The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands. (Psalm 138:8)
While we are not required to make the daily, weekly, monthly, or annual sacrifices God demanded from the Jews, we should never imagine that this excludes us from adhering to the principles behind them. Each of us, in worshiping God, are in effect ‘building an altar’ on which we should daily ‘sacrifice’ self as part of our life of worship. All too often, we read verses such as the one chosen for today’s devotional and look only at the first part. We overlook an essential component of the truth that God works to perfect us – that we are to be participants in the process.
God works to perfect us, but the progres is determined by our willingness to yield and participate.
It’s becoming more and more critical that we understand this and involve ourselves in it, given that we are most certainly living in end times. The time for the bride to prepare herself for the Bridegroom’s coming is running out. Only those who are without blemish, spot, or wrinkle will be accepted. Many will, tragically, find themselves among the number of the virgins locked outside the marriage feast for the simple reason that they did not grasp the truth that God will never work without our willing participation. God works to perfect us. There is no denying that. We cannot do the work ourselves. But our attitude to the work defines the extent of the work, because God will never force, bully, or coerce us into yielding to what He wishes to do.
Abraham provides an excellent example of how we can and should participate in the process so that God works to perfect us according to His purposes. For one thing, he always built an altar, no matter where he went, camped, lived, or journeyed. He knew and obeyed the principle that his life was to be centred on the altar of worship. The entire relevance of an alter, be it literally or spiritually, is that of sacrifice. It is the place where something is sacrificed, given, laid down, or surrendered to God. In the Old Testament, God laid down very specific requirements for the animals to be sacrificed, and this was fulfilled in Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God.
It’s easy for us to blithely say that ‘Jesus gave it all.’ But this is our example of acceptable worship. We’re not talking the songs we sing or the accompanying actions or gestures. It’s a matter of the heart. Like Jesus, who gave all, we should be yielding all in absolute surrender. Worship is essentially laying down ourselves – all of ourselves – in order that God works to perfect us. This is where the second part of the verse is so critical. Being human, we do not have the ability to lay it all down in one complete surrender. For us, it’s a process, a gradual yielding of self in every situation, through every prayer, and with all our heart. It is His mercy that allows us to do it this way instead of demanding all at one time. Without His mercy, we would be confronted with the impossible.
The Bible tells us that we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. This is our fundamental purpose. It is also the ‘definition’ of worship – yielding heart, soul, mind, and strength. Worship engages who and what we are, totally and completely. But it is through our daily worship that we learn to yield things that we could not yield yesterday. God’s mercy is such that He reveals to us the things we need to lay down or surrender on a daily basis and in ordinary situations. This is the essential meaning of being a ‘living sacrifice.’ We are continually on the altar, a willing participant in the process as God works to perfect us. It’s not longer a single sacrifice that has to be repeated tomorrow and the day after. It’s a moment by moment ‘living on the altar’ and yielding those things the Holy Spirit brings to our attention.
The verse part of today’s verse has a key word which is often glossed over. It talks of the things that ‘concern’ us. Our first interpretation – which is not incorrect – is that this speaks of us, of everything that is of relevance to us and our lives. The problem is that this is all too often used as an excuse to sit back and let God get on with it. It engenders the misconception that because God works to perfect us, that He will do everything to perfect every little detail of our lives, we simply need to get comfortable and ‘enjoy the ride.’ We don’t need to do anything, because we’re not able to, for one thing, and God is in control. While these are truths that cannot be disputed, we often don’t look at the deeper meaning.
Let’s look at a simple sentence put two ways to illustrate these two meanings. The first reflects the prevalent attitude: “God works to perfect every single detail of everything concerning us.” The second presents a deeper relevance: “I am concerned about all the things that God will work to perfect in my life.” We see an entirely greater relevance on the word ‘concern.’ It stirs up some questions: Are we as concerned about the things in us and our lives that need perfecting as God is? As God works to perfect us, are we as concerned about those things that need to be surrendered to His work as He is? Are we concerned enough to hear His voice, to listen to His prompting, and to obey each time He raises and issue that needs to be placed on the altar?
