A Meaningful Sacrifice

Our church recently launched a financial campaign called “Freedom” with the goal of eradicating its debt. The church staff made frequent mention of the term “sacrificial giving”, and my sense was that many in the congregation were unclear as to how this concept applied to them individually. Sacrificial giving was certainly a confusing subject for me personally as well. What exactly does sacrificial giving mean? Is it something you do until it hurts? Does it always involve pain? Is God only satisfied if we’ve given more than we can do cheerfully? Does sacrificial giving only pertain to finances, i.e. can people also give through other means (e.g. performing service, giving their time, sharing their non-monetary resources, etc.)?

For answers to these questions, I turned to Scripture. And I discovered that the Bible has a lot to say about sacrifice and what makes it meaningful. The message throughout the Bible is that what God desires more than sacrifice is our worship, obedience, sincerity, and an attitude of humility and of devotion to him. Religious acts, though well-intentioned, mean nothing if our hearts are not right before the Lord. As Proverbs 15:8 explains:

The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked,
    but the prayer of the upright pleases him. (NIV)

When God commanded King Saul to “attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them”, Saul disobeyed by sparing the Amalekite King Agag and keeping the best Amalekite livestock. Saul tried to justify his disobedience by claiming that his soldiers took the sheep and cattle as sacrificial offerings for God, but the prophet Samuel rebuked him:

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22; emphasis mine)

Before I gave my heart to Jesus, I tried to earn God’s love and absolve the guilt I felt from living a sin-riddled life by singing in my church choir. There were many Sunday mornings when I was singing in the choir with a hangover. In fact, during one church service I was so hungover that I had to sit down in the middle of singing a song because I thought I was going to faint and/or throw up. This was quite embarrassing as I stood in the front row of the choir! Would I consider my service an acceptable sacrifice, an aroma “pleasing to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9b)? Of course not!

In addition to my obedience, the Lord also wants me to offer true repentance and humility as my sacrifice rather than outward actions:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17; emphasis mine)

It’s not my offerings and religious rituals that necessarily need examining, but rather my motive in doing them. Am I loyal to the Lord? Am I worshiping him out of a heart of love? Furthermore, do my dealings with other people adequately reflect a heart submitted to him? The Bible teaches us that above any offerings or sacrifices we could bring him, the Lord wants us to demonstrate mercy and justice:

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8; emphasis mine)

Christ provided the ultimate example of sacrifice. He gave himself as a perfect offering for our sin, and his attitude in doing so was one of supreme mercy, humility, obedience, loyalty and devotion to the Father. The Apostle Paul explains that when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’” (Hebrews 10:5-7; emphasis mine)

Since Christ was the only perfect and acceptable sacrifice for sin, what kind of offering can we now possibly bring to God? The best answer is everything. 100%. All that we have, all that we are. In response to God’s mercy, love, grace, power, wisdom, provision, and glory, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices “holy and pleasing to God – this is [our] true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1b).

So does sacrifice involve pain? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Offering ourselves as living sacrifices means denying ourselves, laying down our own desires, and putting others first. Jesus warned his followers about the self-denial required to follow him when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

On the other hand, dearly beloved warriors, the joys of following Jesus far outweigh any pain or discomfort. Some of the many benefits we enjoy by living God’s will include fellowship with the Creator of the Universe, salvation, eternal life, forgiveness, a moral compass, purpose, guidance, meaning, fellow believers to walk through life with, peace that transcends all understanding, adoption as God’s children, our name in the book of life, and freedom from earthly pursuits. Is sacrifice difficult? Most definitely. But is it worth it? Absolutely!

Father in Heaven, I pray that my life would be a pleasing and acceptable offering to you. Please help me in the areas of my life where I’m weak and selfish, where I’m not taking up my cross. I need your help, Lord! But I am willing that you should have all of me, to your glory always.

Enjoy Casting Crown’s Life Song

 

 

 

 

 

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A Bold Prayer

Lord, I have heard of your fame;bold prayer little girl and mom
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
   in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2; NIV)

The church we recently started attending adopted the above verse as its mission statement. My husband and I participated in an introductory class offered by the church that explains its history and values, and our small table group was asked to discuss our reactions to the Habakkuk verse. The boldness of the prophet prayer, which, in my opinion, borders on audacity, impresses me tremendously. Habakkuk had the nerve to ask God to perform the same types of miracles he performed during the Jews’ captivity in Egypt — bringing pestilence and plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, freeing the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, parting the sea, and destroying Pharaoh and his army.

I love Habakkuk’s heart! He prayed boldly and confidently to the Lord. The prophet knew what God was capable of, and he wasn’t afraid to ask the Lord to repeat his awesome deeds in the prophet’s day. Habakkuk also knew that all of the glory would be God’s as no human power could possibly take credit for these wonders. And now my church prays for God to again renew his deeds in our time. Sure, maybe thousands of years ago God performed miracles on a monumental scale quite regularly, but in today’s day and age?

