By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac; yea, he that gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; even he of whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
Hebrews 11: 17
We can appreciate what Abraham might have said. He might have argued that, whereas he could understand the command to expel Ishmael, this new order, not merely to expel but to slay Issac, was quite incomprehensible. Ishmael had been the result of his own misdirected efforts. He could therefore respect the decision that he be turned out of the home. But Issac! Isaac was different! He was entirely from God, given not merely to satisfy Abraham’s love for a son but to be the means of fulfilling all God’s pledged purposes. What could God do if Issac were relinquished?
However, Abraham had learned not to reason. He made no protest at all, he did not even speak of sacrifice, he simply said he would go to Mount Moriah to worship. And true worship is just that- to let go to God all his gifts to us, all our rich experiences and all our hopes in him, and to find unqualified joy in God himself.
There are numerous stories in the Bible that aptly tell of worship. Certainly the scenes pictured in Revelation of the hosts surrounding the throne of God tell of worship and most of us are very familiar with the story of Jesus riding to Jerusalem and the people throwing their coats and palm branches down before Him and shouting, “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
But I’d like to share three short stories, two from the life of David and one that occurred with Christ.
In David’s story, we find him bringing home the Ark of the Covenant- this time the proper way. It had been a long hard journey for every 18 feet, the priest had stopped and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving. At last they entered into Jerusalem. The overwhelming joy surged through David at the thought that at long last, the Ark which represented the presence of God had once again come home to Israel. I don’t think it was the Ark as much as it was the presence of God that overwhelmed David. It certainly wasn’t a feeling of accomplishment or something that would exalt David to some elevated status. David’s joy wasn’t for himself but that once again God would be worshipped fully. After the long journey, the priest who had been carrying the Ark- and it was heavy- no doubt we’re glad to set it at rest. But, no, David says, we’re not finished. Build a tabernacle- nothing fancy, just some poles planted and a brush roof- but a place of worship nonetheless. Day and night, surrounding the Ark was the priests and Levites in courses of 24, worshipping, singing praises unto God, and offering sacrifices. At any time, even during the night, if David woke from sleep, he could hear the singing and worship taking place. That day as they came into the city with the Ark, David overcome with the awesomeness of God and His goodness and mercy had danced in the streets of Jerusalem with all his might. Here was no king with a taste for pomp and circumstance. Instead, once again a little shepherd boy was lifting up his voice in praise and adoration. There was no request for the blessings of God or a prayer bring needs before Him. There was no expressed desire for something to satisfy some human need. All that was in focus was pure worship.
The second story is one that demonstrates the attitude of worship. It seems that David and his warriors were in battle. As the day wore on, the heat and exhaustion brought David to a place of thirst. He expressed our loud a longing for a drink of water from the spring. However, that spring was in enemy territory and impossible to reach. One of David’s men heard the desire of his king and without hesitation crawled through enemy lines and brought David a cup of water. That act so moved David as he saw the true meaning of love and loyalty, he poured out the water as an offering to the Lord as a sacrifice. That act of love was too precious for David to accept as a personal gift. He felt that only the Lord was worthy of such. David once again defined worship for us as an act that solely honors and exalts God and not something designed to benefit humans. Far too often our “worship services” are designed to benefit us more than to worship God. We often gather for what we can receive rather than to join in with worship with other believers. For many church is defined by what it does for them rather than how we are called to worship the Lord. The question that is often asked is, “What did you get out of the service today?” rather than, “Wasn’t it a delight to worship the Lord today?” Perhaps rather than making it about we we get, it ought to be what did Christ receive from us.
The third story is found in the Gospels. Actually it’s two stories that occurred in two different homes and towns. In one of the stories, Mary the sister of Lazarus paints the picture of worship. In the second, an unnamed woman enters the house of Simon the Pharisee to worship Jesus. The similarities of both stories have led some to think they’re the same story, but then any story of true worship has similar characteristics. What we find common in stories of true worship is that in every case the worshipper has no hidden motive, no agenda and no requests. It’s a matter of gratitude, honor, and adoration. These women bring to Jesus their very best offering. Beyond the box of ointment, which itself is incredibly expensive. Some say a year’s wages and others say it was their life savings. Which ever it was, it was all they possessed and they were pouring it out upon the Lord. They weren’t giving just a portion and keeping some for themselves. They weren’t using it to bribe Jesus to fulfill a request. The ointment was poured over his head as they recognized Him as their King, and over His feet as they bowed before Him, declaring themselves His devoted servants.
But far beyond the breaking of ointment was their other costly acts of worship. Unashamedly and in a public place, these women washed the feet of Jesus with their tears- tears that revealed their deepest emotions- and dried them with their hair- which scripture describes as the woman’s “glory.”
True worship is an emptying of self and selfish desires. It is the Abraham who is defining worship as bringing his beloved son and giving him back to God. It is the priest after a long arduous journey continuing to sing and worship around the Ark. It is David who lays aside the dignity and formality expected if a king to dance with wild abandon as expression of worship and thanksgiving to the Lord. It is two women who brave their surroundings, press through the social norms, to bow at the feet of Jesus and worship. True worship is costly for it requires us to forget self and overlook the reactions of others as they observe our expressions of worship. It is an act of individualism, for each person must decide for themselves how they will worship. Abraham left the servant behind as he continued to the mount of sacrificial worship. The priests and Levites had to press past their physical exhaustion and offer their tired bodies as instruments of worship. David has to endure the scorn and ridicule of his wife who accused him of making a spectacle of himself. The women has to move beyond the customs of the day and the cynical response to their extravagance.
So what about you and I? What are we keeping back? What are we withholding from the Lord? What is hindering us from offering true worship? Is it fear, doubt, or peer pressure? Is it pride, selfishness, or ingratitude? Whatever it is, let us choose to let go to God all we are and all we have, and worship.
Dr. John Thompson