One of the things I really miss from my life in the UK is corporate sung worship. Those moments of scriptural truth declared together over stunningly powerfully music. I particularly miss the more rare occasions where we got to be a big crowd in worship. Where I could feel unseen and scream my heart out to God. I have also learnt to pour out my heart to the Lord in my second language in our smaller gathering here in Turkey. Living in a host nation for me is a mix of daily counting the cost, whilst simultaneously experiencing the joy of obedience.
Christmas is always a mix of joy and pain, missing loved ones but creating new traditions and memories. This year was the second year we ordered a hot turkey for our Christmas meal. We had our teammate over as well as a student who had come to faith and is a part of our church community. This year however our Turkey got lost in the delivery companies system and was 4 hours late. As I resisted the urge to get stressed (and order pizzas in!) and my guests got hungrier and hungrier and my kids got whinier and whinier my teammate reminded me – we are celebrating Christmas in the Middle East- a place where most of the people don’t don’t even know what Christmas is! Thank God for my team mate – I needed my friend to speak truth to me in that moment! In the end after 4 hours the Turkey arrived – frozen solid!!!! Safe to say in the end we had chicken and cold vegetable side dishes.
There was a definitely a moment where I wanted to cry about it but as we laughed about it (as you have to do with these things) I was starkly aware of this discipleship opportunity – my reaction could be from my flesh or could I, on Christmas Day 2020, at the climax of advent, right when we need to fall to our knees with the angels and worship the Christ Divine, sacrifice my anger and entitlement and even turn this (albeit minor) disastrous end to a disastrous year, into worship?!
Romans 12 says: 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. I have recently heard stories of brothers and sisters in closed countries that vow that they will choose death over disobedience and who daily present their bodies as a living sacrifices is ways most of us have never had to comprehend. I am hearing of women and men alike prepared for rape, torture and death for the choice they have made to follow Christ in nations in the world where a decision to be baptised results in an immediate death sentence. Hearing these stories brought a lump to my throat and made me ask that question that I think if we are all honest we always think in response to such high stakes for following Jesus – is it really worth it??
In John 6 the disciples struggle so much with some of what they heard as Jesus declared; I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And this bread, which I will give for the life of the world, is My flesh. This teaching being too much to swallow some of the disciples begin to turn away as they apparently decided it just wasn’t worth it. As I wrestle time and time again with my ’is it worth it’ question I always land on the verses where Jesus’ disciples indeed don’t abandon him and reply `Lord to whom else could we go? You alone hold the keys to eternal life’.
So. Back to my frozen Turkey in Turkey. The concept and practice of worship for me has changed these days. What does it mean to be a Romans 12 worshipper? Paul says we have to give up what we want in life. We have to abandon what we want to do, where we want to go, and instead do and go where Jesus wants. My body is my living sacrifice of worship. I am asking Spirit to teach me what true worship is. How can I offer my body as a living sacrifice as a foreigner, as a mum in a nominally Muslim country but a majority secular city? In a season of my life where corporate sung worship for now isn’t happening except on a Zoom call, I long for my worship to be acceptable to him. My body is no longer my own. My legs, my tongue, my hands and feet- are all his and are to be used for his good works and his glory. Today is the Monday after Boxing Day. I have heard it called Blue Monday before. Holidays are over and online school for my kids and my (teacher) husband has begun again. I don’t want to go back to serving my household by making lunches and taking my kids to the park. But as I do it anyway and choose to do it cheerfully, Jesus’ heart is blessed.
Sometimes being a living sacrifice is the acceptance that because I live where I do I forgo certain things like emotional comfort. It can look like fasting to remind myself that even my stomach and appetite is not my own as I grow my hunger for God. My hands are not my own just to use to do things to satisfy my flesh, my hands are to do the things which will serve Jesus. To be conscious of this daily is indeed a new practice I am learning and I need the Holy Spirit to change my thinking. In the hours where the curfew is lifted and I decide where I’ll take the kids that afternoon I will instantly think of gratifying my own needs and wants- I might want to go into town to get my favourite takeaway coffee but- stop- my body, my legs, my feet that will carry me are a living sacrifice so therefore where would God have them go today? It might be the park at the top of the steep hill that I am the most fed up of- but if I obey him who knows what treasure I might find there- what person God might have me use my mouth to speak his truth and grace to?
As the new year approaches may my earphones not be so full of the sung worship that I miss so dearly and I sometimes enjoy on my morning prayer walks that I cannot hear Spirit’s voice tell me how he would have me be a living sacrifice in that moment to worship Him. And may a day not go by when, as I joyfully deny my fleshly desires that Jesus is not blessed by my sacrifice.