Submission: The Heart of Worship

According to the BBC, since the Middle Ages, 14 February is the date we’re encouraged to show our partners even more affection than the other 364 days of the year. Not in some parts of the world though. In places like Pakistan, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, celebrating Valentine’s Day with flowers, chocolates or a glass of wine could result in severe punishment. In Malaysia, last year, 80 Muslims were arrested by the Islamic morality police for celebrating Valentine’s Day. Officers raided budget hotels in the central state of Selangor and capital, Kuala Lumpur, detaining unmarried Muslim couples who were sharing rooms. The anti-Valentine’s Day campaign by the country’s Islamic authorities goes back to a fatwa (religious ruling) issued in 2005. However, many Malaysians still celebrate the day and other faiths are not affected by the Valentine’s Day boycott in the country. In Pakistan last year, there were clashes at a university in Peshawar over Valentine’s Day. Liberal students were celebrating with red balloons and cake while another group felt such a show was un-Islamic.

Dozens of students threw rocks in the scuffle, leading to gunshots being fired by both sides and rooms in a student dormitory being set on fire. Three students were injured and stones were thrown at police. In Saudi Arabia, Valentine’s Day is banned by the kingdom’s religious police. Women and men sit separately in restaurants and public displays of affection are taboo. However, some shops continue to sell red roses and other traditional Valentine’s presents. One shop owner described how Valentine’s Day orders are placed over the telephone to avoid detection and flowers are hidden in the back of the store. Last August, the decision to sentence five Saudis to a total of 39 years in prison, as well as 4,500 lashes between them, was upheld. The men had been found dancing with six women they were unrelated to on Valentine’s Day. Alcohol and red roses were also seized.[i]

Although St Valentines Day may be banned in some countries, people will find creative way to express their love. We love our independence as individuals just as much as nations and woe betide anyone, especially religious leaders, who try to impose their views and take away or constrain our rights. You cannot legislate for or against love. There is one dimension to love that is even more controversial than celebrating Valentines Day. It has to do with the S word – that’s right… ssssurrender. Rick Warren says, surrender, “implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Surrender evokes the unpleasant images of admitting defeat in battle, forfeiting a game or yielding to a stronger opponent. The word is almost always used in a negative context.” For example, the newspapers will describe how a cornered fugitive ‘surrendered’ to the authorities. In our “competitive culture we are taught to never give up and never give in – so we don’t hear much about surrendering. If winning is everything, surrendering is unthinkable.”  The most popular books on leadership, management and business focus on empowerment, on “winning, succeeding, overcoming, and conquering.”  They don’t tend to have chapters extolling the virtues of “yielding, submitting, obeying, and surrendering.”  Which makes God’s word, the makers instructions so very, very radical – for it has a great deal to say about surrender and submission – indeed God insists this is the only way to health and wholeness, to harmony and fulfilment, to peace and contentment, to a long and fruitful life.

In our passage from Romans 12, I want us to observe three things about surrender – the plea to surrender in worship; the purpose of surrender is renewal; and the product of surrender is wise living.

  1. The Plea for Surrender in Worship

 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, 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” (Romans 12:1)

Rick Warren makes the provocative assertion that “The heart of worship is surrender”. I have spent several days reflecting on that truth. It made me realise that when ever someone tells me they didn’t like a particular service, or they didn’t care for a particular song, or when someone observes that none of the hymns were written by a contemporary author, or that we were too introspective in our choruses, or they prefer the book to the screen, I have to stop myself from debating the merits of their argument and remember that worship is all about surrender.  Surrendering myself to my Lord and King. When we focus on the hymns or the songs, when we are preoccupied with the liturgy or lack of it, with the noise or the silence, with the organ or the keyboard, we have lost sight of the most profound and essential truth about worship. Its not about you and me. Its all about surrendering ourselves to him. How can we stand above others when we are bowed on our knees?

No wonder Paul pleads with us to surrender ourselves to God and see this as authentic worship. The Message translates verse 1 this way,

“So here’s what I want you to do. God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around-life – and place it before God as an offering.”

