In the first several chapters of Leviticus, Moses is busy recording the details of the Law for the priests and the people to follow. There were several choices of offerings depending on the situation, but most involved killing an animal and sprinkling its blood on or at the base of the altar.
In Leviticus 6, God lays out the job description for Aaron the priest. Among other things, his job was to lay the burnt offering on the altar every morning and stoke the fire with wood to keep it burning. It leaves you wondering why it was so important to make sure that the fire never went out.
In a very real way, the offering represented the people. When placed on the altar as a sacrifice, it acted as a mediator to restore them to right relationship with God. In the New Testament, the Ultimate Sacrifice was and is Jesus, but the Apostle Paul describes another sacrificial offering in the book of Romans.
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship.
Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you]. (Romans 12:1-2, Amplified)
I’ve known many people who willingly gave up everything to follow Christ, but there was one thing that still needed to be placed on the altar: themselves. It’s relatively easy to give up your home, your car and your means of income to go to another country and serve God in missions. I’ve done that more than once. But placing yourself on the altar is an entirely different matter altogether.
It means giving up your plans, your dreams, your ambitions, your desires and your goals and dying to them completely. I remember meeting with a youth pastor and his wife over dinner and asking them if they would be willing to give up everything to move to Canada and help me with a church plant. They told me that their hearts’ desire was to own a large piece of land and have a farm while serving in the ministry and they just couldn’t see themselves moving to a city where there was little space for much more than a garden. They reasoned that since “God gives you the desires of your heart,” it couldn’t possibly be His will since it didn’t jive with their plans. I can’t judge them, but I do know that sometimes, even often, God asks us to do things that don’t line up with our dreams and desires. The question is always “Are you willing?”
Keeping the fire burning in Leviticus raises another question of whether or not the altar test is a one-time event or if we should leave ourselves there indefinitely. God asked Abraham to place his son on the altar and we don’t see Abraham even raising an eyebrow. Instead of arguing or reasoning with God, he got up the next morning, packed a lunch and made the journey to Mount Sinai. God stopped him at the exact moment that Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, not a moment sooner. It was a test to see if Abraham trusted God without question.
If God asked you to place your life on the altar with no guarantee as to which way it would go, what would you do? If you’re holding onto a destructive relationship because you’re afraid to be alone, put it on the altar. God wants to make you healthy and whole and bring someone healthy and whole into your life in His timing.
If you’re holding on to a job that is affecting your health but you’re afraid to let go of the security it gives you, put it on the altar. God can open a door to a new job that’s better suited to your gifts, skills and abilities.
If you have a dream that you’ve been trying to make happen for years and you don’t know why you can’t seem to reach it, put it on the altar. God may have a few adjustments or a new dream altogether that’s far better than the one you had for yourself. You can trust God with the outcome.
Placing yourself on the altar is an act of faith. You’re vulnerable. You’re no longer in control. But instead of doing your own thing like everyone else, you’re placing your entire life in His hands. His plan is good because He is good. As you submit your plans, dreams, desires and goals to Him and allow them to pass through the filter of God’s perfect will, then you will not only know, but be able to move forward with confidence to fulfill His plan for your life. The question is, “Are you willing?”