Call to Worship
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! [PSALM 24]
Almighty and merciful God, we confess to You that too often we approach You out of duty and obligation rather than genuine love and affection for Your presence. Forgive us for uttering songs of praise to You without being transformed by the truths that we are singing. Forgive us for muttering prayers of adoration to You without depending upon Your love and grace. And forgive us for acting as though You are pleased with our show, pretense, and religious activities, when we do not love our neighbor. You take no pleasure in these worthless offerings, they are an abomination to You. You will hide Your eyes from us, and You will not listen. We confess that we seek comfort and isolation rather than moving toward people, like You have moved toward us. We humbly ask that You would teach us to do what is truly good; that we would seek justice and correct oppression. We pray that we would love seeing things made right in this world because You have first made us right through the cross of Christ. Amen. [BASED ON ISAIAH 1:10-17]
And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make?
What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows. [MARK 14:53-65]
We live in a culture obsessed with self-improvement. We want to change our job, our body, our house, our habits, and hobbies. We even want to “improve” the people around us. When it comes to opportunity and options for change, our day is unparalleled in history. The problem is that we also live in an age of unparalleled convenience. I can shoot a video on my phone and send it to someone a thousand miles away, all within minutes. I can take a pill and lose weight while I sleep, allegedly. Without any work of preparation, I can eat nearly whenever and whatever I want. Privileges like these have cultivated unrealistic expectations and unwarranted impatience. We cannot escape the effects of our technological age.
The Bible offers an entirely different norm for change, which is more profound and deliberate. It promises holistic change, but not all at once, and not without sacrifice. In Romans 12, after Paul has laid out the theology of the gospel, he exhorts his readers to take action, to let the gospel change them, if you will: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
The way we take action is to present the entirety of who we are to God “as a living sacrifice” to him. This is a peculiar phrase. The allusion to Old Testament sacrifice is clear, but what is being sacrificed on that altar dies. So what are we to make of this “living sacrifice?”
On one hand, personal growth is sacrificial. We do not need to atone for our sins (Jesus is the final sacrifice for sin), but we do have to put to death our selfish ambition and our desire to be in control. So much of our motive for change is to secure ourselves by our own means. We want to change our bodies to secure a good image, acquire wealth to secure comfort, and gain power to secure our happiness. All of that must be put to death.
But that is only part of what Paul is saying here. Our worship is sacrificial, but it is also living: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). In other words, our sacrifice of worship is to live for God, to present the members of our body to God as “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13). This is possible because “he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also [give life to our] mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in [us]” (Romans 8:11). Because Jesus offered up his body on the cross to secure our salvation forever, we can offer up our entire life to God as a continual act of worship.
The norm in our culture is to sacrifice whatever we have to get what we want. The way of true sanctification is to sacrifice everything we want because of what we already have in Christ. This is the heart of Lent. We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the values and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are making room in our heart and mind to consider what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us. It’s not all at once, because that would rob us of the joy we experience in knowing the one who changes us.
- What kinds of things do you want to change about yourself and your life?
- What would it look like to offer these things to God in worship?
- How will pursuing change help you seek God above all else?
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, your unworthy servants, give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.