This time last week I was in Bangkok, Thailand. I’d just spent a week hanging out with some awesome TCKs from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. It was great! I’ll probably share some stories later about that, but for now I wanted to share some thoughts from the very end of my trip.
I had two days in Bangkok after the conference I was helping at – time to decompress before heading back to the insanity of my wonderful life in Beijing. On my last night I took a taxi to a nearby train station where I took a train to the airport.
While we were stopped at traffic lights the driver rolled down his window to buy a small flower garland from a woman selling them on the street. He handed over some money, rolled up his window, and holding the small string of blossoms in his hands, made a gesture of worship. Then he placed the flowers on his dashboard (near the dried out strings of previous purchases) and went continued driving.
My first thought: why can’t we worship YOU like that, God? The flowers smell nice, and it’s a simple way to include worship in everyday life (we’d been talking during conference about connecting with God throughout the day), and I started thinking about ways I could imitate it…
Before I got too excited, I sensed God tap me on the shoulder, and remind me of something: the system of worship set up in ancient Israel had lots of rituals and daily reminders. For most people it became something done by rote, rather than a heart act of worship. In fact, throughout Scripture we are told that God wants our hearts, not just offerings.
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced;
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’ ” First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.
I began to realise I liked the idea of “simple” acts of worship, like buying flowers, because they were, well, simple. Buy the flowers and you’re done. Much easier to buy flowers than to surrender my will to God. Much easier to burn incense than to submit to His will.
I think that small, everyday gestures can be part of a vibrant faith. These little acts, however, are not a relationship in themselves. They might show honour, but they don’t involve surrender.
I am thankful for a God who has done away with a system of works that can never make me righteous. I am thankful for a relationship, rather than a religion. And while relationship can be messy, I am thankful for that depth of love and mercy and acceptance, rather than a system of offerings.