If I were to talk about worship, you’d probably think about singing songs to God. And while that’s one way we can worship, it’s certainly not what worship is. Worship, at its core, is a life of surrender. The first time the word “worship” is used in the Bible is when Abraham gives up his most valuable treasure, his son Isaac. Do you know this story? God tells Abraham to sacrifice to Him, to sacrifice the greatest blessing he owned, the very one God was going to use to bless the whole world. And before the knife could come down upon Abraham’s promised son, the Lord stopped him, and provided a substitute. You see, what God was looking for in His son, Abraham, was not just words, not goats or rams, not money, not a new temple, but a contrite, meek heart, ready to trust and obey God, no matter what the cost. Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,/ A broken and a contrite heart—/ These, O God, You will not despise” (NKJV).
Worship. For Abraham, it meant giving up his son. It meant giving up any place resembling a home, becoming a vagabond, for the hope of an eternal home with God. For Moses, it meant giving up the ability to say “no” to God, a life of reckless abandonment even under tremendous stress. For King David, it meant abasing himself in front of an entire nation, throwing off his royal attire to dance and sing before God. For Jesus, it meant giving up everything. It meant leaving His throne in heaven to become a servant, being made the seed of a woman (Phil 2:7, Gen 3:15). It meant giving His own soul as a sin offering for God’s pleasure (Isaiah 53:10).
I have this suspicion that many Christians think of faith as something that makes them safe and comfortable. Ultimately, that’s true, since the only real, lasting safety and rest you can have is in heaven. On the other hand, you won’t find any example in the Bible of an earthly life without trials, weakness, pain… and you know what else to add to this list, because guess what? You’ve lived through it, and will continue to live through it until you’re no longer in this world. Unless you die denying God’s gift of salvation. Then you have much worse suffering to look forward to, and this world’s the best you’ll ever have. But in this world, faith is not something that makes you safe and comfortable. Take the example of Jesus and others in the Bible. Faith may drive you directly into center of this world’s persecution and suffering. Faith may cause the world to reject you. Faith may drive you into the midst of the searing flames. Faith may throw you into the den with lions. Faith may drive you to make the ultimate sacrifice, in the hope of an eternal reward with God.
Again, let’s look at Abraham’s example. God had just told him to sacrifice his son Isaac on the mountain. Before that, God told Abraham that He would make Abraham a “father of many nations” through his son, Isaac. And now, God was telling Abraham to kill him. What would you think? How many excuses would you come up with to do anything but trust and obey? You know what Abraham thought? “Abraham… offered up Isaac… his only begotten son… concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” (Hebrews 11:17-19, NKJV). Abraham had faith, committing his son to God. And not only did God let Abraham keep his son on earth, but in heaven forever. And if that wasn’t enough, it was through the lineage of Isaac that Jesus came into the world, by whom, we all have the opportunity to be a part of God’s eternal family, with Abraham, Isaac, and everybody else who kept faith in God’s promise. Worship always costs you, and the cost is not without a far greater reward, presently and eternally.
Practically, what you commit to God is your worship. It’s an obedient act of love. That could mean your mind, your time, your lips, your currency, your gifts and talents, etc… If you have time, a heart, and a mind, you are rich, and have much more to give than you know, but what you can give will be different for you than for your neighbor. You’re made differently. You’re holy. You have unique gifts and talents. Part of Paul’s worship was in building tents. And why not? It was a skill he had that he committed to God’s purposes. The same Apostle Paul God used to work unusual miracles, so that even his handkerchiefs and aprons were brought to the sick, and sickness left, demons fled! Can you imagine? You’re out working on building a shed, nailing boards together, when all of a sudden somebody runs to you, telling you someone’s sick and dying of cancer. No need to worry though, you have the Spirit of God living inside of you, a heart full of faith, and a nice, sweaty apron! “Take this and put it on them,” you say. Bye, bye, cancer!
You see, if even the clothes you wear are going to bring healing to a sick world, you need to establish a meeting place between you and God, where you can worship Him alone. Maybe for you it’s in the garden, in your closet, on a walk, praying, singing, crying, dancing, etc… Whatever, wherever, get alone with God. Be present with Him. Commit your heart to Him. And when you commit to prayer in the quiet place, it will start to spill over into the rest of your life. Prayer won’t just be a religious duty, it will be a lifestyle. Prayer won’t just be a long distance phone number you dial when you’re really desperate, you’ll be walking with Jesus everywhere. Instead of your distress throwing you into prayer, you’ll walk into the most distressing situations of your life already in prayer. Then, the quiet place of prayer will give way to the abiding place of prayer, where it’s not just part of your day committed to God, but your whole life lived in worship, even while you’re building tents! Then verses like “pray without ceasing,” and “be filled with the Spirit…singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always,” will not just be something to read, but something to live (1 Thess 5:16-8, Eph 5:18-20, NKJV).
Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God;/ And the firmament shows His handiwork. / Day unto day utters speech,/ And night unto night reveals knowledge./ There is no speech nor language/ Where their voice is not heard” (NKJV). I bet you thought they were all floating around up there doing nothing. Turns out, they never stop openly declaring God’s goodness to everyone! They’re praising God and magnifying His Name to all creation while they run their course. They’re submitting to God and revering Him in what He created them to do – worship. Nobody had to give them a hymn book to follow, or encourage them to revere Him. It’s in their design. And if you’re born again in spirit, worship is your design. Birds fly. Fish swim. Swim in the stream that God prepared for you. Fly in the sky that you were made for. You have a ministry and a calling. God created you, like the stars, to shine in the path you were created for.
Your obedience and submission to God’s will is your worship, a surrendered life. To be clear, obedience is following instruction. Submission is following instruction wholeheartedly. Both, however, are acts of worship. And love is not just a good feeling, it’s a commitment, an act of giving. Some Christians think they can’t worship God if they don’t feel like it. I think many think that if they don’t feel good, then God isn’t pleased with them. Come on, how many of us think we are so spiritual when we’re feeling good, and then God somehow stops loving us when something bad happens in our lives? Isn’t the world run by feelings? 1 John 2:16: “all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (NKJV). My translation: Every man without God’s restoration is totally consumed by: What his flesh wants, what his mind wants, and how pleased he is with himself. And these things don’t come from the Father.
But God has called you, beloved, to live by faith, and not by sight, emotions, nor other people’s (or even your own) opinions. God has called you to trust Him when it doesn’t seem right, to obey Him when it doesn’t feel right, and to worship Him when nothing’s going right. And He will make all things new, when you lift your hands to worship Him.