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Religious Essays

Four Steps for Worship

In Leviticus we read about the four scriptural steps for drawing near to God, each embodied by a type of offering:

  1. Olah (Ascent, Rising), in which we connect with God.
  2. Minchah (Giving), in which we surrender ourselves to God.
  3. Chattat and Asham (Atonement for Offenses and Reparation for Guilt), in which we acknowledge God's provision of atonement and redemption, we repent as needed, and we intercede for all God's people.
  4. Sh'lamim (Peace Meal), in which we are nourished and made more holy in God's presence.

These four scriptural steps are also very much like the steps by which someone accepts Yeshua's covenant and his role as messiah. First a person must turn to God and reach out to God. Then a person must surrender his or her life to God. Then a person must recognize and confess his or her slavery to sin and repent. Then a person can enter into a previously unattainable intimacy with God and a new kind of spiritual life and growth.

Unsurprisingly, these sections are also the steps to our becoming refreshed and renewed in our relationship with Adonai, and the steps for recognizing and honoring all that Adonai has done for us.

These steps are as appropriate for a private morning prayer time as a full congregational service. They are also useful at weekday prayer meetings, holiday celebrations, celebration, or even a time of "warm up" prayer before a full service begins.

During the first century, a different person would lead the service each week (including both leading liturgy and giving the sermon). To encourage more participation and discipleship, a group new to these scriptural steps of prayer might change this ancient tradition so that during each service a different congregant leads each of the four steps. At each step, the new leader should begin with some spontaneous prayer, as led by God's Spirit, before starting what has been planned: this can help the overall worship experience to be one continuous prayer into which all those assembled are invited to join.

There are many ways to arrange all the elements of a worship service (music, dance, non-liturgical prayer, sermon, discussion, eating together) within the four steps.

A well-designed worship service begins like a musical's overture: it introduces the service by quickly and sequentially touching on the themes from all four steps.

In America, Protest Christianity has developed several models of "steps of prayer" which resemble this scriptural example but always fall slightly short. For example, a very popular model uses the acronym ACTS to stand for Adoration (used similarly to Olah), Confession (used similarly for Chattat and Asham), Thanksgiving and Supplication (these last two would sculpturally be part of Sh'lamim). Thus the ACTS model leaves out a distinct focus on giving, although people who use it may be led by God enough to include a time of freshly giving themselves to God in their Confession section.