Cost of Worship
By Anthony Casperson
A couple of months ago, I played Tokaido for the first time. In this board game, the players are travelers going along the road to Edo (Tokyo’s name during an earlier period). The point of the game is to have the best journey along the road.
Unlike other games where you want to be the first to finish, Tokaido puts emphasis on the journey rather than the destination. Even the very last person to Edo could be the winner, having experienced a more fulfilling journey along the road.
Along the way, you visit inns, relax in bathhouses, shop in markets, and behold beautiful vistas of fields and mountains and harbors.
But my very first stop on the journey was to one of the temples along the way. When you go to the temple you have to pay 1-3 coins to worship there. And at the end of the game if you’ve donated the most money, you’re given rewards for being the “most holy.”
This whole concept of having to pay money when you go to the temple in order to be considered holy made me scoff. It’s just reinforcing the thought that people in various organized religions are just after your money, giving you small rewards that may or may not help you in the end.
And Christianity has had its fair share of pretenders who’ve perpetuated this way of thinking. I don’t deny that. But that’s not the way that it should be.
And so I scoffed at this point of the game as it treated worship like nothing more than paying for our beliefs. (On a semi-related note: I ended up being the “most holy” person because of that first temple trip and no one else really seeing value in paying money to be “holy.”)
But as much as I don’t like what things like this game can do to minimize worship, I’ve come to be reminded of the fact that there is something to be said about worship costing us something. Now, this might sound like doubletalk. But I’m not necessarily talking about money when I say that worship costs us something.
And I’m also not talking about “worship” in the limited sense that the majority of American churches tend to use the term: music. Worship is so much more. Though I believe that we tend to minimize worship to this definition because we avoid the idea of worship costing us something.
The bible is clear that worship costs. If you look to 2 Samuel 24, you see King David sin by relying on the strength of his army rather than the strength of God, as he tries to figure out exactly how big his army is.
God gave David a choice of: 3 years famine, 3 months of military defeat, or 3 days of a plague upon the land of Israel as punishment for his sin. During the 3 days of plague, 70,000 people died. The angel spreading the plague stopped in Jerusalem at the threshing field (a high point where the wind could blow the useless husk-like parts from the grain) of a man named Araunah.
His heart rent at the destruction of his people because of his sin, King David went to Araunah asking him to sell the land and cattle so that a sacrifice could be made. The man said to the king that he could take all that he needed. But David says, in verse 24, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that costs me nothing.”
David understood that the worship of God must have a cost. He paid for the land and the oxen that he sacrificed in the worship of his God. And on that very spot, his son, King Solomon, would build the temple where millions of livestock would be sacrificed to God in worship of him. And each of those animals was costly when flocks and herds often numbered in the range of 12-20.
But again, this sounds like worship costing money. Where’s the part about the cost of worship not being about money?
In Psalm 40:6 David writes, “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” David writes in that same Psalm about rejoicing in God’s mighty deeds, desiring to do God’s will, knowing the word of God so well that its like it was written on his heart, and speaking confidently of the faithfulness of God.
These are the costs that God desires.
In another Psalm, written after David had sinned in a whole different manner, we see him write, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17, ESV).
The cost of worship is our will, our desires, our habits, our time, our talents, our gifts, our whole being, as God develops in us a relationship with him that changes us to be more like him.
We worship God when we love one another. When we pray for one another. When we sacrifice our time for one another. When we rejoice with one another. When we weep with one another. When we speak forth God’s word and his ways. When we fall to our knees because we have gone against the desires of God and need to have an adjustment in our relationship with him. And even when we give of the finances that he has blessed us with.
There is a cost to worship. Let’s not minimize it to just giving money or just singing songs. The cost is our very metamorphosis to becoming the people God made us to be. So go, worship God with a heart that is willing to pay any cost. And in the end, you will have experienced a journey with God that far surpasses any other you could’ve taken.