And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8)
Like so many other Bible ‘greats,’ Abraham lived a particular characteristic that goes a long way towards defining a ‘godly man.’ It is an attribute that is consistently found in those men and women who stood out and made a difference. It is the quality that encapsulates the real meaning of ‘godly’ which, in essence, is to show forth the nature of God. We so often reduce this to measurable human terms based on actions or speech that we can quantify. If a man knows the Bible, prays, is kind to his neighbours, goes to church regularly, and can generally be seen be ‘good,’ we quickly apply the label ‘godly.’ The Bible, however, often calls this ‘religion’ rather than ‘godliness.’ It is entirely possible to be ‘good’ and not be ‘godly.’ What separates one from the other is genuine worship. Abraham, like all the others who are called godly in the Bible, lived a life of worship. Wherever he went, Abraham always built an altar.
A life of worship essentially means continuously laying all down as a living sacrifice.
To understand this quality, we must first understand that worship is not our words and actions. Songs, prayers, and actions like kneeling are outward, visible and audible expressions of worship, and worship is essentially a condition of the heart. It is not what we do or say but how we live that defines the real nature of our worship. Jesus Himself highlighted this truth many times when He addressed the religious leaders, or compared the widow’s mite with the wealthy man’s giving, or the Pharisee’s prayer with that of the poor and humble man. True worship is all the time, a life of worship, and it defines the essential nature of godliness.
Abraham’s entire journey and life are characterised by the fact that God called him His friend. The very nature of friendship implies constant fellowship, communication, and sharing. Had Abraham not been God’s friends, he would not have known of the coming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he would not have been able to intercede – and, in fact, ‘negotiate’ with God – and he would not have been able to rescue Lot and his family. His life of worship placed him where God listened and where he was able to make a difference as a result.
Today’s verse mentions a very particular and very interesting truth. Abraham pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai and then built an altar there. This is significant because it’s a type of where God desires us to position ourselves. Ai, which essentially means ‘heap of ruins,’ was one of the royal cities of the Canaanites. As such, it symbolises the world – the people not of God. Bethel, on the other hand, means ‘house of God.’ Abraham worshiped at this same altar on his return from Egypt years later, at it was at Bethel that Jacob saw the ‘stairway to heaven’ and later met with God. Abraham positioned himself between the two, something that a life of worship requires and accomplishes in us.
First, we are to be separate from the world. A life of worship means coming apart, separating ourselves from people and things that stand in opposition to God. It means walking away – just as Abraham did when he left his home and family at Ur – and it means staying away. It means resisting temptation, and keeping a safe distance from fleshly desires and pleasures and our own plans and purposes. It means, in essence, consecration – giving all to God in His service – as holy nation and royal priesthood.
Second, we are to position ourselves between God and the world. Being separate does not mean a ‘holy huddle’ or the ‘frozen chosen.’ It means separating ourselves in terms of how we live, but to live in God’s service which includes intercession. A life of worship does not mean that we turn our backs on the sinners. We keep them in sight and constantly bring them before the Lord. Intercession and a life of worship are inseparable. If we’re not interceding, we’re not worshiping.
That may seem like a sweeping and harsh statement, but we need to consider it because it’s perhaps one of the most telling ‘signs’ of real godliness. Worship, at it’s most basic, is the acknowledgement that God is ‘all’ and we are ‘nothing.’ Worship is realising that without the cleansing blood of Jesus, we have no way to come to a holy God. We cannot discount the biblical truths that we are God’s children, His people, His delight, His ‘set apart ones.’ All these are true, but they are only through grace. A life of worship recognises the need to live holy, consecrated lives because we are not called to be godly, we are called to manifest the godliness of Jesus in us.
None of us can argue the truth that Jesus came as the manifestation of God, to reveal God’s nature and heart to the sinners of this world with the express purpose of making a way to God. His life, His teachings, His miracles, and His example all point to the way He made on the cross. This is all the nature and the heart of God. A life of worship will manifest the nature of Jesus. That is true worship. In order to manifest Jesus, we must cease to manifest self. The two cannot exist simultaneously in the same space. That is the essence of being a living sacrifice – we sacrifice self at any given moment in order to manifest Jesus.
If manifesting Christ is the ‘ultimate’ act of a life of worship, we must seek to manifest all of Him, which includes intercession. While on earth, Jesus prayed for His disciples and those who persecuted Him. He worked miracles of healing and deliverance and taught those who would listen how to enter the kingdom of God. His entire life was focused on intercession – bringing the people to God and bringing God to the people. Even now, He works tirelessly in heaven to fulfill this fundamental role of intercession. Of all the things Jesus said and did, this particular role is ongoing and without ceasing. Shouldn’t that tell us something.
A truly godly person is one who manifests the nature of Christ. When we look at them we see Jesus. We don’t see their outward show of worship or piety, we see the nature of the great intercessor – He who gave His life as the perfect sacrifice in the greatest act of intercession the world has ever seen or will see again. If this is the nature of godliness and the measure of a life of worship, we need to learn from the life of Abraham. Wherever he went, we see that the first thing he always did was to build an altar. His life was focused on communion with God, and friendship with God spilled over into intercession.
We cannot live in Ai because, like Lot, we would soon be corrupted by the wickedness of the world. Nor can we constantly live in Bethel, the house of God. We carry His presence with us always – that’s an eternal promise that He will never withdraw – but we can only live in His presence in eternity. For now, our life of worship has a single purpose – to pass on what we receive from God to the world, and to bring the world to God in intercession. If we do not, then our worship is of self. It’s a ‘me, myself, I’ activity that does not manifest the nature of Christ.
We must remember that the final command Jesus gave to His disciple – one which has never been withdrawn – was to ‘go to all the ends of the earth.’ To live as a living sacrifice means to live to continue the work that He came to do. We are His body and under His direction. We have no control over what we do and how or where. The head decides and the body obeys. A life of worship is a life of consecration and separation to the purposes of God. While He may and does continually work in us to change us ‘from glory to glory,’ and while there are wonderful promises and blessings that come to us personally in our journey as God’s friend, the essential purpose behind everything is to restore man to God. Intercession is the hallmark of a life of worship, that elusive characteristic that is the only measure of godliness. If we do not love as Jesus did to the point of laying down our lives so others may be saved, we do not truly worship.
Father, we thank You for Your Word and for the example given us in Jesus. Help us to learn from Him and from the others who lived a life of worship. As Your presence goes with us, help us to be set aside for Your purposes, to yield our lives as living sacrifices, and to truly manifest Christ to all as we stand in the position of intercession, just as He did.