The Bible gives us another example of a bold prayer. This popular prayer is often referred to as the Prayer of Jabez:

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:10)

“Bless me and enlarge my territory!” Who among us would dare to make such a grand request in the modern day? Jabez could make this bold prayer because he recognized that God wanted to bless him. In addition, Jabez wanted to increase his sphere of influence not only for himself but for God, and he wanted God to be on his side. What about us? Do we recognize that God wants to bless us? Do we pray because we want God to be on our side, and because we want to grow his kingdom?

Scripture clearly demonstrates that God is ready and waiting to hear our prayers and grant our bold requests. As Jesus explained:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:12-14; emphasis mine)

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:21-22: emphasis mine)

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:7-8; emphasis mine)

The Lord encourages us to pray boldly. God wants to be glorified, and it honors God and bears witness to him when our lives produce fruit. Why, then, “since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19) shouldn’t we “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16; KJV)? We need only to pray in faith, according to God’s will, and in Jesus’s name.

Warrior, if you’re like me, perhaps you haven’t given God the credit he deserves. Maybe you’ve underestimated him, or you haven’t felt worthy of asking for a demonstration of his power. No more! Let’s begin right now to pray boldly and fearlessly! For example, I am going to change my wimpy prayer of “Lord, I’m so tired. Please give me strength to get through this day” to “Lord, I pray for a complete and total healing from Fibromyalgia”. And instead of saying “God, if you see any use for me, please let me help just one person”, I might pray “Lord, use me in a powerful way to serve others and to draw them closer to you”. And rather than simply asking God to protect my family, I will pray that the Lord “rebuke Satan and his minions, and allow nothing but the Spirit of God and the love of God upon them”. See the difference?

My bold prayer for you is that the Lord’s power will be evident in your life, that his answers to your prayers would richly bless you but also give him glory and further his kingdom.

The Lord is proving to me daily that he is more than I could ever dream or understand. Enjoy More Than You Think I Am by Danny Gokey!

Who is in the Battle with You?

Who is in the battle with you imageThere is nothing like a tragedy in our lives to reveal who really cares about us and who we can depend on. When I hit bottom with depression and subsequently got sick, I was too tired to participate in all of the activities I was previously involved in. Therefore, I wasn’t attending events where I would regularly touch base with many of the people in my life at the time. This change alone eliminated many relationships, but I accepted it because many of those friendships were largely superficial anyway. It became clear that I would only have energy to devote to the most important and cherished people in my life, and this presented some difficulty. I was scared to let go of many people, but I had read in a book about living with Fibromyalgia that the people that really matter and who are supposed to be in your life will stick around and put in the effort it takes to stay close.

God is so good and faithful to give us what we need when we need it! When my husband and I first started attending our current church after many years at our previous church, I have to admit I had a very difficult time making the transition. My husband Chris was welcomed into the community of men with open arms while I stood by feeling like an outsider. Chris was asked to be an elder, and I saw myself as an invisible passenger just along for the ride. The elders-to-be attended monthly meetings, and the men were asked to bring their wives. At one of the meetings, our pastor asked me not to leave before the group could pray for me. As the meeting drew to a close and the group asked for prayer requests, my pastor brought up my health situation. Everyone then gathered around me and laid hands on me. One of the elders anointed me with oil, and the group prayed over me. After that, my attitude toward the church completely changed. The love of Christ as shown through the actions of others won me over! I have since become friends with a few of the elders’ wives, and I treasure our shared faith and that we pray for each other.

Over the years, it’s also been a blessing to have a Bible study group that cares about me and knows what’s going on in my life. I need the support of fellow believers to help me through my battles. It’s also an honor for me to be there for others both in their times of sorrow and in their joys. The Bible teaches that confession and prayer with other believers has healing power. In addition, we remain accountable by praying for one another and sharing where we are in our faith journey. There is power in the prayers of true believers praying for each other:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.

If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16)

Scripture also encourages us to meet together regularly, as the church needs its members to lift one another up and keep each other from falling into sin:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Furthermore, Scripture declares that believers are much stronger together than they are on their own:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

The Bible cautions us to choose who we will walk through life with carefully. It’s important to search for people who are wise, who will offer us love and support and who will help us grow in our relationship with God:

Walk with the wise and become wise,
    for a companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Fellow Warriors, may we take comfort in knowing we are not in the battle all by ourselves, but rather that we are all in this together. Let us both receive and give Jesus’ love for us through one another. I pray that our hearts would be open to share the amazing gift of fellowship with another lost, lonely and battle-weary soul who may desperately need to experience God’s love today.

Enjoy “No Man is an Island” by Tenth Avenue North!