Often, we hear the word sacrifice to describe someone who nobly and unselfishly gave their life to save others. Examples of this are heard in accounts of war, natural disasters, and other occurrences where a life is in jeopardy.
This Memorial Day weekend we pause to remember, and are grateful for, the sacrifices of the courageous men and women who have served in the armed forces, either in this country or abroad. Our gratitude and prayers embrace the families of the military who did not return from the wars they served in.
Sacrifice is a word typically not used in everyday conversations. The word applies to giving up something that we might rather keep, like material things, time, and our resources. I look at it as a heart decision between being selfish or unselfish. The unselfish giving of ourselves or possessions pleases God, according to Hebrews 13:16 “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices, God is well pleased.”
The concept of sacrifice is explained in scripture. Followers of God were given explicit instructions in the Bible’s Old Testament regarding worshipping and honoring God with a sacrificial offering. Offerings presented were to be the best you could offer, like the firstborn animal, or the first fruits of your crop. An unblemished animal was given to the priest to be burned on the altar for a sin offering.
Jesus, the crucified son of God, was the perfect sin offering. He alone was the sinless person God needed to deliver people from their sins. Jesus would need to willingly surrender and sacrifice his life in order to do this. Did he do that willingly? The answer is both a yes and a no.
Jesus’ prayer in Luke 22:42 shows how difficult this decision was. He earnestly prayed and asked, “Father, if it is your will, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” The supreme sacrifice in Jesus’ painful death was that he offered himself, or didn’t prevent his death — thus saving people who choose to follow him, and dwell with him in heaven.
Another reason I have been thinking about sacrifices is not only because of this Memorial Day weekend, but also what sacrifices achieve in us.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. These O God, you will not despise,” from Psalm 51:17.
One morning recently, I started singing a short 1980s praise song written by Kirk Dearman, while making breakfast. The title is “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise.” The lyrics are: “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord,” (repeat.) “And we offer up to you the sacrifices of thanksgiving. And we offer up to you the sacrifices of joy.”
These lilting lyrics began my thinking about praise, thanksgiving and joy as a sacrificial worship offering to God, no matter what I was feeling at the time, or what was going on in my life. In fact, it took my mind off those things and caused me to be thankful and joyful about life.
We can praise God anytime of the day or night by centering on who He is, and all His attributes. This lifts my spirits and brings me joy in being unconditionally loved by God. I have found it keeps me humble, directing my attention to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, rather than on the unholy trinity of me, myself and I.
Shirley Pritchard lives in Frederick and attends Brook Hill United Methodist Church with her husband, Bill. Writing and oil painting have been fulfilling ways to express her faith and creativity.