Consider Romans 12:1:
Came across it first thing this morning while trying to figure out how I could afford Logos 7, the latest incarnation of my electronic reference library. I was at pain level 7, which is pretty intense, but in my case doesn’t last forever, thank God. But while it’s in force, things get a bit crazy, and I sometimes flail around for spiritual support.
I grab at anything I can find — a Bible verse, a cat, a hot water bottle to put on my lap, a cup of coffee, my pain relief playlist — particularly Michael W. Smith, or even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Especially the MTC. And when something soothing comes my way, as it always does, I thankfully attribute it to God and thank Him for it, because the stuff provided to me to help me in my pain are often way more than coincidence.
During what was probably my worst pain flare-up of 2016, one of our wild barn cats, Alex, the loudest purrer on the farm, who has never come to me in my room, came to me and jumped up on my lap, where he proceeded to stretch his body out over my screaming upper legs. He had never done that before and has never done it since. The pain subsided almost immediately. And I could only thank God. By the way, if chemicals have stopped working for you, try a cat.
Ok, back to the business at hand. Offering myself as a living sacrifice. Wow. The implications are far-reaching. So how do I offer my body as a living sacrifice to God? We know from Church practice and theological evidence of centuries that God does not require (or will even tolerate) a Christian to go jump off a cliff or throw himself into the fire. That doesn’t make you a martyr. That makes you an idiot. And it has happened in Church history, trust me. So, offering my body as a “living sacrifice” to God is not like that. We’re Christians, not dumb-asses. And while there’s a huge overlap in the Venn diagram, there is a distinction.
So this is what I concluded about Romans 12:1 as applied to my life. Since my body is being consumed anyway, wouldn’t it be a God-pleasing “living sacrifice” if I used my pain to think of others who are in dire straits, to pray for them, and thereby to not focus on my own problems but to try and be useful to others? If I said: “I’m being sacrificed in the fire today, but I’m not sitting here feeling sorry for myself — rather, I’m praying for others; I’m deflecting my thoughts from my own physical pain and lifting my fellow-traveler up to God in my flawed and dirty, but nevertheless praying hands — am I then sacrificing myself as a living sacrifice?
And is that, according to the Apostle Paul, “true and proper worship?” Wouldn’t it be glorious if I could take this pestilence in my life and turn it into true and proper worship of God! I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do, but at least it gives me something to work on during those level 7 times. And it’s consoling to think, during a little level 7 tête à tête with old friend pain, that I might at the same time be glorifying God.
The apostle Paul was a clever dude. But he was only channeling one microscopic bit of the immense wisdom of God. One atom is enough for me.
*As a footnote: my dour Dutch Reformed Calvinist faith frowns upon the idea that I could ever please God in any way. We were taught in Sunday school that those Catholics (and others) who were trying to please God were delusional and had a works-based Old Testamentic faith that negated the atonement of Christ — nothing they did, as miserable sinners, would ever be acceptable to the Almighty. But that is too strict — and constricting — for me. I can’t subscribe to that. I’m not giving up my grace, but I’m gonna try, try, try to please God. I always do. And I always fail, of course. My best efforts are the ones that flame out most spectacularly. But I try. But besides my own feelings: the Calvinist doctrine does stipulate that we have to try to do good anyway in an effort to show God gratitude for His grace. That’s good enough for me. Even as I’m being tossed into the hearth as a piece of firewood to keep the room warm, I’ll be yelling: “I’m a sacred sacrifice to the Living God! I’m sacrificing myself!” Call me an opportunist.