We build the altar but God sends the fire


AltarIn the culture around me, there is a constant focus on results. For our sports teams, it is not enough to play well, the focus is on winning the championship. You may have heard the statement, “second place is just first loser.”

In the large city near me, all four professional sports teams are currently toward the bottom of their respective leagues. As a result, they are “rebuilding” and their management personnel constantly encourage the fan base to “trust the process.” They are pleading for patience from their fans because the fan base is conditioned to believe that winning the championship is the only acceptable result.

The same urgency to see results carries over into the church. It is tempting for church leaders to look for the newest technique for getting more people into their services. Delegations are sent to growing churches to see how that growth can be emulated in other congregations. We want to see results to validate that we are doing the right thing.

It is right to want more people sitting under the preaching of the gospel. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to learn from others. But the danger is that we can lose focus on what real spiritual growth looks like and we lose sight of who causes that growth.

I recently heard an interview with Timothy Keller where he made a reference to Elijah building an altar on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20 ff). His point was that Elijah was faithful to build the altar and God was faithful to send the fire. Elijah could not directly cause the fire to come down. God did not send the fire before the altar was built.

From this story, we learn that we are called to be faithful to do what God has called us to do. Having done this, we can trust God to bring about the result that he desires.

Here are a few suggestions about how we can “prepare the altar” in the same way Elijah did:

  • Regularly read your Bible while asking God to show you what you need to learn from your reading
  • Regularly pray – The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 shows us the balance between inward and outward focused petition
  • Study the Bible with other believers with the focus on transformation rather than just information
  • Volunteer to serve at your local church or community group – make yourself available to be used by God

By doing the things that God calls us to do, we are then in a position to be used by him to accomplish is purpose.

Also, we must see where our responsibility ends and where we need to trust God for the rest. Failure to define that point will lead to frustration and exhaustion. Paul made such a distinction when he wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

If you have any other ideas about how we can “build the altar” please add them using the comment form below.