In my early 20s, I underwent an identity crisis, like many young 20-somethings tend to do. I was just out of college, alone, and without a clue about what I was doing with my life. I entered into a career I had spent four years studying yet felt completely out of my depth. I felt completely lost, and that lost feeling seeped into my faith.
It’s difficult to describe what was going through my head, but I felt like everything that I thought was faith was nothing more than a cheap imitation. Worship was just a thing I did on Sunday morning because I was supposed to. I felt empty, like I had been living a lie up to that point, just going through the motions. In reality, that's pretty much what I was doing. Looking back, I see that it was really a maturation of my faith.
Essentially, what I realized was that I was right. My faith was a cheap imitation. I had effectively been imitating the faith of others that I knew. Much like a young boy imitating the actions of his father, I watched the people I considered spiritually mature and simply imitated what they were doing. While there’s is nothing inherently wrong with this initially, at some point faith has to grow. It has to become your own. The author of Hebrews explains it perfectly:
“for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:13,14 ESV).”
Milk is good for infants, but at some point, a child has to stop living off of milk and move on to solid food. The child needs something more that will provide the sustenance it needs to live. We would laugh at an adult who only drank milk. We would cook him a steak and tell him that he needed some real food.
In the same way, we cannot merely imitate the faith of others. It’s only a starting point. New believers need mature folks to show them how faith works. But just like learning anything else, there comes a time when we have to let go of the people we cling so tightly to and make a go for it on our own. Daddy has to let go of the bicycle sometime.
And that’s the point I reached one night while lying in bed. I had come to a breaking point and was ready to give up. I was tired of what I considered the "politics" of Christianity. And I was done with it.
“I can’t do this anymore. I give up. If this is what it means to be a Christian, then I’m out.” I vividly remember having this argument with God at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I was literally screaming at the darkness.
It turns out that this became one of the rare times when I felt like I heard God audibly talking to me. Maybe audibly isn’t the best way to describe it. It was more like a crystal clear thought in my head, but it wasn’t my voice. And it was a simple answer.
“You’re right. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about you and me.”
It wasn’t about what I was doing. It wasn’t about who I was imitating. It wasn’t about whether or not I looked like a Christian. It wasn’t about ministry plans, preaching calendars, or the next youth event.
It’s all about the vertical relationship between God and me. Everything else follows naturally.
Once that thought struck and sunk in, everything changed for the better. I stopped trying so hard, and I encountered a completely new way of life: worship.
Ask anyone today what worship is, and most people will respond something connected to singing songs at the beginning of a church service. This is a gross misunderstanding of the idea of worship.
So what is worship? In the first verse of Romans 12, Paul tells us to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
That’s worship. But what does that even mean? Isn’t a sacrifice something you kill? And I thought we weren’t under the Old Testament law anymore.
We have to keep reading through Romans 12 to find the answer. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Romans 12:4,5 ESV).”
To be a living sacrifice means that we give up who we are for the body of Christ. It means that we have to die to ourselves, to our desires, to our selfishness, to our personal agendas. Instead, we take who we are and give it up for God, in order that he may use us for his purposes.
One of my favorites truths of life and God and faith that I’ve come across is this idea of worshipping as a living sacrifice. When I stumbled across this truth, I realized that God made me who I am for a reason. Then I realized that God wouldn’t create people who couldn’t worship him in the way they were created. He made me to love music and art and nature, and so those are the ways that I end up worshipping him best.
Paul expounds on that thought about one body and many members in 1 Corinthians. The foot can’t say it doesn’t belong to the body because it’s not a hand. The ear can’t say, “I’m worthless because I’m not an eye." Likewise, the eye can’t say to the ear, “You’re worthless and unnecessary because you aren't an eye.” Everyone has their own role to play and their own personality to go along with it.
That’s the beauty of God’s creation. Everyone can worship him in any number ways. Scientific people can worship him through science and logic. Creative people can worship him through creating. Talkative people can worship him through talking. Logical people worship him through the logic of his creation while experiential people worship him through the simple experience of his creation.
That’s why we can’t completely worship God through imitation. When we try to do that, we worship in a way that isn’t made for us. A Lee-shaped piece can only fit in a Lee-shaped hole. Anything else is uncomfortable and doesn’t fit right.
I have a tattoo that I got shortly after my night in utter darkness. I got it to remind me of that night. It's just one simple Hebrew word that means "surrender", or "give up" in my terminology. It's a constant reminder for me to give up myself in all that I do for the glory of God, which is my act of worship.
So what is worship? Much of it is dependent upon the individual, but for each one of us, worship is offering the person we are for God. Being who we are for the glory of God, that’s worship. Whether it’s through song or story or athletics or landscaping or mechanics or computer science. Worship God as your own individual living sacrifice.