In the Old Testament, the prophets painted the picture of Christ's coming. The altar was used throughout the Old Testament as a sacred place where people would lay out their offerings to God.
When I was in high school and first venturing on this Journey, I experienced the prophets and the altar. But my experience was quite different………
The prophets = people with wisdom.
The altar = a place of peace.
The prophets were instrumental to my early years of spiritual transformation. When I first began attending church and youth group, I had a lot of questions. And I also had a lot of rough edges to work out.
The following is a scenario from youth group:
(Note: we were playing basketball and another teen kept elbowing me to get position near the hoop. His tactics resulted in many points for him. My team lost. And I was angry. I usually did not get so mad over a game; however, tonight was different).
Me: (walking down the hallway to the bathroom). "What the @$!? This is (insert many cuss words)".
Youth Leader: (comes around the corner). "Young man. Are you angry over a sport? Would you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
Me: "Well I kept getting elbowed. Who tolerates that crap?"
Youth Leader: "And who gets mad over a game that people will forget about in five minutes from now?”
Youth Leader: “There are bigger battles in this life that are worth fighting for. Sports are great but in the grand scheme of things--the joy they give you is temporary.”
Me: “I have played basketball my entire life. I don’t know what it is like to not have it.”
Youth Leader: “It is not an accident that you are here. You went to the retreat. You accept God into your life. This is just the beginning.”
Me: “The beginning of what?”
Youth Leader: “The Journey.”
I cannot recall which youth leader gave me these words of wisdom but I can tell you I was heated that evening in the basketball game. The interesting point is I never lost my cool in any basketball game I have ever played in. I may have trash talked, told a referee that I did not agree with their call, or looked at a delirious fan like they were crazy. But I never lost my cool in a game. The only technical foul I ever received was in church league when I hugged a guy (in the name of Jesus) from scoring on us on a fast break. Don’t judge me. He didn’t shoot on me the rest of the game.
God had me right here he wanted me that night.
Prior to the youth retreat (see my last blog post), I played basketball for years and during my sophomore year of high school….I played well in open gyms before tryouts began for junior varsity and varsity squad. During the one open gym, I overstretched my right groin muscle. It hurt like crazy! To make matters worse, I did not know open gym ended earlier that night. No one had cell phones back then. So I decided to walk home. It was a dark evening but yet beautiful for an Autumn night. I walked home. I did a lot of soul searching on the way home. I wanted a break from organized basketball.
So I did not try out for the team that year. Or the other two years of high school. I hung up my Rec Specs (that awful sports goggles) and walked into the sunset.
I stopped playing school sports in 2000. Several months later, I had that amazing experience at the retreat. And that brings us back to the conversation with the youth leader after playing basketball at church. I knew I needed wisdom. This Christianese thing was new to me. I just gave up basketball. What more could God want from me?
The prophets I met were everywhere. God brought them out of the wood work. People at church. Other kids at school. Relatives that prayed for me for years. The list is enormous. The youth leader was right. Life is a battle. And I needed some armor.
My youth pastor made sure I had a good youth-focused Bible. I had several friends who introduced me to some good Christian music. Some of the music was upbeat and some of the music was for deep times of transformation. Several of my friends continued to spent time with me and invite me to youth group. I plugged in. But I was not prepared for this.
During many youth group events, there were altars in the youth gym. Wow. Those altars were so instrumental to my growth. Yes, people can pray anywhere. I am aware of this especially as an adult. But as a punk teenager, the altars were a place to pray and have others pray for and with you.
I have to admit, the altar initially scared me. There is something intimidating about knowing that if you step forward, someone else will be praying with you. This is personal. This is intimate. This is countercultural to the me-against-the-world machine that my generation has been roped into for years. I did a lot of soul searching at the altar. In fact, I can probably name 95 % of the people who ever prayed with me at the altar in the youth gym or in the main worship center.
There is power in community. Others believed in me when I did not see it. Friends gave me rides to church when I did not live near them. And I cannot recount how many free meals I had at other friends’ houses all because we were just a bunch of teenagers hanging together and navigating the culture’s shark-infested waters with the I-Love-You-No-Matter-What-Savior.
People hit rough spots in their Journey. Some folks go to church their entire lives and then hit a brick wall when their faith gets torpedoed by a crisis. Some folks like myself had a small taste of Jesus as children and live for years without knowing the true Gospel and its impact on the heart and mind. And other folks….have never heard about Jesus. They drive by church and gaze in awe of our immaculate stained-glass windows and beautiful landscaping. They hear us talk about church like it is going to a sporting event. “Wow. The pastor was on fire. He never missed a beat. And our church has the best coffee in town. I bet Jesus would drink our coffee and feed the 5000 with it!” (Just kidding about the coffee statement)
We all have modern day prophets and altars.
Who has God placed in your life to give you wisdom even when you do not want to hear it? Who will put you in check and bring truth (not just feelings) to you in your situation(s)?
When will you pray? You do not need an altar. You just need to make time. Pray in your car. Pray at your desk at work. Pray while doing household chores. Find a place where you can surrender yourself before God.