotional. Abram’s epic journey to Haran came to mind regularly as I packed up house and moved from Riverside, CA to Santa Rosa, CA this month ( a trek of 479 miles)! Family, friends, and neighbors, along with the crew of packers and movers helped me accomplish this transition, and what an ordeal it was! I think in awe of how Abram had to prepare and organize all of his household as well as his immense animal farming operation: I’m sure the pace was slow, and it took many days to cover 400 miles! I could rush up to meet the moving truck at the storage center in 9 hours. Even so, what feels similar between Abram’s tale and mine, is that of leaving…and going…without fully knowing what lies ahead. It’s about trust, and then making a reminder, perhaps a ritual, to concretize and experience that is really abstract. Abram knew and believed God was guiding, and that meant that, whatever happened it would be good. So, his first action was to journey -his expression of faith. When Abram arrived in Haran, his next action was to “build an alter”, again demonstrating his belief that it was God who made this real. Thank you for this perfectly relevant devotion – I too want to build an altar in thanks and joy to the One who makes it possible.
Doreen, thanks for this thoughtful comment. It’s really more than a comment. Rather a testimony of how this Scripture has been playing out in your life. So glad you added it.