A life of worship
We debate over forms of public worship but nothing can bring our services to life unless we ourselves worship in Spirit and in truth. And that requires not just attendance at public worship but lives of worship.
Abraham (or Abram) can help us here. The chief symbol of Old Testament worship was an altar, and the Patriarch’s life of worship was marked by the five altars he built during his earthly pilgrimage.
Abram built his first altar only after he had fully obeyed God’s call to leave his native land (Genesis 12:7). We cannot truly worship God until we separate ourselves spiritually from the unbelieving world, for no man can serve two masters.
The Lord appeared to Abram years earlier in Ur (Acts 7:2) but he built no altar in Mesopotamia. But now in Canaan the Lord appeared to him again and ‘there he built an altar to the Lord’. A life of worship begins when the Lord graciously reveals himself to us and gives us ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Without such knowledge there can be no worship.
Abram’s second altar was an altar of prayer: ‘he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord’ (Genesis 12:8). This time there was no appearance – Abram was learning to rely upon the invisible God. This is an essential aspect of the life of worship.
Paul bids us: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always … be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:4-7).
Note the word ‘always’. Both rejoicing and prayer should be incense on an ever-burning altar.
The third altar was the same as the second – but revisited and rebuilt after a sad and sinful episode (Genesis 12:10-20). Abram went down to Egypt and, assailed by the fear of man, lied about his wife to save his skin. Only God’s sovereign intervention prevented disaster.
What did he do? He returned ‘to the place of the altar which he had made … at first and … called on the name of the Lord’ (Genesis 13:4). Godly people are not immune from sin. ‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves … if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:8-9).
Repentance for the worshipper is never a one-off event. It is rather an attitude in which we walk humbly with our God – constantly returning to the Lord and to the blood of Christ that alone can purge our consciences from dead works that we might serve and worship the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
The fourth altar was built when God renewed and amplified his promises to the Patriarch (Genesis 13:14-18). The life of worship is built upon the promises of God. Those promises, of course, are found throughout the Scriptures.
They are ‘exceedingly great and precious’ and through them, says Peter, we become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ and escape the corruptions of the world (2 Peter 1:3-4). We cannot live lives of worship if we are ignorant or neglectful of these promises. To that end we must know and believe the Scriptures.
The final altar needs no description. It was the altar on which Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14). The provision of a substitute to die in his place pictures the atoning work of Christ. We live to God because Christ died.
Thus the life of worship calls not for dying sacrifices but living ones! Paul exhorts: ‘present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, acceptable and perfect will of God’ (Romans 12:1-2).
That is the life of worship.