Scripture is full of the building of altars. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses all built a visible altar in thanksgiving to God. Then, in Revelation, the altar of God in heaven is revealed.
What is an altar? An altar is a supernatural landing strip, a place where divinity meets humanity. Today, we can build our own spiritual altars, but it takes time, energy, and purpose.
People in ancient Israel would bring their offerings to Jerusalem to be sacrificed at the altar that stood before the Temple. Even then, God called for something greater. “Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High (Ps. 50:14). Today, no one can go to the Temple in Jerusalem, but all of God’s people can offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving in the temple of their hearts. “Do you not know that you are atemple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16
The sacrifice of Thanksgiving is never needed more than in times of stress and trouble. (Could this describe our world today?) So, a short history of this secular holiday of Thanksgiving is applicable now as it was on the first harvest celebration on the shores of the New World.
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Native Americans shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations. The colonists were grateful for their very survival, which had been made possible by gifts from their Wampanoag neighbors.
For more than two centuries that followed, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the traumatic Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. During the dark days of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt declared the 4th Thursday of November to be a day of thanksgiving. Both times were stressful and traumatic, but for the wise in heart, they were times to thank God for His blessings.
When we are focused on what is good, right, and true, thanksgiving is the only way to approach God.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courtyards with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His faithfulness is to all generations”.Psalm 100:4-5
Hebrew is a poetic and pictorial language. In Hebrew, thanksgiving is expressed by the word todah that comes fromיָדָה (yadah), which conveys an image of holding out the hand, not to receive but to give, thus giving thanks or praise. In Psalm 30:12, we see David moving into the atmosphere where God dwells, which is something we can do in our own lives today.
That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever. Psalm 30:12
During our annual celebration of Thanksgiving, perhaps we can offer God a “peace offering”, also known as a “fellowship offering”. This special gift to God was a voluntary offering at the Temple, which was given simply because the giver was overflowing with a love for God. The animal was roasted on the altar where a sweet aroma would float up to God’s dwelling place in the heavens. Then half of the roasted meat would be given to the priests for a thanksgiving meal and the other half would be returned to the giver, who would take it home for a celebration meal with family and friends. In this fellowship gathering, the participants would express their heartfelt love for God.
Now this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which shall be presented to the LORD. [A person must] offer it by way of thanksgiving.
As believers in Christ, we can give our own peace offering of thanksgiving to God. During the day of our Thanksgiving celebration in November, when we gather to give thanks, we can offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God in fellowship with others whose love of God is bursting with a desire to praise Him. But then, don’t stop there, but continue this gift of love to God throughout the coming year.
In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess 5:18
The purpose of an altar is to connect to God and build a “landing strip”. It is a place where we can go and know that He receives our offerings. So, build an altar of thanksgiving for the gathering on the Day of Thanksgiving, but there is another opportunity to build an altar to God that will last throughout the coming year.
Practice journaling (consider writing down) your praises as You enter His Presence in prayer and worship. Record your daily thanksgiving for big things, for small things, for events, for memories. Thanksgiving is like the spark that keeps the fires burning on the altars we build as we commune with God. Not only does God encourage our continual thanksgiving, but this praise to God is also a marker of our attitude. Gratitude is the attitude of the Big G released in our lives.
If you want to know what altars you are building in your life, then ask yourself these questions. “What takes my time?” “What am I consistently doing?” “Where is my focus?” I have learned that the first hour of my day sets the attitude and atmosphere of what will follow. It is my way to enter His courts with thanksgiving and ignite the spark on the altar built for Him in my heart for the rest of the day.
The purpose of an altar is to connect to God and build a "landing strip". It is a place where we can go and know that He receives our offerings.
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Kaaren Craig is a BibleInteract board member and loves exploring the depth of Scripture.