“… offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1 NIV).
Convenience. Sacrifice. Convenience feeds the flesh. Sacrifice feeds transformation. Convenience is self-love. Sacrifice is love of something greater than self. Decisions of convenience and sacrifice are observable, tangible witnesses to whether one loves self or something greater than self.
I had the opportunity to visit a religious island in China while visiting my wife’s family. On this island, the largest Buddha statue in all the world has been erected. It is so large that worshippers and visitors alike respond in awe. It is HUGE!
My flesh was amazed at the sheer size and magnitude of this work. But my spirit was deeply disturbed. Why? How could I be amazed on one hand and deeply pained on another? Well, the obvious explanation could simply be that, thanks to the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ in my life, I was looking at this statue with “eyes that see” and knew it to be an idol and a gateway to eternal separation from the one true God. However, I have a tendency to self-examine myself anytime I have an emotional or spiritual reaction to something. I am not satisfied with the obvious explanation. Though that explanation is fact…it was not the only reason the Holy Spirit was tugging at me in the moment. After more observation and reflection, I realized that God wanted me to take note of the various acts of worship occurring around me.
For those individuals that were there for worship, this religious icon was real. Their passion was nearly tangible. Their worship of this statue and all that it represented to them provided visual evidence of their faith. How did I know this? Because I witnessed these people intentionally sacrifice self for love of their god. Their acts of worship were most inconvenient. And yet, here were thousands of men, women, boys, and girls intentionally participating in acts designed to express their faith and their devotion.
These worshipers commuted to this island on a series of buses, subways, and ferries. Upon arrival, there were literally thousands of people in line patiently waiting to pray, light incense, offer fruit, or to toss various amounts of money into wells. People were climbing hundreds of stone steps to ascend to a holy place. Most notable was that, in spite of all these inconveniences, they worshipped with observable determination and acceptance of the expected sacrifice.
In this setting, the Holy Spirit convicted me. Considering my worship is not tethered to a specific time or space and that my worship is composed of the daily decisions and actions of my life, was I an example of a LIVING sacrifice? Was my worship a witness of passion for Christ or a witness of my passion for Christ when the externals met my personal preferences?
My worship lacked depth and transformational power, just like the worship occurring around me. Why? I was worshiping the true God…so why was my worship leaving me empty and unchanged? It was on this island that I realized my acts of worship lacked intentional and purposeful sacrifice and my body was not being presented to God in holiness as a result. My worship was more a witness of self-convenience, of duty, of tradition; not an offering of my body, my self. My worship of Christ, more often than not, occurred when external circumstances met my internal preferences. This is not worship of some ONE larger than me…it was worship of things and of me.
There, in the midst of countless powerless prayers, I offered a repentant prayer to Christ and my Father took me in His arms and affirmed me as His son.