Welcome to the Priesthood


Orginally published here.  Re-posted with permission.

For hours our group of foreign and Chinese teachers drove south through rice paddies and terraced tea hills to the famed Yellow Mountains of east central China. My initial fascination worn thin through endless unfamiliarity, I felt I had been dropped on another planet and wished I could switch off my senses. But we kept driving and entered the town of Mt. Jihua (pronounced jo-hwah), ringed by eighty-one temples. Throngs of Buddhist worshipers crowded the streets for the September pilgrimage.

In one temple, a golden-robed monk with a shaved head was leading a service. Huge, ghostly gold Buddha statues stared at us from glass cases lining the walls. The service centered on readings, lighting candles, chants, a short talk, and the occasional banging of a huge gong. Incense burned, and fireworks exploded outside. I felt as if I had stepped into a scene from Tibetan history or a National geographic special.

When the service ended, I began to work my way toward the door. Elbows jabbed my sides and bodies crushed against me. Then, for a moment, the crowd separated, and I found myself face-to-face with the Buddhist monk. Our eyes met, and we silently considered one another. I thought, You are a priest here, and this is your house and your time. But I am a child of the true, living God. I am his priest, and one day he will rule this place. We nodded in respect to one another, turned away, and proceeded through the crowds.

When I squeezed through the doorway I felt free again―from the strangeness of the temple and its Buddhist rites. Free because in Christ I am part of a holy, royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9) that can worship God directly.

If you trust in Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf, you too are Christ’s priest―where you live, work, and worship.

Royal lineage

What does it mean to be part of this royal priesthood? I’ve never met a king or queen or been to seminary. My royalty comes from the fact that I am a fully adopted child of God (Ephesians 1:4). I am a priest because Jesus is the head of God’s high priestly order, and he has made (and is making) me his fellow priest. It is a byproduct of my conversion. This gives me dignity and a royal lineage. I need to take this seriously without putting on airs.

Maybe the best way to understand this priesthood is to look at how it works in the lives of several people I’ve known.

A heart for worship

I loved to be around Frances Cook. In her eighties and confined to a wheel chair, she struggled regularly with pain. But every time I saw her at church she looked me in the eye and said, “Isn’t the Lord good.” She wasn’t seeking confirmation; she was declaring a lifelong certainty. Though physically ailing, her humble heart for God was infectious to everyone who knew her. Until the day of her death Frances lived like the priest she was.

As a royal priest, you are first a worshiper. You are called “to declare the excellencies” of God, who called you out of eternal confusion and isolation from himself. He created you to worship him and, by your life, to cause others to announce his glory. Worship is not merely something you do; it is a statement about your identity.

Spokesman for truth

Dave Greeley was a quiet, unassuming guy. He liked to laugh but he struggled with shyness and perhaps feelings of inferiority. Yet he was one of the best witnesses in our office. Every morning he would pick up donuts on the way to work. In doing this he struck up a friendship with the woman behind the bakery counter. Dave told her how God had helped him in his struggles. Winning her confidence, he gave her a copy of a Christian book on child-raising when she was having problems with her son. Over Christmas Dave witnessed to three of his brothers and their families.

Like Dave, all believers are priests who witness about their Lord. Jesus says you are his witness whether or not you are trying to be one, comfortable about it, good at it, or even cooperative. Because of your relationship to him, your life presents daily evidence for or against the reality and character of God. You are “an aroma of Christ to those being saved and of death to the perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15). A witness is a humble servant and spokesman for truth.

Many Christian say they fear witnessing because they sense their lives are little different from those of their secular friends and neighbors. Jesus and the apostles insist you are not only different in character, you are a different kind of being. You bear God’s family name, his royal dignity. He has made you a priest for a purpose: not to live for your personal comfort, but to extend his kingdom.

Direct access to God

As a new Christian Nancie Winnick was a quick study. Once she grasped a new idea, she didn’t rest until she found a way to obey God.

When Nancie read that Jesus is the only mediator between God and people, she purged her house of “idols.” Out went the rosaries, statues, prayer candles, and medallions. She stopped praying to Mary and the saints. Last to go was the backyard statue of the virgin. One day she pushed it over and dragged it away by the feet.

Like Nancie, we can come face-to-face with God though Jesus Christ. We don’t need a temple, altar, rituals, or sacrifices to enter God’s presence. There’s no need to bow before Buddha, travel to Mecca, or seek forgiveness from professional clergy. We can confess our sins at any time or place, worship or pray anywhere, read and interpret the Scripture for ourselves, and follow what the Bible says about living a godly life.

Jesus has made us spiritually equal with every other believer, including pastors and teachers.

Priest on the block

My wife has been a priest in our home. She protects her devotional time, talks about God’s goodness, and often reminded our growing sons of God’s kindness and provision for our family. I did the same things, but less effectively.

The first place we practice our priesthood is at home. There are many ways:

leading our families in praise
helping them understand and interpret Scripture
serving them with humility
listening for their needs and interceding in prayer
offering part of our money for God’s work
We are also priests in our neighborhoods and at work. For me this comes down to how I look at the single moms next door, how I treat their sometimes unruly kids, and whether I am too busy at work or church to help them when they have needs. It also means I know their names and bring their lives and concerns before God. I let my faith seep out in daily conversation.

Destined to reign

Finally, we are in training for the most remarkable aspect of our priesthood, the day when Christ returns and we will reign with him. Our destiny as people made in God’s image is to have dominion, to reign as prophets, priests, and kings who “interpret God’s will, represent nature’s needs, [and] receive and dispense God’s bounty.”* Our training comes through prayer. God heeds our prayers when, like Jesus’, they come from hearts surrendered to the will of the Father.

Do you see that like Frances, Dave, Nancie, and my wife, you are God’s royal priest? This makes you remarkably different from your secular friends and neighbors. You represent the Lord to everyone around you. You bear his image and possess the power of the world to come.

Therefore, “Let nothing keep you back from giving yourself to be wholly and only a priest to the most High God.”*

*Quotes from With Christ in the School of Prayer, by Andrew Murray.

Believer, You Are a Priest

“But you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God” (Isaiah 61:6).

“…you yourselves… are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father…” (Revelation 1:6).

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