Raw Fish and Worship

I first tried sushi about five years ago and found it to be not nearly as terrifying as I anticipated. Two years later, I found myself dining in Nashville with a sushi connoisseur who talked me through some of the finer points of Japanese cuisine and fully converted me to #teamsushi. When a hibachi restaurant opened up near my house a couple years ago, I was there on opening day to sample the sushi with a friend. That became a weekly fix for us, and was dubbed “Sushi Thursday.” I have never been a “foodie,” so to speak, but for the first time in my life I thought about and talked about food obsessively! I was an addict!

Raw fish reminded me that a small shift in my affections can drastically transform me over time. Sushi was a simple picture of how affections steer our focus, and an increased focus also increases our desire. Soon, our thoughts, actions, and emotions become so tied up in that thing - whatever it is - that it becomes part of who we are. For better or for worse, we make decisions that often defy logic (at one time I was spending upwards of $50/week on sushi alone, despite the fact that my wife and I were on a tight budget to pay off a significant home renovation project), and even the most negative consequences or rational arguments are not enough to alter our course.

That’s how I developed a taste for sushi, it’s how I fell in love with my wife, and it’s why I became a pastor. It's why people get married, and, sadly, it's the reason so many marriages fall apart. 

Photo credit: JAPANKURU,  Get your Eat on @ Shabu-Shabu & Sushi Hassan  via Photopin

Photo credit: JAPANKURU, Get your Eat on @ Shabu-Shabu & Sushi Hassan via Photopin

I grew up in the Church and can't remember a time where I didn't know - or at least know of - God. I always had faith, always wanted to please God, and always understood that actions - good, sinful, or somewhere in between - had eternal ramifications. The older I grew, the more I understood of God's character and heart. Simultaneously, I became more and more aware of my own brokenness and sinfulness. For years I wrestled with a constant tension: how can I know things to be true about God and His kingdom and yet so consistently say and do things that stand in complete opposition to those beliefs?

I felt like a hypocrite. Maybe I was one. Anyone observing my life at any given moment would most likely find my trajectory and decision making to be at odds with that which I claimed to believe. It was classic "do as I say and not as I do" Christianity. My faith was first and foremost intellectual. Coming in at a distant second was my practical faith - the way my beliefs manifested themselves in my day to day life. Buried somewhere underneath all of that was my emotional faith - the raw heartbeat for the things of God. (This is not to suggest that I think the human spirit can be compartmentalized into such neat divisions; rather, it's attempt to understand why I found myself resonating so strongly with Paul's struggle in Romans 7).

At some point in my early twenties, I started to come to terms with the fact that I simply didn't love God like I thought I did. I wanted to love God more than anything, but it simply wasn't true. My heart was fickle and was too wrapped up in things of this world. I began praying a simple, yet honest prayer: "God, help me fall in love with you." For the first time in my life I stopped praying for self-control or will power or strength to stay the course, and instead began to seek after a nothing more than a heart that burned for God.

Nothing helped shape and lead that passion and love more than learning how to worship. It was during that season of my life that I abandoned once and for all the teenage dream of being a songwriter and touring with a rock band. My love for music and affecting hearts with lyrics and melodies found new life as I stepped into the role of Worship Leader for our church. This affection suddenly had a new focus that had nothing to do with self-promotion, merchandising, or gig-booking; instead, the singular aim was to fix my heart and mind on Jesus, and to help a church to do the same. As I worshiped, God became more clear, more real. His presence was felt in ways I had never experienced. I began to long for the weekends, the time when corporate worship would echo off the walls of our small theater. 

Worship was the action, the response, that stirred my heart towards God. It's how I learned to love Him, first. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created us in His image. When we worship God - when our affections, thoughts, feelings, and actions are stirred towards Him - we increasingly take on that God-shape in our lives. And in giving us His image, God also gave us His purpose. God commanded the first people to “be fruitful and multiply,” thereby spreading His image and glory throughout the Earth. Jesus did the same thing with His followers, telling them to multiply disciples in His image to the ends of the Earth.

We worship what we love, and we become like what we worship. That is the way we spread God’s glory, and it’s why He calls us worship Him. If you have ever found yourself living in that kind of tension between thought and action, let me encourage you to learn to worship. Don't force it and don't put a time table on it. Infuse the journey with grace. Allow your affections to be stirred for God, and your actions will follow. 

DAN JACKSON

Dan is a pastor, writer, and speaker. He is the host of the Ordinary Faith Podcast and currently serves as a Campus Pastor for Southland Christian Church in Georgetown, KY.