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

 

 

 

 

 

Popcorn Prayers

“God, if you’re real, I need you to show yourself right now!” my dear friend prayed after giving birth to her second stillborn child.

“God, I can’t take this anymore! Please help me!”, I prayed through blinding tears when I was in the depths of depression.

As he tended to his dying father, my husband cried out to God, “Help me, God! Give me strength!”

Though spending lengthy periods of time in prayer and quiet reflection with the Lord are treasured as well as vital to our Christian walk, there are also times when the luxury of time is not available. And sometimes our needs are so great and so immediate that all we can do is cry out to God, begging Him to allow us to experience His presence and his response to our requests at once. Otherwise, we may fear we won’t survive the moment.

popcornI will never forget listening to a sermon by Skip Heitzig when he was Pastor of Ocean Hills Church. He used a term I had never heard before: “popcorn prayer”. These prayers, like a kernel of corn when it is heated and explodes and pops up into the air, are quick prayers we “pop” straight up to the Lord. Popcorn prayers are those prayers we cry out when we are desperate, when words escape us, and in those times we can muster only enough strength or presence of mind to plead “Help! Please help me, Lord!” Oh, if only I had a dollar for every time I prayed a popcorn prayer! I tend to offer popcorn prayers when I’m frightened, when I don’t know what to do, when I have come to the end of my rope with a person or a situation, or when I just can’t stop myself from repeating some destructive behavior.

King David most certainly never heard the term “popcorn prayer”, yet he definitely understood the concept behind it:

Hasten, O God, to save me;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.

May those who want to take my life
    be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
    be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”

    turn back because of their shame.
But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
    “The Lord is great!”

But as for me, I am poor and needy;           
    come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    Lord, do not delay. (Psalm 70)

Notice the terms “hasten”, “come quickly” and “do not delay”. We, like David, experience moments when we are broken and empty, and we beg God to hastily come to our aid. David faced enemies who sought his ruin and wanted to take his life. Though we may not be in danger of murder as David was, we still face any number of enemies during our lifetime, including our number one enemy, Satan, who seeks to destroy us.

In verse 3 of Psalm 70, David asks that those who say “Aha!” to him may “turn back because of their shame”. “Aha!” is something someone might say when they think they are right and you’re wrong, or when they think they’re beating you. When David’s enemies cruelly and haughtily said, “Aha! Aha!” to him, they added insult to injury by reveling in what they were sure was their inevitable victory and David’s certain defeat. Similarly, we may feel that our “enemies” – whether they be actual people as in David’s case, or the enemies of anxiety, depression, health challenges, relationship struggles, loss of a loved one, financial problems, etc. – are metaphorically saying “Aha!” to us. In those situations, we may pray like David that God would confound and frustrate whatever is coming against us.

David asked the Lord not to delay coming to him because he was “poor and needy” (verse 5). When we approach the Lord in brokenness, poverty and neediness, He meets us with mercy. He honors us when we come to Him with a humble heart:

And it will be said:

“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
    Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—

    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly

    and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57: 14-15)

Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor. (Proverbs 29:23)

David’s “popcorn prayer” teaches us that even in the midst of our distress, it is still appropriate to praise God. In verse 4, David prayed that all who seek the Lord would “rejoice and be glad in him” and that all who long for His saving help would always say, “The Lord is great!”. David wanted the Lord’s followers to glorify Him in this way. In verse 5, David praised God as his help and his deliverer. I find it difficult to praise God when I am scared, angry or overwhelmed. Nevertheless, finding things to praise Him for (and there is never a shortage!) helps me take my mind off whatever negative emotions are consuming me and re-direct my focus onto Jesus and all He has done.

When Saul sought to kill David, David prayed to God for help and strength. The Lord heard David’s prayer and delivered him from his enemy’s hand. As David recounts:

In my distress, I called to the Lord;
  I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
  My cry came before him, into his ears.

 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:2, 16-19)

Beloved Warrior, when all you can do is cry out to the Lord, rest assured that He will hear you and answer you. His mighty hand will reach down from on high and take hold of you, and He will rescue you from all that is too strong for you.

This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it – the Lord is his name. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jeremiah 33: 2-3; emphasis mine)

Enjoy “Cry Out to Jesus” – an awesome song by Third Day!