The Altar to an Unknown God

Acts chapter seventeen depicts the apostle Paul’s time in Athens, including a sermon he gave at Mars Hill. At the time, Athens was a major cultural hub. Paul notes that they are also a very religious people, saying that he has spent time studying the religious objects in the city. He calls attention to one, in particular, an altar with the inscription “to an unknown God.

We are homesick in ways that our souls are unable to utter. We yearn for more, whatever more looks like.

Musician Lisa Gungor sings of wandering through the world, looking for an anchor, a love that will set her free. I wonder, how long have I been searching for the same thing, with the answer right in front of me. I believe that worship is part of all of our lives, whether or not we choose to recognize it as such. We earnestly seek the glory of Hollywood, the perfect body shape, money, relationships, success, power, and sex. These are the things that carry weight in our lives. The Greek word for glory, kabod, translates to “to give weight to.” If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. Its easy to get carried away with the idea that these things will make our lives better. But are they really freeing?

Christ told the woman at the well that she worshipped that which she did not know. Paul calls this worshipping in ignorance, and  goes on to say that the Creator of the universe cannot be contained in a temple built by flesh and blood. Moreover, this God, who gives life and breath to all, has determined the course of our lives so that we might find Him.

Is that not the crux of the entirety of scripture? Even in our darkest hour, when it seemed that all hope was lost -- we were being held, and beckoned into the residence of this Goodness.

Perhaps I have been fumbling about my life in the same way, worshipping a God confined to a box with a steeple. Perhaps I’ve made assumptions about God, as if I was in a position to pass judgment on Him,  and have been entirely wrong. Its no secret that carrying on a relationship with someone that you can’t physically see or hear or touch is difficult. But scripture convicts that we have no excuse for not worshipping.

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome tells us that there is evidence of God everywhere. Our Father invites us to encounter Him in our small, everyday moments. But letting Him in is a choice, one to be made every day. Perhaps a large portion of our difficulty comes from the fact that He told us there would be trouble. He warned that there was no instant fix to life’s pain, and that, at times, can be frightening and even infuriating.

So what in the world, what in all this bleak and hurting world can we do?

Coming to the AltarLinking up with The Nester and a host of other amazing bloggers for {31 Days}.

Five Minute Friday | Worship

I have considered myself a Christian for the better part of two decades now. I've seen everything from liturgical to pentecostal worship, and heard around a thousand sermons. But only in the past few years have I begun to understand the gravity of worship, and allowing myself to experience the full spectrum of emotion in the presence of a God who knit me. The cancer had taken over his once strong body, leaving little but a skeleton and a hope that barely flickered. We found out just after Christmas, and the following night, I was physically unable to stand in the worship service I attended. I knelt in the floor, releasing any semblance of pride I attempted to carry in the door. Face buried in the pew, I wept. My heart heaved the deepest pain I had ever felt at the injustice of it all. How could a loving God make us face this?

I was furious and confused, and worship didn't come easily. Not for months. But the same breath that spoke my willingness to abandon everything I knew also pleaded for the touch of grace.

It was only his words, blogged on a site used to connect loved ones when a family member is terminally ill, that gently guided me back to the altar: I want all of you who love me to know that my heart is full. I am often angry or disconcerted with how life seems to unfold so unjustly, but I am filled with the love of God, in some way that I do not fully understand. 

I slowly came to understand that regardless of whether or not God intervened to heal, He was still good. He fills the empty spaces of our souls.

In death, in life, I'm confident and covered by the power of Your great love. 

My friend Jonathan knew it, too. I miss him dearly, and still find myself wishing that I knew him better when he was alive. I also don't know God as well as I would like to, but I'm sure that wherever God is, Jonathan is there, too, and his bones no longer ache with the weight of cancer.

Something in me changed when Jonathan got sick, and eventually left this earth. Perhaps it takes walking through a desert, experiencing the fire, to learn worship. Perhaps it takes losing something you hold dear in order to brush up against the sovereignty of God. I have no doubt that He grieved alongside Jonathan's loved ones, this God who watched His son hang bloody on a cross. I marvel that He knows the inner workings of our hearts and chooses to share our joy and our pain.

Pssst! Want a peek at my worship playlist on Spotify? As I wrote, I listened to Meredith Andrews, Hillsong, Matt Redman, All Sons & Daughters, Elevation Worship, and Bethel Worship.