The Altar is Empty
As we come up to Resurrection Sunday I can’t help but think about the amazing truth that the tomb was empty.
That fact alone makes me continually think about my words, actions, and behaviors to see if I am living a life that would bring honor to the simple message that the tomb is empty. But as I look around my church on any given Sunday I find that not only is the tomb empty, but the altar is empty as well.
Every Sunday we give people the opportunity to come up and pray with an elder or prayer worker. The impetus is the call to accept Christ.
Typical routine: Songs, announcements, tithe, sermon, sinner’s prayer, altar call.
The altar call is for both the saved and the unsaved. This past week my pastor preached on a topic that should have had Christians from all walks of life coming to the altar to pour themselves out before God. Unfortunately, other than the typical people who come up almost every Sunday, we had very few people come forward.
I have always debated the use of sinner’s prayer/altar call. There are times I think it is “easy believism.”
Are you going through a tough time? Come leave it at the altar, God will fix it. Just not always in the way we expect.
The part that is sorely missing in the sinner’s prayer/altar call is the follow up to walk through life with the person. And this isn’t only at my church. This is happening in churches all across America.
Our church was blessed with over 70 people giving their lives to the Lord last year and over 60 getting baptized. That is almost as much as the average Christian church has in attendance on any given Sunday!
But is it enough? And, Christians, why are you not pouring your heart out before God when given the opportunity?!?
While the altar call is not really found in the Bible, there are some examples that show that an altar call is biblical. For example, Jesus publicly asked the disciples to follow Him immediately. And they did.
Later in the book of Matthew, we are told a new believer must acknowledge Christ “before men.”
We also see that when Peter gave his first sermon that thousands came to the Lord that day, which can denote some sort of altar call.
The danger comes in whether, especially with conversions, those conversions were real. Romans 10:9 explains that believing in your heart comes first, followed by a verbal confession. It is dangerous just to think that someone calls out to the Lord for saving that they are saved. Just look at Matthew 7:22.
Matthew 7:22 –On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
True salvation leads to continual sanctification as the fruit of the Spirit buds and grows inside the new believer. If there is no fruit, then there is no repentance.
But what about for the believer?
Every Sunday there are elders and prayer workers up front waiting for people to pray with. Why won’t people come forward?
We are called to leave our burdens at Jesus’ feet.
Without having a physical Jesus to do that with, we typically lay our burden at His feet through prayer.
This is very similar to what Hannah did in 1 & 2 Samuel.
1 Samuel 1:15 – But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.
Hannah poured herself out before God.
I imagine a pitcher of water.
The water are the burdens in our life, which is the pitcher. Think of how heavy that pitcher becomes when the burdens begin to fill the pitcher.
Then the altar call comes.
You sit in your seat, wondering when the service will be over so you can be first in the drive thru line at the fast food place. Meanwhile, all those burdens, and your already half-full pitcher, goes into next week where more burdens fill you up.
The next week you think that you have had enough, so you go to the altar and pray with an elder or prayer warrior.
But you don’t want to give it all out.
So you pour a little of the pitcher out at the feet of God.
You walk out of church feeling a little lighter, but still full from the previous weeks.
The next week comes and your burdens take you to the brink. You go into church on Sunday morning and just can’t even bring yourself to worship. You stand there while the music plays, staring blankly at the band. Then during prayer your mind is wandering across everything you have to accomplish. During the sermon you are making plans for the rest of the day and possibly the week.
Then the altar call comes.
You have a choice.
You can go down and unload. That would be doing what Hannah did by emptying herself before God. That will help give you clarity and direction throughout the upcoming week but realize that your pitcher will start accumulating water again.
Or, you could go down an release just enough burden to lighten your load a little, knowing that you will overflow with burdens the coming week.
But you have another choice.
You could go to the altar every Sunday and pour out your burdens before God every single Sunday. Going into a new week with an empty pitcher helps us to maintain sanity, but it keeps our perspective on the One who can remove our burdens completely.
So, this Sunday don’t let the altar be empty. Let’s always remember the tomb is empty, but the altar is filled with people who desire to pray with you and help you pour yourself out before God.
I love this! I have long felt the same way that many need to come to the altar. The altar is also a place of repentance for those of us who are saved. The chuch I came from the altar was always full and nobody was afraid to come to the altar for fear they would be judged by peoole seeing them at the altar. Why? Becsuse people in leaderdhip from Pastor’s on down would be the first st the altar to come forward for prayer or to knerl at the altar and you never see that in our church. It’s not just for salvation, for ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God! We should feel comfortable to come to the altar to meet with a Father who loves us in spite of ourselves. Even if they don’t come to one of us to pray they should feel comforatble to come kneel before the altar and pour thrir hearts out to the Lord. I also agree on the salvation part of this as well. Great article Fred. Also as a deacon in my former church we were given a list of names, phone numbers and addresses of our members and it was our responsibilty to call that person once a week for a month to pray wuth them, to see if there were other needs as well or go to the hospital to pray if needed then the following month the list rotated between us. People got to know the leadership by doing this and then felt comfortable to come to the altar as well. Leadership leads by example and people need to see sometimes there is no shame or embarrassment in coming to the altar. So again I love this relevant and timely article.