“So Abram left, as the LORD had told him…Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
“… he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.” from Genesis 12, NIV
It has not been too long ago that we observed the season of Lent – a time for reflection and self-examination as we prepared our hearts for our journey into Easter. The excitement of Christmas and the joy of Easter are wondrous times that we as Christians enjoy celebrating.
But what did we do with Lent? It’s not unusual for even the most devout of believers to avoid Lenten spiritual disciplines, for during Lent, our journey is inward, and we don’t always like what we find inside of us when we probe into our hearts and seek a deeper relationship with the Lord. Today, with such overloaded schedules and far too many distractions to keep us too busy for God, it becomes too easy to “ignore” Lent, or pay just a modicum of attention to developing greater discipleship.
One of the great deceptions in the Christian journey is to believe that whatever God calls us to do will be “easy” and won’t demand too much of us. We want the quick fixes, with no special hardships or demands placed upon us – and if we can turn it into a party, the more the better! But if we’re really honest with ourselves, we can look throughout the Bible and see story after story about people called by God into service for Him, and rarely, if ever, are these stories about easy, trouble-free walks with Him. In fact, far more often than not, the more special the call, the more problematic it is, filled with challenges that often intimidate the strongest of believers.
Abram is in such a place as we read today’s text. At the call of God, he’s left everything he’s ever known, to journey into a land he knows nothing about, to face unknown obstacles – all because he wants to fulfill the call of God upon his life. He pitches his tent between a place called “Bethel” and another called “Ai”.
Why stop here to think about this verse that seems to offer so little information? I am convinced that it is the seemingly insignificant details that we find in the Word that hold wonderful nuggets of wisdom which can enrich our spiritual understanding in untold ways. There are no little insignificant details in the Bible. Every name, every place, even every tiny little word works together to offer us uncommon wisdom. When we encounter these little details, rather than rush on with the main character and story, imagine a sign posted that reads, “Stop! Dig here. See what you can find.”
The names of these cities and the land in which they were located hold remarkable clues for greater wisdom and application to where we are today in our spiritual walk. “Beth-el” means “city ofGod” – a name that signifies that God desires to live among His people. That’s a pretty amazing thought in and of itself if we will take time to reflect upon all that really means. As holy and perfect and awesome as God is, He chooses to live among His people, rather than remain just some holy being people can worship only from a distance. Bethelis “right there”, within Abram’s reach.
The other city named is “Ai” and lies to the east of where Abram has settled. Ai means “heap of ruins”. Don’t let this term fool you – it was a large, prosperous, but horribly decadent, sin-filled, immoral city, rife with crime and every kind of evil. This city is also within Abram’s reach. (Eventually, it will be one of the cities Joshua will need to conquer in order for God’s people to occupy the land which God had promised them.)
Both cities are located in the land of “Canaan” – the “lowland”. Throughout scripture the Canaanites are fierce foes of God’s people. There are Nephelim in thelandofCanaanas well – tall giants with supernatural strength and power – offspring of the sons of God (the fallen angels that fell from heaven because they followed Lucifer as their leader) and the women they impregnated. (The giant Goliath was a Nephelim.)
Abram is living betweenBethel– the dwelling or “rock foundation” of God, and Ai – the hard place, a place of battles. And between the rock (God as our source and strength) and the hard place (whatever lies in our path of service and relationship with God) in a land that ungodly ones have taken over, yet is actually where God began life as we know it, and wants to put His people there to live and serve others in His name. Beloved, is this not where we find ourselves each and every day?
By the gift of the Holy Spirit within each of us as believers, we find ourselves with ready access to God on a daily, continual basis. Yet as blessed believers, we are living in a world that is filled with much that is not of God. As we work to serve Him, we will most certainly find giant-sized circumstances that must be confronted and overcome to do what God has called us to do. But just how do we do this?
We follow the example set by Abram – he pitched his tent right in the middle of it all – not running away in fear, but settling down where God led him and called him to be, and there, he built an altar. A place of prayer. A place of offering. A place of sacrifice. A place of communion. A place where he can meet with God to receive whatever he needs to fulfill the calling God has placed on his life.
Altars are not just for Sunday morning. Altars are not merely tables to hold items used to enhance worship. In the Hebrew language, all words flow from basic root words. Each word that flows from a basic root word must be connected in meaning to the root word. It is no accident that the word “altar” means a place to offer a sacrifice – and from it come the Hebrew words for “heart” and “door”.
Don’t wait for the season of Lent! Today, let us build an altar unto the Lord. An altar in our hearts. A place where we sacrifice or surrender all that would hinder us from serving the Lord. A place where we commune with God as often and long as we wish. An altar that will open the doors of our hearts to greater discipleship and service to Him…for we too, live in a world that is filled with gigantic problems and obstacles designed to separate us from God. We are only as strong as our prayer life. It is in this time prayers we offer unto the Lord on the altars of our hearts that we can find whatever we need to love Him more dearly and serve Him more clearly in a world that is desperate to know God. From my heart to yours, Kay