The Sacrifice of Worship
What is Worship?
I love our weekend services at FAC. I love seeing people connect with each other. I love watching people serve in the café, welcoming each other as greeters, or leading kids in DiscoveryLand. Personally, I love working with our musicians, making great music, and listening to all of us sing together. Yes – I love it when we worship together. It’s one of the primary reasons why I’m your Music Pastor. And that’s exactly the language I typically use to describe the primary activity of our weekend services … we “worship” together.
But honestly, maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I should be more cautious in using that phrase. Sometimes I wonder if – like so many other words today – through casual overuse we’ve inadvertently emptied the word “worship” of its deeper meaning. Have we trivialized it by focusing on its effect on us as opposed to its true substance? Worship is not about music or singing – not really – and it’s even less about how that activity makes me feel.
No. Worship is much deeper than that.
Transaction vs. Transfer
I recently had a conversation with a young man who has a job in sales. He’s passionate about it, and he’s good at it. His paycheque revolves around “making the deal”. Ideally, it’s a win-win transaction; both parties walk away with some kind of benefit. That’s great for a sales job, but it’s not necessarily a great model for life. In that worldview, people can become commodities, and relationships can become just a means to a self-serving end. It’s also not a helpful model for worship, but I’m afraid it’s often our default. “I so enjoyed worship this weekend,” is usually a commentary about how we felt during the service. It’s the same when we say or think, “I didn’t really get much out of worship today.” The focus is on us. In its purest form, worship is not transactional.
In keeping with all expressions of true love as defined in I Corinthians 13:5, worship is not self-seeking. At all. It’s a one-way transfer of value away from us and to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Worship is pointing away from who and what isn’t worthy to the only One who IS worthy. One of my favourite passages about worship is 2 Samuel 24:18-25. In short, King David wants to buy a threshing floor and some cattle from a local farmer, Araunah, and sacrifice them to the Lord. Araunah is respectful of the King, and in an effort to honour him, Araunah offers to give the requested items to the king free of charge. David refuses that kind and generous offer.
“But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.” (2 Samuel 24:24 NIV)
Perhaps a modern-day equivalent would be us going to church prepared to give our tithe as an expression of worship, and someone coming up to us and saying, “I’ve got you covered” and paying our tithe for us. That might be an expression of worship for them, but it would not be an expression of worship for us, because it didn’t actually cost us anything. There was no transfer of value.
The Point of it All
There’s a very important principle here that needs to be engraved onto our hearts so when the challenges of life erode the beautifully cultivated landscape that we desperately try to maintain (and often equate with the blessing of God), this principle is what serves as a solid foundation: God is always worthy of our worship, no matter what, and true worship is costly.
When we choose to plant a mustard seed of faith in the barren places, when we choose to lift our tearful eyes to Jesus, when we choose to bow our hearts in their most broken state, when we choose to trust His goodness while our life is literally falling apart, when we choose to forgive those who sin against us, when we choose to bless His name with blistered lips and the lifting up of arthritic wrists – then, my friends, we are much, much closer to a right understanding of true worship. When it’s hard. When it doesn’t make sense. When we don’t want to. When it costs us something.
Our Alliance church community was rocked this summer by a deep tragedy – 6 young men, all of whom were Christ-followers and most of whom were actively involved in ministry, were killed in a small plane crash. It is layers upon layers of senseless tragedy and endless questions. Two of the young men were engaged. One had just graduated from university. Three of them were married, one couple expecting their first child and two enjoying the new season of fatherhood. One of them, Jacob, had just had their first child.
I attended Jacob’s funeral, which was held at our Deerfoot Campus. It was a beautiful, terrible, bittersweet service. I was prepared for it to be emotionally charged but not for how it would impact my heart and spirit. At one point, Jacob’s father, Bob, got up out of his seat on the front row and went on the platform to share his tribute to his son. That might seem normal enough for a funeral, but this was different because Bob has a significant physical disability.
He’s had it for years, and it’s quite advanced in his body. He walks with crutch support all the time. This particular platform at our church is four steps up from the floor. It has narrow stairs with a railing on one side. There’s no ramp access. It’s at the front of our large sanctuary, and I’m sure there were nearly 1,000 people in attendance that afternoon. We all watched and cried in deafening silence as Bob ascended the platform. By himself. Struggling up each step. In front of everyone.
Step 1. Struggle. Step 2. Struggle. Step 3. Struggle.
And finally, a belaboured step 4, followed by shuffling over to the podium.
I’ve re-watched the video of the service and timed it – it took him a full 60 seconds to make the journey. I timed myself doing the same thing – 7 seconds. It took Bob nearly 10 times as long as me. Bob went on to give a beautiful tribute to his son. I remember very little about what he said. But I will never forget what he did. In that moment, I saw a love that was so strong and compelling that it had no regard for itself – at all. Bob would do anything for His son. ANYTHING. He would have struggled up 100 more steps in front of a million people. He would have climbed until his disabled legs buckled underneath the weight of his broken heart. And even then, he would’ve kept climbing on his hands and knees. I know he would have. That is the cost of love. That is the “worth” of worship.
In that moment, Bob poignantly demonstrated the life of Christ. Jesus is literally the embodiment of worship. He is the true worship leader for us all. His life of perfect obedience to the Father – His life of worship – didn’t result in “the blessed life” as we would define it in today’s church culture. Jesus’ life of worship led Him to the Cross. Think about that. His most profound worship experience was not singing a psalm of David surrounded by beautiful music and some of his best friends. It was His death. We often refer to Jesus’ death as the ultimate sacrifice, and it was. In that, it was also the greatest act of worship the world has ever seen.
So, what about you?
What has worship cost you lately?
This week? This past month? This year?
Our church is about a week away from a special “night of worship” called “Fill the Room”. We’re gathering to sing together and declare the greatness of God with our voices. I have no doubt we’ll experience the presence of the Lord. And I’m anticipating that we’ll have a wonderful and meaningful time together and be encouraged in our walk with Jesus. It’s a big deal for us. We’re even planning to do a live recording of it so we can hopefully share this experience with others afterward. But let’s be honest – it won’t cost us much. A little bit of time, maybe, but that’s about it. So perhaps it’s a bit misleading to call it a night of “worship.” Maybe we should call it a night of praise, or a night of gratitude, or a night of great music dedicated to Jesus.
We’ll all go home from “Fill the Room” back into our very ordinary, everyday lives. Our life experience, even later that night, will continue to vacillate between joy and sorrow, happiness and heartache, pleasure and pain. Maybe that’s when we’ll experience the real “night of worship.” As we once again stare down our hurt and brokenness, regret and loss, confusion and desperate need, and we offer all of that up to Christ as our worship. As we “die daily” to our own will and desires and say “yes” to God’s will and way. As we raise a costly “hallelujah” in the middle of it all.
Because He is worthy, and we will not give to the Lord that which costs us nothing.
Written by David Klob, Music Pastor at First Alliance Church
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