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

 

 

 

 

 

Battle Fatigue

“Is my sister-in-law’s birthday this month, or was it in October?” I asked my mom in my email. I added the comment, “I’m losing my mind!” In her response, she confirmed that my sister-in-law’s birthday is in October, and she reassured me that I’m not going crazy but that I’m suffering from a case of “battle fatigue”.

Battle fatigue – what a perfect phrase to describe what I’m currently experiencing! “Exhausted by life” is another appropriate term coined by my Bible study teacher. Over the last month I’ve felt increasingly weary, overwhelmed and incapable of living life on life’s terms. I’ve been on my knees begging God to let up on me, renew me, reinvigorate me and relieve me of what I perceive as the relentless, incessant demands on my life. Please, Lord, help me be a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7)! My sanity feels threatened, and because of my history with depression I have to be very careful with managing stress or risk triggering an onset. I try to remind myself “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men” (Holman Christian Standard Bible; Colossians 3:23), but I’m so tired and burned out!

I started this blog with the goal of encouraging my fellow valiant warriors out there striving to serve daily in the Lord’s army. But this time I’m the one who needs encouraging. Recently, in my study of 1 Kings, I found comfort in discovering that even the Prophet Elijah needed rest and refreshment from the Lord.

Elijah had just experienced two great spiritual victories: He defeated the prophets of the false Canaanite god Baal, and he demonstrated through a miracle that the Lord was the one and only true God. Also, God had commanded Elijah to present himself to Ahab the King of Israel during a severe famine, and the Lord promised to send rain on the land. Elijah obeyed God’s command, and after he and the people slaughtered the prophets of Baal a heavy rain soon started to fall. But when Ahab told his wife Jezebel how Elijah had killed all the prophets of Baal, she vowed to kill him.

Even after the numerous miracles Elijah had performed proving that the Lord was with him, Elijah was still afraid and “ran for his life” (New International Version; 1 Kings 19:3) when Jezebel threatened him. Upon arriving in the wilderness, Elijah “came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” (1 Kings 19:4b-5).

Praise God that the Bible describes its characters’ moments of discouragement and readiness to give up and quit! I relate so much to Elijah at his breaking point, and I, too, have often cried out, “I have had enough, Lord!” I’m encouraged that God provided Elijah with what he needed in the depths of his weariness and fatigue:

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He [Elijah] looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

The Lord refreshed Elijah with food, drink and rest. In fact, Elijah was strengthened and empowered so much that he was soon able to walk 40 days through the desert – a distance of over 200 miles – without any additional sustenance!

God’s Word promises that no matter what problems we face that make us want to lose heart and quit, our weakness is the perfect opportunity for Him to display His power (2 Corinthians 12:9). Scripture also reminds us that our circumstances are only temporary:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 16-18; emphasis mine)

I know the Lord wants me to depend on Him for strength to do what He calls me to do. It’s been made clear to me time and time again that I can’t accomplish much in my own power. At the same time, sometimes I really need a reprieve from the stress, toil and strain of this world. During this busy time in my life when I don’t feel I have the option to slow down, Psalm 51 saves the day! It’s the perfect prayer for those of us experiencing “battle fatigue”, and it’s my prayer for you today, mighty warrior.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
(Psalm 51:10-12)

I recommend listening to “Worn” – an awesome song by Tenth Avenue North!