Worship then is not so much an act as a state of mind, least of all an act performed for an hour on Sundays. Worship occurs when we surrender our heart, soul and mind to the Living God, where ever we are, what ever we are doing. Unless we enter this building worshipping it is unlikely we will leave it doing so.

And if we have enter in a spirit of surrender, focussing on the mercy of God, we will not be unduly worried or distracted by the attempts of others to offer their worship in their own way. On your knees, everyone else is higher than you. I like to kneel in worship because it enables me to express with my body what my heart knows is true.  The plea for surrender in worship. Notice, secondly how worship becomes witness,

  1. The Purpose of Surrender is Renewal

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2a)

What does Paul mean by the ‘pattern of this world”

I think its behaviour associated with pride, with gossiping, with cheating, with infidelity, with back handers, with moral compromise.  Eugene Peterson helpfully puts it like this, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” (Romans 12:2)

Instead of conforming we are being transformed. How? Through the renewing of our minds.

That is why studying God’s word is so important, why being a member of one of our bible study groups is so essential. Because renewal begins in the mind. A change of mind leads to a change of behaviour. The word ‘transformed’ Paul uses here is the same word used to describe the transfiguration of Jesus. As we saw this morning, Matthew tells us:

“There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (John 17:2).

The supernatural power that revealed the true nature of Jesus to his close disciples is the same supernatural power at work in your to make you like Jesus. Transfigured = metamorphosis. We too are literally being transfigured as we surrender our lives to God.  There is no greater witness than when a seeker changes their life’s direction to follow Jesus. When a pagan turns missionary. The plea for surrender in worship. The purpose of surrender is renewal.

  1. The Product of Surrender is Wise Living

 ”Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2b)

What is God’s good and perfect will? Paul goes on to define it in verses 9-13.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:3-13)

Each time I have been unsure that I will make it through the day, I simply surrender my schedule to the Lord and you know what? I find myself with time to spare. The whole day feels like I am being carried along on a wave.  Now, not every day goes as smoothly as I would like, but I am learning to surrender more often and finding when I do, that discerning the Lord’s good and perfect will a whole lot easier than when I try and do it my way.  Earlier in Romans 6:13, Paul writes, “Surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes.” (Romans 6:17). That’s what the Christian life is all about. This is what real worship is all about.

The plea for surrender in worship – submission. The purpose of surrender is renewal – transfiguration. The product of surrender is wise living – assurance.

Probably the most influential Christian in my life has been someone I have never actually met personally. Bill Bright founded Campus Crusade for Christ in the 1950’s and went on to write the four spiritual laws and underwrite the Jesus film. I still use both to share my faith. Over the last 60 years, over a billion copies of that booklet were printed and over 4 billion people world-wide have now seen the Jesus film. According to Rick Warren, over 150 million people have come to faith and will spend eternity in heaven through the anointed influence of that one man’s ministry. Before he died, Rick asked Bill “Why did God use and bless your life so much?” This is how Bill replied. “When I was a young man, I made a contract with God. I literally wrote it out and signed my name at the bottom. It said, “From this day forward, I am a slave of Jesus Christ.” I am a slave of Jesus Christ. That is what it means to surrender your life. “In view of God’s mercy” says Paul, in view of all that Jesus Christ has done for you, there is nothing more worthy of your life than to surrender your all to his love.

Rick Warren puts it like this “Surrender is not the best way to live, it is the only way to live. Nothing else works” Have you ever signed a contract like Bill Bright did with God? “Or are you still arguing and struggling with God over his right to do with your life as he pleases? Now is the time to surrender – to God’s grace, to His love and to His wisdom and worship him. For this is indeed the heart of worship.

Let’s read these verses as an affirmation of our intention as well as an encouragement to one another.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform 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.” (Romans 12:1-2).

This sermon was inspired by a variety of sources but primarily, Rick Warren’s, “The Heart of Worship” in The Purpose Driven Life, pp.77-84.