When our Altars Become our Idols

If you ever get the chance to visit the Canadian Rockies you need to take it.   

Sweeping vistas of jagged, snow capped rocks will have you craning your neck to find the mountain peaks.

If you’re in Edmonton Alberta like we were this past summer, you need to head due west on the Yellowhead Trail to make it to Jasper.  It’ll take you about 4 hours.  Good tunes, company and a great book will help pass the time.  For the first three hours  you’ll notice nothing spectacular or particularly stunning about the landscape.

There’ll be wooded land, lots of wire fencing and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a yellow ocean of canola flowers waving to and fro in the moderate breeze of an Alberta summer.



Suddenly, you’ll sense their presence, their rugged majesty will pull you out of your book.  Before you know it you’ll crest the hill just outside of Hinton, where you stopped for gas, and your breath will catch on a gasp.

They’re still miles away, but they are the only thing you can see.  The music goes off, you sit a little taller in your seat and the car becomes silent.  They beg reverence.  Only the Creator could do this.

Only He could stun a person into silence and awe with rock. 




They rise like altars out of the landscape.   Rugged, majestic, unsullied altars.

“An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen.  In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.”  Exodus 20:24 ESV 

It wasn’t until long after we returned home from our summer vacation that those Jasper vistas found me again in the pages of Exodus.  The mountains came to me here in this little corner of the World Wide Web and I realized that for a long time now the writing I started as an altar became writing that was my idol.

God had given me the words I needed to sacrifice everything on a beautiful and rugged altar.  He gave me strength to face some of the hardest moments of my life.  He showed me how my past tears and pain actually gave way to an achingly beautiful story I get to live. 

When I first started writing it was because I couldn’t NOT write.  He called me to push a pen over pages in my journal and press down on keys on a tired Lenovo laptop. With each word, each sentence He met me in my sacrifice and blessed me.  It was here in this space, on this altar,  that He met me and healed me. 

But, something happened along the way.  Somewhere I stopped writing because I needed to and started writing because I felt I had to.  I started writing and my altar became buried under self-imposed expectations and comparison with others.

So I began shaping this place to maximize readership and to increase traffic.  I planned giveaways and checked my emails and Social Media hourly to see if anyone had commented or shared.  I began writing in this place because maybe, just maybe ONE person with any kind of push or pull anywhere might stand up and notice that I had talent.

Chisel in hand I hacked away at the corners, I began to create a space that had everything to do with me and nothing to do with God.  I carved for myself a measuring stick of comparison.  Everything I began to lay on that altar became about how I could be better and do better.

My altar became my idol. 

“If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.”  Exodus 20:25 ESV 


My own desires, my expectations, my agenda sullied the very purpose of this gift God had given me.   The perfection of what He had given me could not compare to the improvements I thought I was making.

I got in the way.

The words became harder to get out.  The comparison bred depression and I drowned myself in my desire for acclamation.

Eventually I stopped.  I stopped writing.  I stopped noticing God in those everyday moments.  I stopped seeing words as my sacrifice and started seeing them as my prison.

These past few months the words here have been sparse because I asked God to dismantle my platform.  I asked Him to destroy my idol and replace it with encounters with Him. I asked Him to help me find the uncut stones that will serve as the foundation of my altar.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve always longed for and felt God calling me to have this space be a place for authentic community and communion.  The only way I can see that happening is less.  Less time contriving my soul and more time pouring it out.

More time pouring out my soul on His beautiful, rugged and perfect altar. 





  1. Beautiful, honest look into your soul. It’s sometimes hard to discern when the altar morphs into the idol. Thank you for sharing your story that helps us look closely at our own.

    • Deb – thank you for hearing my heart friend. I am so grateful that God used His creation and that He kindly led me to repentance. Praying for both us friend – that we will encounter Him in every aspect of our lives.

  2. You and me both want to be more useful to Him than to ourselves and our own agenda. So grateful for late nights on corner sofas talking about what that looks like. Grateful for you, Tonya.

    • It was a powerful moment to be sure friend. I thank God everyday for the beauty and honesty of your words. They were a game changer for me! Here’s to more late night sofa discussions! Love you!

  3. Comparison does indeed breed depression. Such wise words you’ve offered up here! I find it a continual push/pull between writing for the sake of the story (His, not just mine) and writing for the sake of the “fame” however fleeting and shallow. How to write from the heart and not just shout, “Look at me!” is something I aspire to do.

    • It’s a constant way of life friend… this laying low, so very, very low. He is so full of grace and the gentle way He leads us to repentance time and time and time again always astounds me. Praying for both of us friend that we will find Him, ENCOUNTER Him in every nook and cranny of our lives.

  4. karrileea

    Oh my friend… this is holy ground right here! I love you so!

  5. I have nothing I can say to this except Amen !! Your words have beautifully voiced my struggle. I thank you so much for your honesty. I love you !!

  6. With you, friend. Learning always, that it’s all about Him, by Him and for Him. I love you.

    • It is a daily lesson isn’t it? I am so grateful for His infinite patience as it seems to be a daily lesson that I struggle to grasp. I thank God for you my friend… I thank Him daily for how He has used you in my life.

  7. Beautiful, Tonya! I also long for more pouring out of my soul on His altar. Thank you for your honesty and this glimpse into your soul!

  8. Oh sweet lady! So glad our paths connected at Allume! Thank you for your transparency here. I have written less since October due to fear and feelings of “I’m not a writer” and an overwhelming pressure that Im doing it all wrong. This was such a good reminder of why I started. I love your heart. Keep writing.

Leave a Reply