Sacrifice Isn’t Giving Up; It’s Giving to God

16 10 2010
open hands

To be generous we must willingly sacrifice, live with an open heart and open hands, and stretch beyond what we thought we could offer.

Germantown, Maryland, USA

 In our modern culture where the goal is to have it all, do it all, and be it all, the notion of sacrifice usually conjures thoughts of distaste.

We live in a time when political agendas, technological breakthroughs, advertising, and pop psychology tantalize us with a promise of self-fulfillment, yet our societies suffer from disease, stress, and violence.

When we view acquisition as an antidote for all ills, it is easy to forget about sacrifice as a profound practice for renewing relationships with God, self, and others. The word sacrifice comes from a verb meaning “to make sacred.” Through a regular practice of sacrifice, we make room for the sacred to enter our lives and the world.

As a practice, sacrifice means intentionally leaving from the safety of sustaining our own needs as an affirmation of trust in God’s provisions. In this meaning we connect with generosity. Being generous gently loosens our grip on the money, things, and people we hold captive with our expectations, clamoring for security, and need to control.

In the Old Testament, sacrifice was thought of as the specific act of making an offering to God. People made sacrificial offerings to honor God, gain favor, and atone for wrongdoings.

The story of Cain and Abel, in Genesis, and Noah and the ark show the importance of making sacrifices in the context of faithful living. God received Abel’s offering with fondness, but not Cain’s. It is not clear why God favored Abel’s offering, but it might have been because of Cain’s attitude problems.

Noah’s seemingly foolish act of building an ark on dry land kept his family and the animals in his care alive when the flood came. After the flood, Noah made a sacrifice to God and received a blessing, signaled by a rainbow.

In the New Testament, the message of Jesus builds on an expanded view of sacrifice. In the parable of the prodigal son, the youngest son asks to receive his inheritance early so he can seek his fortune. The father abandons his own wishes on behalf of his son and fulfills the son’s request.

When the prodigal son returns, having squandered his inheritance, he hopes only to become a servant in his father’s house. However, his father’s generosity pours out with joy and celebration. The father gives him a rich robe, a valuable ring, and a celebratory feast. The father’s generosity is lavish and sacrificial, and it does not stop with the prodigal son.

The father reminds the older son, who does not think the display of generosity is fair: “All that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31 NRSV). He gives willingly, generously, lovingly. The father not only gives what he has, he gives who he is to his sons.

According to Paul, we are to “be imitators of God…and live in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1–2 NRSV). Friends, family, and strangers give us many opportunities to witness and practice sacrificial generosity. For example, another staff member at church youth camp worked 18 hours on the Friday before camp to finish enough work so she would be able to serve at camp.

That’s inspiring.

My godparents, Dot and Dan, taught me about sacrificial generosity as a lifestyle. They opened their home and hearts to several families and children who needed a place to receive generous care. Dot’s Southern roots expressed themselves as a welcoming hospitality that put people at ease and made sure there was plenty of food on the table. Dan, too, was committed to justice and concerned about the real needs of people. For example, they took in a mother with children who fled Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge assassinated the father.

Dot taught me to cook for church reunions, taught me in Sunday school class, and took an interest in my life. Dan talked with me about history and tradition, helped me learn about financial investing, and became like a second father. He encouraged me to develop my gifts and talents and to serve the Lord.

Dot and Dan were good to my parents, too, offering advice, encouragement, and occasionally free babysitting.

Dot and Dan just breathe generosity, goodness, and humility in offering what they can. I always felt I was accepted and that I had a permanent place in their hearts and at their table.

To be generous we must willingly sacrifice, live with an open heart and open hands, and stretch beyond what we thought we could offer.

The scripture story of the widow’s mite shows this. Many people gave more than the widow, but these people had money to spare. Although the usefulness and value of such philanthropy should not be negated, the widow’s gift of her last two coins represents her trust and faith in the Lord.

As the gap between rich and poor widens, the need for those who have ample resources to share with those who lack is critical to the welfare of the world and the capacity to build Zion.

However, it is not so much the amount of money, time, or talent that matters as that we willingly place everything into God’s hand. This does not mean most of us are called to give away most or all of our belongings, but that we must allow God to direct our stewardship and have the courage to follow where God leads.