To grasp the full ramifications of this, Abraham provides a wonderful example yet again. The promises he received from God are promises we, as Christians, enjoy today within the context of the church – keeping in mind that there were also promises for Israel which do not necessarily pertain to us in literal ways. That debate isn’t part of today’s journey, but what is important is that Abraham is as much a ‘spiritual father’ to us as He was to the Jews in many ways. He has much to teach us. Like Abraham, He requires us to sacrifice our ‘Isaac’ on the altar as God works to perfect us.
Isaac, for Abraham, was His greatest treasure. He was the evidence of God’s faithfulness and the sign of the fulfillment of all the promises. He was the one thing Abraham had desired above all else, and which he loved above all others. He was Abraham’s present, but also Abraham’s future. He was, in essence, part of everything that Abraham was and could or would be in God. This is significant. It encompassed everything that was or would be. It was total and complete, and left no room for holding back, negotiation, or compromise. It was an all or nothing command. God has not changed. As God works to perfect us, He demands exactly the same from each one of us. It is His eternal mercy that has first provided the way through Christ and then allowed and empowered us to do it little by little as we remain daily on the altar as living sacrifices.
Now let’s look at the last line of the verse. It seems an odd insertion, a prayer that God would not stop His work of perfection. Why would the psalmist feel the need to pray this if God simply did the work? It was because he knew that while God works to perfect us, we need to participate with all our hearts. How actively do we seek God for His work of perfecting us? Do we honestly ask Him to do the work? Do we yearn to be spotless and without wrinkle or blemish? Do we desire righteousness, no matter what the personal cost?
It brings us back to the truth that God will work to perfect us only in those things that we yield to Him. Remember, God blessed us with free will – something self loves to manipulate to our own purposes and self-gratification. While we hold onto things, while we hold back and don’t immerse ourselves in the process, He will hold back. This is the psalmist’s purpose – to pray fervently that God would continue His work to perfect us. It is a prayer of surrender. It is a prayer of choice. It is a prayer that recognises that we cannot do the work, that only God is able to present us spotless at the end, but that we should ask for it.
Asking God to work to perfect us is, essentially, yielding ourselves to His ongoing regeneration and transformation. It is the willingness, the surrender, the yielding He requires. It is us being concerned about our condition and bringing it to God with the desire of heart, soul, mind, and body to be conformed to His likeness. There is not place and time in these end times for complacent Christianity. The days when we could coast along on spiritual hype and super-spiritual sounding platitudes are gone. We can no longer rely on feeding on the wisdom or spiritual growth of others. We need to build our altars and truly live the reality of the sacrifice of self.
We so easily get distracted by the idea that this or that is simply a ‘little thing,’ hardly worth worrying about. The real truth is that this is compromise. Even the tiniest spot will be glaringly obvious in the light of His glory. We cannot expect to share the ‘oil’ or to get by without trimming the wicks. Our lamps will be worthless at the moment of His coming and we will find ourselves in darkness, locked out of the joy of celebration. We need to move beyond the smug assumption that ‘God works to perfect us’ as if it had nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with us. If He forsakes the work of His hands, it’s because our altars remain unbuilt or empty.
We can be sure that what we bring to God, He will always work to our good. That is His promise, and He is eternally faithful. He will work mighty things with a willing, humble, and obedient heart. The works of the devil and the teachings of the world rise up to exalt self. They pressure us daily into focusing on ourselves and our needs and desires. We are constantly reminded that we ‘deserve this’ or have a ‘right to that.’ All of this is in direct contradiction to the Word of God which teaches us over and over again to lay down self, to sacrifice self, to crucify self, and to abandon ourselves in fervent desire to the promise that God works to perfect us. This is real worship – to desire only what God desires with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. That is our daily sacrifice in our walk with God, secure in the absolute faith that He will always do His part with what we give Him.
Lord, forgive us for holding back. Help us to change our minds and our attitudes, to love You with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Guide us in our daily worship and empower us to be living sacrifices, to be concerned with the things that concern You about us, and to yield self so that You can continue Your work of perfection. Help us to desire righteousness, to earnestly and fervently pray that You will work in us to present us without spot, blemish, or wrinkle at the time of Your coming.