Living Sacrifices and Limitations
Therefore I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12.1
You turn people back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust you mortals.’
Now David was very old; even when they covered him with blankets, he could not get warm.
1 Kings 1.1
We don’t like to acknowledge our limitations. It is very common for older people to keep quiet about the physical limitations of their age. We often live like we will live forever. It can also be hard to acknowledge our limitations because we are called as Christians to offer our whole lives as living sacrifices. What does this look like for me to sacrifice myself? Some might say or act as though it looks like denying ourselves food, water, sleep, and periods of rest that are necessary to sustain a human. How do we both acknowledge our limitations and offer our bodies as sacrifices? We must understand our humanity and our fallenness as we live our lives. Some in history have denied themselves of bodily necessity so much that they ended up dying because of malnourishment. This wasn’t because of persecution but because of misguided zeal. We must take care of ourselves so much as we can so that we can finish this marathon called life. I have been reading this book called Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash, and this is his very point. He quotes someone who says, ‘Don’t burn out, keep yourselves fueled and aflame.’
It is essential as we consider the created order and our cursed state as we think about how not to burn out. God created humanity good, but he also created humanity as finite. Man was created on the 6th day and was given the gift of rest on the 7th. However, it is important to see how God rested on the 7th day in order to show humanity their need for rest. We can acknowledge that God did in fact do something on the 7th day even as he rested. He actively sustained and upheld the universe. It wouldn’t have lasted a millisecond without the active work of God. But in another sense he did rest from creating. He no longer was about creating. He gave an example to man to rest on the seventh day, and the need for rest is even seen in the need for men and women to lay down and rest daily. This sleep and rest from work on the seventh day is a sign of our limited nature. We do not go on forever. We do not stay the same forever. We change from day to day. Even before Adam’s fall, humanity grew. Adam and Eve were changeable from day 1, and had need of things which God had no need for.
The second thing we should observe in the early chapters of Genesis is the fall. Our finiteness is brought more clearly in view as Adam and Eve sinned, and God brought the punishment of the curse of death upon humanity. Not only did sleep remind humans of their limited nature, but death did all the more. When Cain killed Abel, it resounded throughout creation: humans are limited and the curse of death is ugly. Abel was the first of many humans to return to the dust man was created out of. So now humans look to the end of their lives, and they also experience precursors to that death in the aches and pains of life. Arthiritis limits movements in a pianist’s hands. Lower back pain strikes office workers who sit at their desk all day. Lack of sleep ruins the beauty of new days. Mosquitoes and deer ticks ruin a beautiful summer afternoon. The fall of Adam and Eve is real and we experience it every day of our lives. So many pieces of our lives remind us of our frailty and that we will return to dust.
David is perhaps a good example from the Bible. He is the famous king who consolidated the Northern and Southern tribes. He was a man after God’s own heart, but this did not prevent his old age. David had not prepared for the time when he would not be able to fend off his own enemies. Though once they sang, ‘Saul has murdered his thousands and David his ten-thousands,’ at the end of his life David didn’t seem to be able to fend off the attacks of his own sons who were trying to usurp the throne. He was such a useless sot that he needed to have another person lie beside him to keep him warm. No one wants to remember David in adult diapers. Everyone wants to remember David the slayer of Goliath. As you consider the end of David’s life you can’t help but wondering, ‘Could he have ended with more faithfulness?’ I think the answer would have been, ‘Yes!’ But also the problem was perhaps bigger than himself. A human could never rule properly over the people of God. David’s very position proclaimed the need of a divine king to rule over the people of God. Yet I do think that the narrative makes clear the limitations of one of the greatest men in the scriptures. The psalms of David teach us mightily that we need to be rooted in the word of God because it does not change. I think all too often we expect to live forever and never acknowledge our limitations. It is much clearer in David as an old man, but we can even see this in younger people who do not give attention to the needs of created, limited, cursed bodies.
As we live our lives as a sacrifice, we must not neglect what is necessary for our spiritual and physical health. Christopher Ash in his book outlines things that we must not neglect for our physical and spiritual health. We need sleep as the Lord provides, we need a day weekly where we rest, we need Christian friendships, and we need inner renewal. You could pehaps add a few other things to this list, but suffice it to say these are things God built into our created nature to see our finite nature. We must remember that the world does not sit on our shoulders, salvation is not a work of my own. We must also remember that we may struggle with our broken bodies for the rest of our lives, and we must find contentment not in our situation, but in the hope of salvation: our bodies will one day be renewed, and the arthiritis, infertility, lymes disease, dimensia and so much more will no longer burden us. Although the fall is very real, salvation is more real, and we are called to put our hope in God and not simply in a potential cure for our disease or restoration of our broken bodies. And as we acknowledge our limitations, we get to see Jesus who is our glorious savior as more than sufficient for us. May we like Paul grow to say, ‘God’s grace is sufficient for me. His power is perfected in my weakness.’