Presenting our Bodies as a Living Sacrifice
Glenda Simpkins Hoffman 4-14-20
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
The above verse has been one of my favorites for a long time. But I confess this week I have come to appreciate Paul’s Spirit-inspired words more than ever. I’m one of those people who can live in my head always thinking, studying, planning, preparing, reading, and so on.
But this week I have come to realize more than ever that no one really lives in their head. Yes, our minds can be elsewhere, but the only way we can really live life on this earth is in our physical bodies. While we can be thinking about something else rather than what is right before us, that simply means we are not present to God, ourselves, or others.
I think that is why Paul exhorts us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” Of course, he is alluding to the Old Testament animal sacrifices that helped God’s people at that time understand the problem of sin and their need for forgiveness. But in offering himself as a sacrifice, Christ has dealt with our sin and set us free to live holy lives that bring glory to God. This does not just include what we may consider “spiritual activities” like reading our Bible or going to church or meeting with others in Bible study (which are very important) but in everything that we do.
Never before have we been more aware of living incarnationally—in real human bodies in this real physical world. We are remaining isolated from each other to protect our physical bodies from the COVID-19 virus and to save lives. There are challenges to doing this, for sure. But there are also invitations from God to be embraced and opportunities for transformation.
I love John Ortberg’s story about asking Dallas Willard what he must do to be spiritually healthy. He replied, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Ortberg said, “Okay, I’ve written that down. That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” He writes, “I had many things to do, and this was a long-distance conversation, so I was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible. Another long pause. ‘There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.’”
One of the opportunities we have been given in this time of quarantine is to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives. While it is understandable to feel a sense of loss because we have fewer options about how we can spend our time, it also opens the door of opportunity. I have heard from many how they have appreciated the gift of being able to slow down.
Because I am home more with my family, I am doing more cooking and cleaning, which I have never really enjoyed. But in a recent Lenten devotional reading, I was challenged to let go of my annoyance and receive this opportunity to embrace ordinary, menial tasks as a way of knowing Jesus who desires to be present to us in every moment of our daily lives. The slowness of domestic chores can be a gift of grace if I allow them to be and pray, “Lord, slow me down.” I’m trying to reframe cooking and cleaning and organizing our home as a kind of remedy for stress —a way of slowing the pace of my hurried life as well as serving those in my family.
The book Practicing the Presence came to mind this week. Brother Lawrence was a monk who found “That it was a great delusion to think that time set aside for prayer should be different from other times, that we were equally obliged to be united to God by work in the time assigned to work as by prayer during prayer time. That his prayer was simply an awareness of the presence of God, at which time his soul was oblivious to everything else but love.”
As we practice the presence, we turn the heart toward God and keep it focused there by reminding ourselves that wherever we are and whatever we are doing, God is present. So we are to become aware of God’s presence and to live in light of that knowledge, doing everything for the love of God.
You may think this is easy for a monk. But Brother Lawrence was not the kind of monk who sat in silence and solitude reading scripture and praying all day. He did have time for personal and corporate prayer and worship, but his job was to work in the kitchen cooking and cleaning all day long for fifteen years. In the midst of his work, he experienced God’s love for him, and he learned to scrub pots and pans and flip pancakes for the love of God.
You see, practicing the presence is about meeting God in the concrete circumstances of our lives—whatever they are. R. Paul Stevens has written, “If God has come in the flesh, and if God keeps coming to us in our fleshly existence, then all of life is shot through with meaning. Earth is crammed with heaven, and heaven (when we finally get there) will be crammed with earth. Nothing wasted. Nothing lost. Nothing secular. Nothing absurd…. All are grist for the mill of a down-to-earth spirituality” (Down-to-Earth Spirituality: Encountering God in the Ordinary, Boring Stuff of Life). The change of pace can open to us a door of opportunity to practice the presence of God in ways that are new and life giving and different from our normal routine.
All we can ever do as humans is live lives in these physical bodies. In these days of staying at home, it certainly looks and feels different. But God is with us. And we can please him as we present ourselves to him.
I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Romans 12:1 in The Message: “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. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
We can enjoy and glorify God right here, right now in our real lives in the midst of difficult circumstances in an unusual time. Believe this truth and live it wherever you find yourself today.