Years ago, I was privileged to be able to teach a series of lessons on sacrifice to the youth at the church I was then attending. The thrust of the whole thing was not that we should reinstate animal sacrifice or anything like that, but rather that there are certain things that we would call a sacrifice that God requires of us as believers. David might have called those things the sacrifices of righteousness.
Things like giving. I know that’s an unpopular subject with many in the church and pastors have had people walk out on sermons dealing with giving, but it is expected by God. Jesus did not say “If you give” when He explained the difference between giving rightly and wrongly, He said “When you give” (Matthew 6:2-3).
Another item is prayer. I know that our time is precious, but God expects our time to be His time and part of that is spending some of that time talking to Him. These days, I think of it through the lens of my relationship with my wife. If I never talk to her, we will grow distant and I will find myself married to a stranger. The marriage will not necessarily dissolve, but it will be strained and feel forced at times. If I talk to her often then I learn what is on her mind and give her insight into what is on my mind. While God already knows what’s on my mind, He prefers to hear it from me. While I can simply read The Bible to get God’s counsel, not everything He says to me during our times of prayer are written explicitly on the pages of scripture. Sometimes He reminds me who I am in Him and sometimes He encourages me when things are really tough. The thing is, that time is gone. It is given to Him and I cannot have it back. In that way, the time I spend in prayer is a sacrifice — I could be doing something else with that time. Prayer itself is never a sacrifice. Side note, Jesus also expected that His disciples would pray (Matthew 6:5-6/Luke 11:2).
God also demands our attention. Fasting was and is a method of getting our focus back onto God and off of whatever else it had gotten on. Traditional fasting is to forgo food for a time. Others have fasted from television. I can imagine someone in modern America fasting from the internet. The point of a fast is not necessarily what we forgo but that we forgo it in favor of time with God. God doesn’t need His children to be walking around hungry because they think He wants them to fast all the time. Contrarily, there have been times when I’ve fasted because I couldn’t spiritually see straight and I needed to get my focus back on God in order to see what He wanted me to be doing. Jesus also expected His disciples to fast (Matthew 6:16-17).
There are a fair few things that God demands of us that we would see as a sacrifice. And I think God sees it that way, too. When we forgo a comfort in favor of spending time with God in prayer or in favor of reading The Bible, I think that God sees that as a sacrifice on our part. When we spend time on our relationship with God — in prayer or reading or praise — that our planner says we could absolutely use somewhere else, I think God sees that as the sacrifice it is. I think God sees these things this way because I see them that way when my wife does them and I know that she sees them that way when I do them for her. When I put aside my phone, turn off any screens, put aside whatever book I might be reading, and give her my full attention, she receives that as a gift. She knows how distracted I can be and how little time either of us has for things like reading. So she accepts that attention in the spirit in which it is offered — as a gift to her. Why would God, Who loves me infinitely more and knows me on a level more intimate than anyone else ever will, receive the things I offer Him out of love any differently?
One other thing that David says in this verse that bears note is that I should trust in the LORD along with making the sacrifices of righteousness. Why? When we sacrifice something, we do so in hope. When Israel made sacrifices of animals for their sin, they made those sacrifices in hope that God would receive them and forgive their sin, but also in hope of a day when those sacrifices would no longer be necessary. When Israel brought the first fruits — one of the multitude of mandated offerings — into the temple, they did so in hope that the first fruits would just be the first and that a huge bounty would follow. The people brought the sacrifice to God with the rider of hope that God would return some blessing for that sacrifice. If He didn’t, there was nothing wrong, because He was under no obligation to do so. But, if He did…. The writers of the NT tell me to do such things as pursue peace and all the other fruit of the Spirit. I am told to press in, press on, and otherwise ask, seek, and knock. Even in those things that God has demanded, there is often a promise of blessing snuggled in with it. When God told Israel to do what they should with regard to the tithes and first fruits, He added the rejoinder that He would open the windows (some translations render it floodgates) of Heaven and pour out blessing until there was not enough room to contain it all (Malachi 3:10). Can I outgive God? No, but I often think it’s fun to try.
What does this have to do with me today? Everything. These morning times with God are awesome and I am richly blessed by them. I do not receive any financial or material blessing, but that’s not what I hope for when I sit down to meditate on a verse. I sit down hoping to be reminded or challenged or encouraged or just have my mind blown. God has not once disappointed my hope. In those times I have fasted — they are few and far between — I have gained clearer vision and a definite insight into what God had to say about what concerned me. My hope was not disappointed. I bring my sacrifices to God with hopes and trust that He will return what should be returned for that offering. Many folks read the challenge in Malachi and think God was offering material blessings. And He might have been. But I think that the blessings of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control are far better. Yes, I would like a comfortable life. We all would. But I would far prefer a life lived in God’s joy and peace. If God asks a sacrifice, let me be willing to give it in hope that He will return good to me and trust that the good will be what it ought to be. And let me give cheerfully, knowing that God can redeem anything I offer — even time.