The Bible commands us to worship God. In Matthew 4:10 (REV), when Jesus was speaking with the Adversary, he quoted the Old Testament (Deut. 6:13) and said, “For it is written, Worship Yahweh your God, and serve him only.” Logic leads us to the same conclusion, that we should worship God—after all, He is our Creator and the One who gave His only Son so we could live forever. Romans 12:1 supports this
Romans 12:1 (REV):
“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service.”
It is indeed “reasonable” to worship and serve God because of all He has done and continues to do for us. But Romans 12:1 contains some deeper truth than what appears on first reading. In English versions such as the REV, KJV, and NET, our service to God is said to be “reasonable.” But other versions read differently. For example, the HCSB, ESV, NAB, NASB, and NRSV do not say “reasonable” service, they say “spiritual” service. Why the difference?
The exact meaning of the Greek word logikos, translated “reasonable” or “spiritual” in this verse, is challenging to pin down. Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon shows that it was used by ancient Greek philosophers in the sense of “rational,” from the use of logos as “reason.” So if it was used that way in Romans 12:1, then “your reasonable service” would be a good translation. However, logikos was also used of the worship itself, which was considered reasonable to do, and in that sense logikos would be considered a “spiritual” act. To complicate matters even more, in his book Christian Words, Nigel Turner sets forth the possibility that, given the Christian’s understanding of logos as the “Word.” Actually, it is likely that all three of these meanings, especially the first two, were considered true by the early Christians.
From that lexical reality, we can see that our worship of God is logical service, spiritual service, and based in the Word of God. Given its great importance, then, why is it so often neglected?
“…as a living sacrifice.”
Although worship can be fun and invigorating, genuine worship often takes time, money, and energy. It is often “inconvenient,” and sometimes genuinely hurts, so it is certainly not always “fun.” Paul is honest about this when he writes, “I urge you…to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” We understand the concept of sacrifice because we regularly make small ones—such as “sacrificing” our lunch break to finish a project, or “sacrificing” our time to help someone else. Many parents make large sacrifices for the sake of their children, including going without so that their kids want for nothing. Genuine worship is often a sacrifice, too.
When it comes to being living sacrifices for God, sometimes we fall short of the mark, for many reasons. One is that we simply do not think about it, because our relationship with God has become “me” oriented. Often I pray when “I” need something, go to a church because “I” feel the need for community (and go when “I” am comfortable going), give when “I” have some extra money, and volunteer when “I” have some extra time, if ever. But is that really putting God first in our lives? Jesus said, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness….” (Matt. 6:33).
Another reason that perhaps we do not worship God as we should is that it often takes so much time, and we are already busy. Let’s face it—prayer, reading the Bible, and sharing our faith all take time. Also, sometimes there does not seem to be much return for the effort spent on things we do for God. There are times we pray for our country, yet things seem to go from bad to worse; we read the Bible, but not are not inspired by it; or we go to church, but do not seem to benefit that much from the experience. Ironically, our word “worship” derives from “worth-ship” (Oxford Etymological Dictionary), and sometimes we wonder if “worship” is “worth it.” But it always is.
The Importance of Worship
God loves us, and He is not about giving Christians “busy work” to make Himself feel important. There is great value in worship, even if often that value remains unseen in the fallen physical world. But Christians must make the effort to see the value in worshiping God, because the wrong attitude or the wrong action can make worship seem not “worth it” at all. The priests of Israel certainly got to the point where they did not see the value in worshiping God. They eventually despised God’s name and work (Mal. 1:6). They said of God’s work, “Behold, what a weariness it is!” and they snorted at it (Mal. 1:13). Instead of being diligent and thankful to offer sacrifices to God that honored Him, God noted of the priests that, “you have brought sacrifices that were taken by robbery, and the lame and the sick” (Mal. 1:13). No wonder that after the time of Malachi there were very few notable Jewish prophets until John the Baptist.
Whether or not worshiping God is exciting or fun, we must still make time for it. It is hard for us to find great joy and inspiration in prayer, Bible reading, or helping someone else if what we are really preoccupied with is all the other things that we need to get done. We need to purposely clear time for God, which is in part what “seeking God first” is all about. Of course, putting worshipful things like prayer, Bible reading, and volunteering into our schedule often means saying “No” to other things that take up our time. For some of us, that is part of the actual “sacrifice” of being a “living sacrifice.” For others, it is less of a real “sacrifice,” and more about having the focus to say “No” to bad habits that are just time-wasters.
Another thing that can help us enjoy worshiping God is to realize that there are lots of things that are for us, individually, our “reasonable, spiritual service.” Worship of God takes many forms, because our worship is an expression from the heart that God is “worth it.” Service to God comes from the heart and out of the abilities and gifts that God gave us. Doing things that are in line with God’s will is a spiritual act of service that is often not “religious” at all. Sadly, too many people who do wonderful, godly things for others beat themselves up for not “worshiping” enough when they have been worshiping all along.
It seems that one reason God does not give us a list of “worship activities” in the Bible is that there are far too many to list, and the list differs for each individual. That does not mean that there are not some “standard things” that believers should involve themselves in, such as learning to be loving (no small task given our fallen and sinful nature), being faithful in prayer, learning the great truths of the Bible so we can think and act like Christ, fellowshipping with other Christians, and giving of our time and money or material resources.
Being Intentional With Our Worship
One quick way to discern whether we are worshiping God in our day-to-day life is to ask ourselves, “What am I doing and why am I doing it?” If “FOR ME” is the answer that seems to be shouted back to us, then the most likely possibility is that we are not worshiping God with our actions. The true worship of God is focused on others: God and other people.
True worship in a Christian’s life is rarely accidental. The world is very evil and the Devil is very aggressive. It will rarely if ever happen that when we go through a day with no thought or intention of doing God’s will or serving Him, we will somehow be able to reflect back at the end of the day and conclude, “Wow, my entire day was about the worship of God!” If we are going to live a worshipful life, we have to make deliberate plans to do that, and then “sacrifice” time, money, and energy to make it happen.
There are some specific things we can do to be more intentional about living a worshipful life. One is to make a list of what “worship” is for us. We need to determine what activities we should be doing, and then think through how to modify our lives to make those activities happen. We have to be honest about the sacrifices we will make, and muster the strength and focus necessary to make those sacrifices. We also need to remember to ask the Lord, “What can I do for you today?” Often our plans are not the Lord’s plans, and if we are open to his voice he will lead us to areas of his work we would never have thought about on our own.
One very important thing we must do is look for, and ask God to show us, the blessings in what we are doing for Him. We never want to get to the point where we serve God “just because He says so,” or that we, like the priests of old, snort at God’s work and say, “What a weariness it is!” We are not going to turn this fallen world into a paradise by our service to God, but we can change our minds and hearts into a paradise and world of wonder and excitement. God does not need the world to be rid of sin before He can speak to us and thrill our hearts. It is an honor and a joy to be a living sacrifice and to serve God, and that service is “reasonable,” “spiritual,” and “Word-based.” No wonder Paul “urges” us to give ourselves as a living sacrifice—what a joy it can be!