Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Role of Obedience in Worship

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I get the occasional opportunity to preach at our church, Elim Evangelical Free in Puyallup, WA, which I enjoy (even though it is an incredible amount of work and makes me appreciate our pastors all the more!). Last weekend our lead pastor was vacationing in Nevada and Utah so he permitted me to preach on a topic of my choosing.

I chose Genesis 8:18-22 (the story of Noah's magnificent act of worship and sacrifice, after deboarding the Ark) and the topic of "worship" in general. If you are interested in hearing the result, you can listen here (click on "Genesis 8:18-22" under the October 14, 2012 Special Sermons listing ... it's an MP3 about 37 minutes in length).

As I was preparing for last weekend's sermon, I focused on four components of worship: fear, gratitude, praise, and sacrifice. I touched on a fifth (obedience), but as I've reflected more these past few days, I have become convicted that I didn't do it justice.

In 1 Samuel 15:22, the prophet said, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Genesis 22:1-14 tells a story that is dramatic and beautiful, yet difficult. It even causes a lot of people to doubt the character of God. In it, God instructs Abraham to kill his only son Isaac on the altar of sacrifice.

The very first verse in this story reveals that God was testing Abraham, testing his utter obedience. Abraham had come to know God well. God had provided Isaac miraculously, in faithfulness to His promise. Isaac was God's provision, His miracle, and Abraham knew it well. So when he was commanded to sacrifice what God had provided ... his only son, which he loved above even his own life ... would he obey?

Thankfully, Scripture records that Abraham did obey. His obedience was proof of his faith. And you know the story: At the last possible moment, as the knife was raised to plunge into Isaac's heart as he lay there, bound upon the wood of the altar, God's command came again and stayed Abraham's hand. Then he provided a ram, whose horns were caught in a nearby thicket, as a sacrifice instead.

Much has been written about this and I don't have anything new to say. But I think it's important to see this in the context of worship. As they approach the sacrifice, in verse 4 Abraham tells his servants: “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” (Also note he says “We will come back to you. He obviously believed his son would return alive.)

Abraham acknowledged that this act of obedience was worship. True worship fundamentally says to God: "Lord, I am Yours. All that I have is from Your hand. I open my hands to You. You have complete authority to ask for any of it back, at any time.

Predicting a future time when sin and rebellion have finally been dealt a death-blow, the prophet Daniel says in 7:27:

His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.

These passages challenge me in the same way that Noah's sacrifice challenged me. God may, but is not necessarily, calling us to sacrifice in big ways, as much as He is calling us to sacrifice in the small ways of everyday living: To yield our time, our treasure, our talent, our energy to Him in ways that will bring glory to His name. Likewise, we may never experience a huge test of obedience, as Abraham did; yet we are called daily to obey in a thousand small ways: To refrain from gossip, to tell the truth, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to keep our hearts pure, to be kind, to share His love with others, to be a cheerful giver as He has prospered us.

In Christ's parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-28, in verse 23 the master of the faithful servant assures him: You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Obedience starts small!

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