I began a series of sermons last week in which we’re going to spend some time trying to find ourselves. Now, I’m not talking about some kind of existential journey or walking in the woods waiting for inspiration to strike. Lots of kids go off to college to “find themselves” and spend lots of their parents’ money in a meandering search through four years and five majors and not know any more about themselves than before they started.
Like the old Johnny Lee song, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, that’s where so many people derail in their search for meaning. They look in all the wrong places. They center their identity in their family or in their work or their education or their hobbies or their recreation. And none of those are bad or wrong, but they can’t be the center of who we are.
I’m a minister; I’m a husband and father and grandfather; I like to fish and golf and read and do woodworking. But none of those are the center of who I am. And if I try to make any of those the center of my life, I will always be frustrated and struggling with my purpose.
I have lots of interests and wear lots of hats, but I have only one identity and purpose. I am a child of God and my one purpose is to glorify him in everything I say and do.
Paul captured that thought in Romans 12:1-2 - Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Do you spend much time thinking about worship? I’m not talking about the hour or so we spend here at the church building every Sunday morning. I’m talking about what Paul calls our “spiritual act of worship.” And that spiritual act of worship can’t be confined to an hour a week or contained within a few expressions of faith. Your spiritual act of worship, Paul says, is to offer your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
Let me ask you again, do you spend much time thinking about worship, because you need to. That really is what makes us who we are. Worship defines us in terms of our relationship with God.
At one time, sacrifice was substitutionary. You brought a dove or a lamb or a goat, and that was your offering to God. It didn’t exempt you from living a holy life, but that was how you expressed your devotion to God. And I’m talking about freewill offerings, thanksgiving offerings, firstfruits and tithes – not sin offerings. Sin offerings were consummated in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross. The sacrifice that Paul talks about here in Romans 12 isn’t you dealing with your sins – Jesus did that once for all.
What this sacrifice is is your expression of your commitment and devotion to God. And notice, this sacrifice is different than those of the OT. Those sacrifices were killed upon the altar. Paul says, you “offer your body as a living sacrifice.” This is an ongoing, daily commitment of yourself to God – very similar to what Jesus commands his followers in Luke 9: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
What does Paul mean by living sacrifice; what does Jesus mean by taking up your cross daily? And what do those have to do with discovering your meaning and purpose in life?
Most of us begin with the premise that I am trying to fill my life to the full – back to that old commercial that implored us: “You only go around once in life so go for all the gusto you can get!” And we have followed that philosophy of life. The key to meaning and happiness is to fill my life with worthy pursuits: a good education, a fulfilling career, a happy family, possessions and financial security. Those are the key to a full and happy life. And again, there is nothing wrong with any of those, per se. But they make poor masters.
In the very next breath Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25)
We spend a lot of time trying to “gain the whole world,” thinking that’s where real life is found. Only when we die to self can we experience real life. Only if we give up everything can we truly receive anything from God. Being full only happens when we first empty ourselves. And the problem is we’re trying to add Jesus to an already full life and he won’t fit. He won’t share the throne with any other master, because, Jesus says, “You can’t serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me.” (Gal. 2:20)
How do you lose your life? How can you die to self? Those are baptism words. When you are baptized you are participating in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. You die to self in order that Jesus can live with in you. But it is more than baptismal language. It doesn’t begin and end in a pool of water.
What begins in baptism becomes a way of life. We live a crucified life, meaning every day I seek to put to death those things in me that are contrary to God’s will. Every day I intentionally seek to increase the control Jesus has and loosen the grip that I have on my life. I try to live with the same priorities as Jesus lived – honoring God, laying down my life for others in service, sharing the good news of the kingdom of God.
That is being a living sacrifice, and that is your spiritual act of worship – to bring your life to God and lay it on the altar for him to use in whatever way he needs you.
Paul says that is counter-cultural. It is refusing to be molded by the world’s values and priorities, but instead having your mind renewed in Jesus – to think differently with regard to life. And let me tell you – that takes courage, because there’s no guarantee that if you do that you will have the American dream life. Don’t you believe the health and wealth gospel that says God’s just waiting to give you everything your heart desires and you’ll never know need or want or loss of health. That isn’t God’s promise.
God’s promise is that if you live like that, you will experience real life. In fact, Paul says, if you live like that – you’re going to know “what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
No, it won’t be some vision in a dream, or a green line running out in front of you. But when you are living the kind of life God calls you to, you’re going to experience a place of peace and confidence. If you play golf, there is what they call the sweet spot. You may swing the club and hit the ball and knock it down the fairway, erratically moving forward, some good shots, some hooks, some slices, some duffs, and you are playing golf, but there is a spot, that, when you hit it, you feel it. And when you find that spot, you start to enjoy the game.
Most people live life like that – some good days, some not so good – we limp along on our own power, and life is generally a struggle. But when you are walking in step with God, there is a sweet spot. It doesn’t mean every day is perfect, but you find yourself firmly in the center of God’s will for you and you know it.
Finding yourself begins with finding your place with God – firmly in the center of his will, striving to glorify him with your life.
Worship is literally to acknowledge the worthiness of God. We do it with our words, with our actions, in our lives. And while what Paul says about our spiritual act of worship in Romans 12 is about our daily lives, what we do here together as church also molds our sense of meaning and purpose.
You see, when we gather to worship God, we are acknowledging our love and adoration and appreciation for all that he is and does.
When we join our voices to sing praises to God, I sing with the realization that this isn’t about me. I don’t come for what I will get out of it, but what I bring before him. With my voice I join with other voices and we lift up our praise to him who deserves all glory, honor and praise. I find myself – and my place is not on the throne of my life, but at the foot of God’s throne. David understood how important it is to find your place with God: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Ps 84:10)
Listen to the Psalmist as he talks about how he’s really struggling right now, but how worship was where he was able to find himself: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Ps 42:1-5)
I’ve seen so many people, when they are struggling with something in life, quit coming to church until they get it all worked out. They think church is a sanctuary for the saints who have it all together, but God says church is a hospital for sinners, who need a place for healing. Instead of running from God, run to him, and when you lose yourself in worship, then you will begin to find yourself once again.
Would you like a barometer for your spiritual health – just a little indicator of how you’re doing? That barometer is prayer. When you’re drawing near to God, prayer is a constant companion; when you’re pushing away from God, prayer becomes less and less a part of your life. Prayer is an important place to find yourself. If you will spend some time with God in prayer every day, you will find yourself exactly where you need to be.
I love David’s prayer to God in Psalm 139. There were times when David lost sight of who he was, but God never did. In fact, David counted on it. And so he prayed: “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Ps 139:1-6)
If you don’t have a sense of your place; if you can’t find your meaning and purpose, you can be sure that God knows. And there is no better place to find it than in prayer. Prayer isn’t where we come and give God a wish list of things for him to do for us. It is a time to come with humble heart and listen. I don’t have a magic bullet for finding yourself, but I know that it begins with God. Because who you are only has meaning because of who God is.
And when we offer ourselves to him as worship, as would pour out our hearts in adoration and prayer, as we lose ourselves in wonder, love and praise, it is at that moment we will begin to find ourselves.
Posted on Sun, March 22, 2015
by John Roberts