Fall Devotional. Week Three: True Sacrifice

September 23, 2013

Called to walk the road less traveled (Photo: berud on Flickr)
There are roughly 417 times that sacrifice is addressed in the Bible. In the Old Testament, the word “sacrifice” is mainly given in the context of animal sacrifice ritually performed. The New Testament moves beyond the sacrifice of many to the sacrifice of one – the sacrifice of a holy, sinless Jesus Christ. Although Christ’s sacrifice altered our relationship with him, he still desires us to offer sacrifices to him.

The question we face today is, What does sacrifice look like for me, specifically? Although our sacrifice may be unique, the Bible does lay out specific ways that our lives should be sacrificial.

The first way that God asks us to offer our lives as a sacrifice is to love him first and most. In Mark 12:29-31, a religious leader asked Jesus which commandment was most important. He reiterated, “The most important commandment is this… ‘And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” God is not interested in what we can bring him or do for him if we do not love him. It’s important to not just love him when it’s convenient or when we are in a hard situation; he calls us to love him beyond anything or anyone else in our lives, to radically love him with a sacrificial kind of love.

The second way that God asks us to offer our lives as a sacrifice is to care for others. Hebrews 13:16 (NLT) tells believers, “And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” Whether that takes the form of helping family members or an elderly neighbor, volunteering at a battered women’s shelter or simply caring for those at our workplace, we are all called by God to see beyond ourselves and consider the needs of others.

Why is sacrifice so important to God? Because it takes the focus off of us and places it firmly on God and others.

In chapter 5 of The Ruth Experience, we interviewed Pastor Carol Jean Smith. As co-founders and pastors at Place of Hope Ministries, Carol and her husband Geary help provide both immediate shelter and permanent housing to those experiencing homelessness, meals for the hungry, kid-focused outreach, a discipleship program, jail and prison outreach, church services and other ministries, among other things.

Throughout her story, Carol told us about multiple times that her family sacrificed in order to stay true to God’s call on their lives. Here’s part of her story:

“I remember when I first got saved, reading the little pamphlet that said, ‘God has a wonderful plan for your life.’ And in my head, that meant a big, beautiful house. He had a wonderful plan, all right, but that wasn’t it,” she said, chuckling.

Before they were Christians, her husband always had a job, and since they lived within their means, they never worried about money.

“The minute we got saved, it’s like all hell broke loose in our life,” she said. Within four months of uprooting everything to move to a new town, Geary lost his job. With three kids and no money in the midst of the economically depressed 1980s, it was a bad situation. But Carol’s husband refused to seek out any kind of government assistance, insisting that God would provide.

One day, the Lord told Carol to make a grocery list and place it on her windowsill.

“I put the list on the window and we just prayed,” she said. A day later, a woman Carol had never met – someone who had heard about them from a mutual acquaintance – showed up with a carload of groceries.

“I was blown away. I’d never experienced anything like that,” she said. “She left and as I began to unload them, I got to the two cans of Chicken of the Sea tuna and I knew – I went into shock, and I went and got my list – everything that was on there was in these bags. We didn’t even know what we were doing, and God was faithful to us.”

Those early years were a training ground for Carol’s challenges today.

“Because of that, we can run Place of Hope. Because every day, it’s the same. Every day I’m making my list. Ok, Lord, is this what I need today? And he routinely comes through, usually at the last minute,” she said. “I would love it if we could pull from a big fund. But we don’t, we have to pull from the Lord. He’s our provider.”

Looking at the big picture, though, the momentary sacrifice was worth it.

“Some people can only see where they’re at, and they can’t see where they’re going. In order to do anything for the Lord, you really have to see where you’re going so you understand the sacrifice in the moment,” she said. “There might be a sacrifice right now but you know what? It will pay later. Maybe not pay to you, but it will pay.”

We went back to Carol and asked her about some of the specific ways that sacrificial giving has changed her life, and she told us a short story from when her children were little to illustrate the point:

At about 9:45 a.m. one morning, my sons came running in the house yelling, "We can hear Boots barking!" Boots was one of our dogs and had been missing since the evening before. So, as any mother would probably do, I went outside to check and, sure enough, in the distance I could hear a barking sound. 

As I stood there hearing the faint whines of our dog and the loud sounds of my boys crying about the  dog, I had to decide what I was to do. At that moment, I felt a whisper from the Holy Spirit about priorities. You see, pride and position, which I didn't think were a part of my life, suddenly had come to the forefront. I was very much interested in impressing our pastor, who was going to come over for lunch at noon. My husband and I were in the middle of working on getting our credentials for ministry so we so wanted to impress him and have his "approval." My house was a disaster: dishes, clothes, the usual mess families can make -- times five! What was I to do? 

At that point, I made a decision to follow the Holy Spirit and not my own way. To me, it was sacrificial to track down Boots the dog and not impress my pastor.

After trekking over two fences and about 3/4 of a mile through woods, a swamp, and a field, we found ole Boots with his front paw in a gopher trap! I picked him up and carried him home. This whole event took over 1½ hours, but my son was happy and he knew, by my actions, that I cared about him and his dog. As far as the house and meal went, I ended up getting food ready, but it was late, and my pastor ended up eating in a dirty, messy house with a "happy family."

What did you learn from the experience? "Sacrificing my time and my pride gave me the opportunity to experience God's presence in my life in a deeper way. It helped me see the depth of what's really important in life and spoke volumes to me about myself and how I was so worried about outward appearances that I almost missed an opportunity to minister to my own son."

Although the sacrifices we make now may sometimes hurt our pride, take portions of our time, scare us into walking into the unknown, or have others questioning our sanity, the payoff can be huge. The questions to ask ourselves are: Do I trust God? Do I believe that his plans for my life are good no matter how things look right now?

Although our sacrifice might look different from others’ sacrifices, we are all called at one time or another to give up something, to put God first, and to love him most. The choice on whether or not we will choose to obey, however, is up to us.

Your Turn

1. What, if anything, in your life have you sacrificed for the Lord? What was the outcome? 

2. Is there something, even now, that the Lord is asking you to sacrifice?
3. How is God speaking to you to care for others in a way you may or may not already be doing?

Want more? Check out Week 1 and Week 2 of our fall devotional series.

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