Sometimes I can be a martyr. We call it discipline. Or duty. Or being responsible.
Oh, it’s not that I moan, “poor me” aloud. Often times I say very little about the sacrifices I think I am making. I may not even be very aware of the sacrifice itself, as it is just something that I “should” do in order to be a “good this” or a “good that”. And then one day I find myself tired, over committed, looking for a new venture, or looking for the next way to do it “better”.
Come on. You probably do it, too.
The comparison game is partially to blame. You hear of what someone else is doing as a parent, as a friend, as a Christian, and feel you should do it too. You think that you should be a good enough person (spiritual or otherwise) to make the same kind of sacrifice.
Or maybe you lead the way in sacrifices. Maybe others look to you for your upstanding volunteerism, or the sacrifices made for your children, or your difficult lifestyle decisions. Maybe you like it that way and feel compelled to maintain your “different” status.
“Isn’t this what being a follower of Jesus is all about? ” you muse. “To make sacrifices in his name? To give it all up for the sake of following him?”
Well, yes. And, no.
God wants our sacrifices, only if they are sacrifices that he has specifically asked of us. What He wants more is our obedience and the two aren’t always one in the same. Obedience usually involves sacrifice, but not all sacrifice involves obedience.
Remember King Saul? God told him that he was to go and kill all of the men, women, children, camels, donkeys, and sheep of the Amalekite people for what they had done to the Israelites when they came up from Egypt. Samuel specifically told Saul to listen to these instructions.
Saul obeyed, partially. He killed everything and everyone except for King Agag and the best sheep, cattle, and lambs. In Saul’s mind, he was 95% obedient and seemingly justified because he was going to sacrifice the animals on the altar as a thank offering to the Lord. Jewish laws suggested such sacrifices.
But partial obedience is disobedience with God.
And external sacrifices do not make up for pride within a heart.
And a clear word from the Lord always trumps religious “shoulds” and “should nots”.
It is easy to get that all mixed up.
You could sell all that you have and give it to the poor, or give up your career to raise your children, or serve 30 hours a week volunteering, but if you aren’t humble enough to do it God’s way, it is worthless. And prideful. Yes, uncalled for sacrifices lead down the dangerous path of pride.
True obedience leads to humility for it requires an emptying of yourself, not merely your wallet, your time, or your dreams. We must be obedient to the Lord whether it leads to a palace, or to a cave. King David obediently lived in both. We must be obedient to the Lord whether we are favored by others, or looked at as strange. We must be obedient to the Lord whether it means we are asked to move to Africa, or to stay in the affluent suburb.
God cares less about what we give Him, or give up for Him, and more about our surrender to Him. It is doing whatever He asks, and in this we must listen.
“To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22)
The phrase “to obey” has strong connotations of hearing, listening, and then following through. It’s not assuming that the way we have always done it is the way we should do it now. It is not assuming that how someone else is doing it is the right way for us. It’s going to God each day and listening for the still small voice that speaks a personal word through His Word.
The word “sacrifice” refers to Israel’s sacrificial system, but in some places is translated “thank offering”.
The word “better” can also be translated “happy”, or “glad”.
Perhaps being obedient will make us more joyful than does being thankful. I know that when I am in the center of God’s will for me I am filled with the abundant life that He promised. When I am just making assumptive sacrifices, life often feels hard and joyless.
I think sometimes we make things harder than they need to be. Will God ask hard things of us? For sure He will. But, if they are His ideas, He will help us succeed and they won’t seem so hard after all.
To obey is always much better. Sometimes scary or humbling, but always better. It will make you glad.
Looking towards obedience,
To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. (Mark 12:33)