I have recently started re-reading Leviticus.
You enter into a strange world, an alien culture of sacrifice. ¨It is hard not only getting your head around the ritual, but also trying to understand how any of this could be relevant to anyone in our culture.
After spending a few days in chapters one to seven, I turned to Old Testament scholar John Goldingay’s commentary, “Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone,” to understand what any of it actually means. Reading his thoughts resulted in a light-bulb moment.
Goldingay talks about how the heart of Leviticus is thanksgiving and worship, and at the heart of their worship and thanksgiving is something alien to us: sacrifice.
The problem with so much of our worship is that most of it does not engage with sacrifice.
When I see pictures of big worship “events” – with worship leaders at the heart, hands raised and lots of heart-felt singing – it often leaves me cold because it comes without sacrifice; it is all too comfortable. It is all about the worshipper.
In Isaiah 58, the prophet talks about true and false worship. At the heart of false worship is that it is all about us, all about what God can do for us, a warm feeling of self-satisfaction.
By contrast, true worship hurts because true worship changes things, not only for us, but also for others around us.
True worship has an outcome that is good for all: the imprisoned and oppressed are set free, the hungry are fed, and the naked are clothed. Most of our worship does not see any of this happen.
Worship is more than just singing songs, and many would agree with that, but what is it? True worship is good-news focused, but good news for who?
Jesus uses Isaiah to highlight whom in Luke 4: good news for the poor, the blind and the oppressed.
But too often our worship is focused on how we are feeling, not how the poor, the blind and the oppressed are feeling.
All too often they are placed at the back of our minds, if they were in our minds at all.
So what does true worship look like? Paul helps us in Romans 12 where he talks about true worship being sacrificial, though this time we do not offer the bodies of animals but our own bodies.
We offer ourselves as “living sacrifices,” and this, Paul says, is “truly the way to worship.”
True worship is something that hurts us. It is something where we lose and the poorest, the least and the marginalized gain. It is something where God is honored by seeing justice rolling like a river.
It involves us giving our whole lives to God. How we live, where we live, where we serve, where we work, what job we do, what we spend our money on, whether we take a job despite the money or the prospects, where we send our kids to school, whether we are as concerned by catchment areas (school districts) as our neighbors, whether we have a “dream house in a dream location,” who we live with, where we go on vacation.
1 Peter 2:12 says, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then, even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.”
We will make mistakes, but if we live as the rest of society lives, then what difference will that make?
If we start worshipping God in a way that is truly sacrificial, then we will start to impact the people around us, and they will “give honor” (worship) to God. But if we continue “worshipping” God in the way we have, most people will stay unmoved, disinterested and detached from church.
Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth, United Kingdom. A version of this article first appeared in the Baptist Times – the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @mikepcshaw.
Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth, United Kingdom.