What’s worship really made of? Is it a list of pre-planned songs we sing at our Sunday morning services? Or is it our devotion to diligent Bible study and prayer? Or is it so sacred and beautiful that it’s hard to define? I’ve been asking myself those questions these days because my life has taken a turn in a direction I never expected. Let me back up so I can paint the picture for you.
I used to be a traveling worship leader and Christian music artist. In those days, the essence of worship meant singing mostly. I thought worship was all about congregational singing, as well as my own private singing unto the Lord, and of course, church attendance. Our lives were full of sacrifices and discomfort as we led worship services on very little sleep or convenience sometimes.
It was a dream of mine since childhood to write and share the music God gave me with the church at large. I got to live that dream out for a few years. But then, life for my husband and myself changed dramatically. Within one year, we closed our business, church that we pastored and eventually my dream ministry crumbled. It was overwhelmingly challenging to pick up the pieces of my broken life and move on. But somehow, by God’s grace I pressed on to the next season.
That season involved a banking career that served to polish some of the rough places in me. I refer to that time as a providential prison. I felt trapped and I couldn’t escape no matter how hard I tried. Perhaps you have been in one or currently find yourself there. If so, hold on because God has a purpose for you there.
One of the things I truly learned in my prison season of confinement was the foundational truths about worship. It’s more than a song, more than a religious service, more than a script we follow. Worship is a complete and total lifestyle that flows from a heart of adoration fueled by obedience. Simply put: we worship God by being obedient in whatever He tells us. It’s how we express our love for Him and to Him.
I want to back this up by looking at Abraham’s life of obedience and worship. After 25 years of waiting on the promise, God gives Abraham a son. I can only imagine the tears of joy Abraham and Sarah shed over their bouncing baby boy. I’m sure Abraham carried a gleam in his eye when he met new people and said, “That’s my boy, Isaac” with a lump in his throat and a shaky voice. “We waited a long time for him!”
I’m sure fatherly pride spilled over into everyday life when Isaac did even small things well, like watering the sheep, or cleaning up their pens. Abraham probably went overboard with his parental praise of Isaac. How could he not? Isaac was the child of promise. To say Abraham was a doting parent would probably be an understatement. Wouldn’t we all feel that way?
So we can all feel the stab of pain in Abraham’s heart when God issues the strong command in Genesis:
Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.
“Whom you love so much”........
Whom you waited so long for.....whom you cried over for many years.......your pride and joy.........your promise
Has God ever asked you to take the very thing He gave you and lay it down on the altar as a sacrifice? Perhaps a ministry that you care deeply about and waited for a very long time for? Or maybe it was a career you loved and you were at the top of the world there? What about a relationship you thought He brought into your life that was a promise fulfilled? But now He is asking you to put it on His brazen altar.
Friends I have been here. Actually, I am here right now. It’s not easy and it doesn’t make sense. But this is the essence of true worship: obedience flowing from a heart in adoration of God.
Abraham defines his act of obedience as worship:
The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”
Abraham didn’t say he and Isaac were going to sacrifice an offering, he said “we are going to worship.”
We can make sacrifices all day long to try and show God our love and devotion, but that’s not worship. Those are nice and all, but it is obedience that moves God’s heart. Think for a minute about Saul when he refused to wait on Samuel to make the sacrifice but took matters into His own hands and made the sacrifice. He thought (as we mistakenly do sometimes) that God would honor the sacrifice because it cost him something and showed his piety and earnestness toward God. But as we all know, God was angry and declared that He would remove the kingdom from Saul. And just 2 chapters later Samuel says this:
Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.
And with those words he pronounces judgment and the removal of the kingdom from Saul. Sacrifice is not always worship friends; obedience is.
I believe the reason God chose David over Saul was his heart of obedience and worship. Yes he made mistakes, but his track record of obedience is quite astounding. He rarely EVER prematurely acted without a word from the Lord and then he always followed through with swift obedience. That’s why God referred to him as “a man after my own heart.”
Friends, just because something seems sacrificial and hard doesn’t make it the thing God wants from you. Sometimes whatever God is asking of you might involve sacrifice (like it did with Abraham) but even in that He provides what is needed! Just like he did with Abraham and the ram caught in the bushes, which by the way was a symbolic foreshadowing of Jesus, God will provide the sacrifice. Your act of worship is the obedience part. But sometimes God may be calling you to a quiet life of a wife and Godly mother to your children, but you really wanted a platform ministry. So you think sacrificing, staying up late, working really hard to get opportunities is what God wants from you and that it’s your duty to build this ministry, career, etc. But what if God is calling you to obedience to focus on your spouse and children right now? Can you do that?
The truth is that when you obey God to lay down your own ideas of sacrificing for Him and instead obey Him, He considers that worship! And He blesses and honors that. You will have the privilege of experiencing His presence in such a powerful way. In all of my years on this earth, no calling or success has ever compared to experiencing His powerful and beautiful presence in my life.
When I truly worship, I encounter the living God who fills me with such love I become undone. Let me give you my real life example, if you would be so kind to hear me out.
A couple of months ago, a group of us felt the call to start a prayer room. Within a month we were hosting multiple worship and intercession sets during the week and I was helping lead several of them. I enjoyed it immensely, but it was a sacrifice. Some of the sets were at 5am. We were interceding for our communities, churches, nation, the world etc.
I thought that God must be pleased with our sacrifice, surely. But then I started to feel a tug at my heart. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I wasn’t being a caring wife or mother. I was so focused on the prayer room that my family was getting crumbs from me.
The tug on my heart started to turn into overwhelming conviction. My husband works out of town and rarely comes home. I decided to decrease my outside ministry drastically and go be with him several times a month. I did it because I love him of course, but also because I felt the Lord issue a command to me. As a wife and mother, I feel my primary calling is to help my husband and care for my daughter as well. So I am obeying the Lord and focusing on my family.
That’s worship to the Lord, friends. It’s a beautiful, sweet smelling scent that is rising up to Him. Don’t cave in to the pressures of this world’s view and systems that tell you what’s important and that you have to sacrifice to get what you want. No, you have one need: to be obedient to your God. Sacrificing to get something from God is manipulation. Ouch! It’s counterfeit worship in real terms. That’s the reason God cannot accept it.
So I encourage you today to rethink your view on worship. Get into alignment with God and how He defines it. Let your worship and love for God flow from your obedience and experience His beautiful presence in your life. This is what it means to worship in spirit and in truth.
Written by: Shana Strange
Shana is a recording artist, worship leader, speaker, writer, and podcaster (and so much more)! Catch up with her on Facebook or her website: www.shanastrange.net
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