Find a few ways this week where you can act generously in a manner that stretches you. This might be contributing to World Ministries Mission Tithes, giving to a food bank, supporting a charity, visiting with people in a retirement home, or taking toys to a children’s hospital.

Give twice as much as you usually do and find ways to cut other spending to cover the cost. Give a neighbor a ride to the store. Help a child raise funds for camp. Invite friends to reunion or another event that would benefit them. Spend quality time with a loved one when not distracted by “to do” lists or other busyness.

Learn to push the edges of your comfort zones, such as befriending someone who is marginalized or different from your other friends. Another way to live generously is to act with respect and compassion toward others rather than with anger or spite. Let your pride, fear of humiliation, or need for retaliation serve as your burnt offering. Look for common ground, or higher ground.

Jesus embodied the sacrifice and generosity that enabled him to say, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NRSV). God continually is willing to pour God’s life into what God loves. God, through Christ, is not only willing to go through death, but is willing to go through life—with all of us.

When we pour ourselves into Christ and our fellow humans, we allow the capacity for sacrifice—in whatever ways God calls—to bring us and each other to the cross, into the tomb, and out again.

What is important is not simply denying ourselves something or even giving things to people and to God. It’s being vulnerable to the Spirit and giving wholly to God and—through God’s guidance—to others.

When sacrifice and generosity work together, we give in faith what we have and who we are for the sake of whose we are—God’s.



5 responses

22 10 2010
Lafe Williams

Thanks for your article Tacy.
I think we need to focus at times on those things we can do which are beyond the mere handing over of our money. We have a young friend who is mentally challenged and she is difficult at times to communicate with. Yet we know the time spent with her is rewarding to my wife and I …and to her, as well, and we try to find as much time as possible to show her we care and have love and concern for her.
Often we need to remind ourselves that a few hours of time spent in concerned outreach can bring more rewards than scraping up a few extra dollars to share with the church’s ongoing programs or building fund—though those also are credible places for our gifts.

18 10 2010

I was surprised and pleased to see my article posted here. Thanks for those of you who read, and those who also commented.

Diane: you make a good point about being generous with one’s deeds, not simply writing a check. I think that our task as disciples is to be good stewards, and doing that means following the Spirit as best we understand to allow our deeds and resources (time, money, etc.) to be used according to that understanding. We might support an individual with time, a cause with money, another cause with time, etc.

Margie: I hope you found my agreement with this part of your statement “God does not require sacrifice” in the sense of giving up or discipline or that sort of thing in what I wrote. When I wrote this: “When we pour ourselves into Christ and our fellow humans, we allow the capacity for sacrifice—in whatever ways God calls—to bring us and each other to the cross, into the tomb, and out again.” I think that can be interpreted in the way that William Raiser wrote: the capacity to sacrifice is our capacity to allow grace and generosity to flow through us…it is our capacity to “make” things sacred or to recognize the sacredness that is present. I heard a testimoney from a seventy not too long ago who stated that when we hold fast to God’s promises, even when all the evidence in the world around us says otherwise, that is when the Kingdom of God breaks through. I took it as one of those “always darkest before the dawn” type of thing, and it reminded me of that quote found on the wall of a concentration camp: “I believe in the sun, even when it does not shine…I believe in God, even when He is silent.” Our job, isn’t to give the church money or to be generous or do anything particular thing–it’s not the method so much that matters–but allow our lives to be vulnerable to the Spirit and to be channels of grace in a world so full of human need.

William Raiser: I’m glad you noticed that. I think it is key.

18 10 2010

Its seems to me that they were living the law of consecration by deed. I think alot of people think they need to spend and donate tons of money to different causes and that makes them appear to be generous. But to me giving money is easy, it is much harder, but ultimately much more fulfilling to give your time to an individual in need (i.e.) listening to them when they need to talk, or just doing whatever not only for them, but with them

17 10 2010
Margie Miller

Actually, God requires no sacrifice. It’s the church that needs our money.

17 10 2010
William L. Raiser

I’m glad someone finally notes the root meaning of sacrifice as “making sacred.” Thanks for your inspiring message.

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