Monday, November 24, 2008

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

© Copyright 1997, Jennifer Saake
Reprinted from the Fall 1997 issue of "Hannah to Hannah" (print newsletter published 1995-1999 by Hannah's Prayer Ministires)
All Scripture taken from the New International Version (NIV), emphasis added

“We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. And we offer up to You the sacrifices of thanksgiving…”

How often do we take the time to truly think about the words we sing in church each Sunday? What are sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise? “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is please” (Hebrews 13:15-16).

We see “sacrifice” used throughout the Old Testament. God said that without the shedding of blood there could be no removal of sin, so animal sacrifice was ordained from the day sin entered the world through Adam, and was to continue until the day that God the Father experienced the grief of watching His own Son Jesus, the “Second Adam,” die in our places to clean our guilt and make a way for us to be adopted into His Heavenly family.

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs” (Psalm 69:30-31). Webster’s dictionary includes several definitions of “sacrifice,” many along the lines of bloodshed on an altar, but here are some alternate definitions that I think are more applicable to the idea of offering sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. “An act of offering to a deity something precious” or the “surrender of something for the sake of something else.”

We are introduced to Hannah in the context of her family’s journey to the temple to offer a yearly sacrifice (1 Samuel 1:3). Hannah was abiding by the law of the land in making the blood sacrifice demanded of her, but her heart was willing to sacrifice more. “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. And she made a vow saying, ‘O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…’” (1 Sam. 1:10-11).

That was some sacrifice! No, Hannah didn’t offer false thanksgiving by denying her pain or trying to pretend to God that everything was fine, but in the same breath that she asked Him to grant her heart’s desire, she turned around and promised that the child would belong to God for his entire life. What an act of reverence for the God who created her and held the power to breathe life into her empty womb!

We see that from this point on, even before God allowed her to conceive, that Hannah worshipped the Lord (1 Sam. 1:19). That change from a bitter soul to an attitude of praise, was the willingness to sacrifice her will to God. The words of Jonah reflect what Hannah probably felt: “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).


Let’s take a look at another family in the Bible – the first family that ever existed. Adam and Eve’s first two sons were named Cain and Able. Because sin had already entered the world before these sons were born, they grew up under the sacrificial system and worshipped the Lord from the time they were tiny. Cain and Able both knew God’s rules by heart. God was worthy of their obedience, respect, and honor, if for no other reason than simply because His is God! “For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods” (1 Chronicles 16:25).

The problem came as they grew up and started their own careers. Able raised sheep while Cain pursued farming – both professions were honorable. These men knew that God required blood atonement in repentance for sin. While Able could readily offer the sacrifices God required by giving from his own flock, Cain had to exchange his produce to buy lambs foe each sacrifice. (Kind of gives new meaning to the figure of speech, “You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip!”)

At some point Cain tired of the system God set up. I don’t know if he just didn’t like the hassle of selling crops and buying sheep each day, or if his pride got in the way and decided that since Able could offer the product he produced in shepherding, the he should be able to offer the work of his own hands as well. Whatever the reason, Cain decided to bring a sacrifice of his produce rather than offer a blood sacrifice to the Lord (Genesis 4:1-5). When his offering displeased the Lord, Cain pouted. God gave him a second chance to make his attitude and actions right, saying, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must mater it” (Gen. 4:6-7).

Unlike Hannah’s story of obedience and willingness to sacrificially offer her one true desire to the Lord, Cain’s story took a tragic turn when he hardened his heart in rebellion. In the end, Cain murdered Able out of jealousy, and Eve, the world’s first mother, lost two sons in one day – one to death, and one to banishment by the Lord!

God’s displeasure with Cain had nothing to do with a preference of meat over fruit. It had everything to do with Cain’s heart attitude and unwillingness to submit to God’s perfect plan. When Hannah did have a son, Samuel put it well: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sam 15:22).

I’m afraid I often tend to be much more like Cain than Hannah. I don’t like to bend when God calls me to something outside my comfort zone. While we live in an age of grace and are no longer bound by the Old Testament code of blood sacrifice, God still desires my heart to be soft to him and offer praise and thanksgiving even when it hurts – no, especially when it hurtsfor this is where the sacrifice begins. “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifices, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:15-17).

We are instructed, in view of God’s mercy, to offer our “bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” and this is seen as an act of worship. How can we do this? “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2).

Even when we allow God to renew us, at times it is still hard to understand His perfect will for us in light of fertility challenges. “To do what’s right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3). God told Cain that he must “Do what is right,” but how can I know what is right for me in fertility or in Noel’s death? I often felt, especially in the earlier days of our struggle, that the withholding of children was a sign that, like Cain, God was not looking on us with favor. I have struggled with anger towards God, and my face has definitely been downcast! I cannot go exchange my fruit for flock to make an acceptable burnt offering, so what can I do?

I have finally realized that doing what is right in infertility is simply allowing God to make the rules! He is asking me to make a change in the sacrifice I am willing to bring, and it is up to me if I will trade my bitterness for praise as Hannah did, or if I will use my pain to feed a jealous rage like Cain. I want to offer myself to God as a great parent, to raise the children He gives us, and train them to follow after Him. My desire is a good one. There is nothing wrong with this desire, just as there was nothing wrong with Cain choosing to farm the land. In fact, my desire is God-given!

But perhaps one thing I have in common with Cain is pride. After all, God had apparently always showered Cain with blessings in the past, as He has me, so it is easy to expect Him to continue His blessings on my terms, without waiting to see what His will or His master plan will be. “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river…” (Isaiah 48:17b-18a).

For Cain it would have been as simple as letting go of his pride and continuing to buy his sheep from his brother, as an act of obedience to God. For me it is letting God teach me to surrender my plans to His will. He knows that I still desire to raise a family. But I am learning to exchange the sacrifice I want to give for the One He asks me to offer, in obedience to His perfect will for my life.

He does not want just my parenting skills, but He wants all of me! “To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33). I am learning, slowly, but learning none the less, that to give my whole self- body, mind, heart, spirit, soul, wants, dreams, desires, goals – over to Him, is the only acceptable sacrifice in His sight. “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). When we pray in an attitude of true thanksgiving, being honest with God about our pain, yet making the effort to sacrifice our attitudes to Him, we are rewarded with a peace that defies earthly reason. “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

Scripture seems clear that praise and thanksgiving bring about peace in the midst of pain and heartache. Not easy, but certainly a worthwhile sacrifice!

“Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” (Psalm 103:2-6).

1 comment:

Jennifer Spinola said...

This was absolutely fantastic. Exactly what I needed today. God has used your writings so much. Thank you, Jennifer.