You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your might.
– Deuteronomy 6:5
This last weekend, Easter Sunday, many entered through the doors of a church building. They smiled, shook a hand, apologized for stepping in front of someone already sitting in a pew, and found themselves in attendance at an event called a worship service.
However, there were some this past Sunday, and actually every Sunday, that entered a church and experienced nothing of worship. After the service, they tucked a bulletin in their pocket or purse, and left more concerned with a rumbling stomach than the famished state of their heart.
Why do I think this? Why do I say some attended a worship service, yet never worship? Well, perhaps we will find an answer if we take a look at what worship is.
Worship is a matter of the heart.
Let’s start with asking a question, what does the word worship mean? The term actually comes from an old English word weorthscipe, which means the act of ascribing worth to something.
This is really interesting to me. Worship of something is a declaration of something’s worth to you. What is interesting about this is that it takes the experience of worship out of a ceremonial ritual that happens in a specific place, and makes it personal. When you see worship as an act of you declaring what is of value to you, you find that it is happening all the time and everywhere you go.
Think about these illustrations. If someone offered you a quartz stone, and another offered you a flawless diamond. Which would you choose? Of course you would choose the diamond, because it is rare, beautiful, and valuable.
If you were in the desert and in desperate need of water and you found two canteens: one was broken and empty, and the other one was full of water. Which would have more worth to you? Obviously it is the one that could keep you alive.
If you were hungry, and someone offered you a single cracker, but then someone offered you a three-course meal, you would choose the meal because it is more satisfying.
While these examples are physical things, they show us we make choices that reject one thing and accept another based on a greater value or a stronger desire. This is the essence of worship, choosing one thing over another because it has more value to you. One meets your needs more than another.
That is why for the Christian, worship of God is not just a weekly event, but takes place in our hearts every time we choose God over anything. It is when our life is guided by a true belief that God is more valuable, sustaining, and satisfying, that we are engaging in worship of him.
We worship through sacrifice.
The fact that we worship what satisfies us is most vividly shown through the idea of sacrifice.
We give up, lay down, avoid, put away and forsake, things that are of lesser value to us so that we may take up, pursue, embrace, love, and enjoy things that do satisfy us. As believers, we sacrifice the things that are lesser, for the One who is greater.
We see this picture dramatically displayed in the Old Testament, where the first time the word worship is used in the Bible, in Genesis 22.
Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” – Genesis 22:5-15
This is so hard for us to understand. Abraham was taking his son, the very son God had promised to him, and would lay him on an altar to sacrifice. And this act is called worship. Isaac was no doubt precious to his father, but don’t miss this, it was not that Abraham had little value of Isaac, but that he had greater value of God!
To look into the face of your child, and say in the depth of your heart that God is more valuable and precious to me than them, is not an easy thing. Our culture does not teach that, but Jesus did. In fact, he said that if that is not in your heart, then you do not belong to him.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. – Matt 10:37
Let us be clear here. This is not a call to child abandonment; instead this is a call to a God-glorifying surrender of all your affections to Christ. Sadly, when we read the story of Abraham from Genesis 22, or Matthew 10:37, our first reaction is shock of the seemingly diminished value of a child or family member. However, that is NOT what is on display here. Instead, it is a display that while those people are precious to you, (and they should be) God is still more valuable and satisfying.
We can sacrifice anything, because we have everything.
So how do we worship like this? How do we lay everything on the altar, including ourselves, (Matthew 16:24-25) that we might express the all-satisfying worth of God? We do it by seeing that we can give up anything, because God is everything we need, and he has given us himself.
When we read the story of Abraham in Gen 22, we see God stopping Abraham from killing his son. However, years later, God’s own son would travel up a hill, trusting his Father, carrying wood on his back. But this time, the knife would not be stopped.
The death we deserved and earned because of our sin, our sin of loving something more than God, was endured and suffered by Christ. He died in our place.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:10
Jesus, like the ram caught in the thorns, took our place in death that we might be reunited with the Father, just as Isaac was reunited with Abraham. Therefore we can say with the Psalmist:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:25-26
And we can answer Paul’s charge in Romans:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. – Romans 12:1
You were not created to be satisfied by anything in this world, instead you were made to be satisfied by the Maker of this world, and it is Christ who died to reconcile you to him.
It is because God did not withhold the knife from his Son, that we are able to not withhold it from anything that would take God’s place in our lives.
The reason you can give up everything in worship to him is because he has given you everything you need. He has given himself. So surrender to him, and find a life full of joy in declaring the value of God in worship.