Water on the altar

I’ve never liked hype, especially in Christian things.

‘Do I hear an Amen to that?’ yells the preacher when he’s said something he thinks deserves one.

‘Amen!’ the congregation dutifully responds. But not me. Yes, I do interject the odd ‘Amen’ from time to time, but only when I feel a strong urge to do so, and so far that has never coincided with a preacher’s prompt.

water on altarIn fact, any attempt to manipulate a congregation’s emotions turns me right off. A preacher may, for instance,  inject into his voice a pseudo-emotional tremble when he comes to a key sentence, especially if he’s arrived at the compulsory (for some) end-of-meeting appeal. People around me gasp and go all ‘spiritual’, but I feel like groaning, and sometimes I actually do. Or the worship-leader insists that we sing that song again for the twentieth time, but this time on our knees. We all know that endless repetition can numb the mind and produce an altered state of consciousness. It’s hype.

For me, that sort of thing tells me it’s time to exit and visit the toilet. ‘Stop messing with people!’ I want to shout. ‘If God wants to do something exceptional here he’s big enough to do it by himself. He doesn’t need your pathetic help!’ I don’t say it out loud, of course, but I’ve been sorely tempted.

I’ve come to see that the supernatural is, for the most part, delightfully ‘natural’. It happens in the midst of the normal and the routine, when no-one is hyped up or glassy-eyed. Some have even entertained angels without realising it.

So when, at the end of a meeting, I sense a reluctance in most people to rise from their seats and join the coffee-queue, I feel a strong urge to be the first to rise, wander casually to the back of the room and say, ‘All right, Fred?’ to Fred. Later, I hear people say things like, ‘What an unusual sense of God’s presence there was at the end of the meeting, wasn’t there? Nobody wanted to leave their seats.’

Nobody, it seems, except me. Because I don’t think it was really anything to do with a ‘sense of God’s presence’ at all. Maybe some were chewing over what had been preached, which is good. But it was, I think, more a social and psychological phenomenon of some kind than the Holy Spirit at work in any special way—and it could have been triggered by the pseudo-tremble in the preacher’s last sentence or two.

In the light of the above confession I was happy to find, in reading 1 Kings 18, that the great prophet Elijah had his feet firmly on the ground when it came to things supernatural. He didn’t like hype any more than I do. That chapter, of course, describes his great confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. It was a contest: whoever’s god brought down fire to consume the sacrifice on the altar would be seen to be the true god.

The prophets of Baal went first. And, boy, were they into hype! They danced themselves into a semi-trance, cavorting round the altar. They cut themselves till they bled and indulged in lots of ‘frantic prophesying’. They no doubt felt ‘the presence of Baal’ in a big way. But unfortunately the fire didn’t fall; the real supernatural didn’t show up.

Then it was Elijah’s turn. You could understand it if he had tried to help God along a bit, taking a few steps to ensure a good fire. He could have chosen only the driest of wood. He could have hidden a few firelighters in among it. He could have secreted a box of matches up his sleeve. He could have stationed one of his supporters nearby with a lens to focus the sun’s rays on the tinder that he had tucked in among the sticks.

But no, he wasn’t having any such nonsense. More than that, in fact, he did everything possible to kill any hype and ensure that God would be seen to send the fire himself: he had twelve ‘large jars’ of water emptied over the sacrifice and the wood!

Water on the altar—I love that! In fact, had I been there to see it I’d probably have shouted an unsolicited ‘Amen!’

4 Responses to Water on the altar

  1. sue wingfield says:



  2. Ian Deakin says:

    Wow! I love it, you are so right. Perhaps why some don’t experience the supernatural normal life style because they are just too busy trying to fabricate what they lack.


  3. Steve Noblett says:

    Fully agreed…in spite of having been the preacher with the trembling voice on occasion, (not proud of that). Reality beats hype every time. We were taught years ago that sometimes we needed to “help” the people come to a place of faith and encounter. There is something legitimate about that, but it has mostly gone all wrong.

    I’ve met a few guys that come off as “hype”, but as you get to know them, they are real. Praise God for rare exceptions.

    One of my favorite quotes was one you shared at Covenant College when you told about a friend who visited the cathedral in York. He asked you if you were not deeply moved by the structure, and your response was “its a gigantic irrelevance”. I have used that quote about a number of meetings / activities / light shows and smoke machines (used by the music teams at mega churches), etc. Bono said in a recent interview, “religion is what you get when God has left the building”. Gigantic irrelevance.

    Genuine and sacrificial > energy and volume. Knowing God > knowing theology. Obedience > excitement. And the true test of the value of a meeting can only be measured in the lasting fruit it produces in people’s lives.

    Keep preaching/teaching it!


  4. Dick syms says:

    Good one David Yes, i also wonder what the magic is in ‘Coming down to the front/ stage/pulpit’ as though the Lord can’t reach you where you sit/stand. An appeal at the beginning of the Word/talk/sermon would be refreshing, as sometimes God moves on folk during the worship!


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