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What is Worship?

Therefore,  I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12.1

What is worship? I suppose most people would say it is what folk do when they go to church … standing, sitting, kneeling, possibly raising hands and/or dancing as they sing hymns, participate in the liturgy, and pray. But here, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul defines it quite differently. He says that it is offering our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — or, if we are true to the Greek text, offering our bodies as sacrifices that are living, holy and pleasing to God. His point seems to be that in the temple worship of his day you offered an animal in place of yourself on the altar and it was dead by the time it got there; but true worship is when you put yourself on the altar, not dead but completely alive in Christ! In The Message Eugene Peterson paraphrases it like this: “Take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life — and place it before God as an offering.”

It is sometimes said that the way to understand the fundamental meaning of any term in the Bible is to look at where it is first used. That certainly works for this word “worship”. The Hebrew word shachah is first used in Genesis 22.5. There, Abraham tells his servants to stay put while he and his son Isaac go to worship on Mount Moriah; but what Abraham is going to do is to place his living son Isaac on an altar as a burnt offering to God. Worship is sacrifice, offering … a giving of all we are and have to God. And if, when we sit, kneel, stand, sing hymns and pray etc, that is what we are doing, then, yes, we are worshipping; but if there is no giving of ourselves to God then all our sitting, kneeling, standing and singing is just that and nothing more.

Lord Jesus, help me to climb onto the altar now and give myself afresh to you … and help me too to stay there, please, and not slip off before the day is done! Amen.

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