It’s an age of stuff. Even the less affluent among us seem to have iPhones and technical gadgets, and our homes are bursting with things to eat, look at and do. Sacrifice has become a remote idea to many of us, yet it’s a strong theme throughout Scripture. Jesus sacrificed His life so that we may have eternal life. Was His the final sacrifice, or does God call us to continue the ritual of sacrifice today?
A few years ago my daughters, together, gave me a key that came on a chain to wear as a necklace, and it bore a message. Like thousands of other people who liked this trend, I wore it to remind myself of an important message. My youngest has a key that is roughly engraved in a traditional serif typeface. It says S T R E N G T H. She is a dancer and standing strong in her convictions is important to her. Her key reminds her to be strong in the Lord. I love that she wears this.
Some items hold very little commercial value, but carry a memory, like a ticket stub or a yellowed greeting card. These are the things we hold most dear.
One day, not too long ago, I made a lovely new friend and we talked about the concept of spiritually “breathing.” She struggled with the same issues, and liked that I had a key with this message. I told my girls about it, and they reminded me that the keys were traditionally given away when the current owner had “fully embraced” the concept. They asked if I had. In a strong moment I agreed that I had. I felt a wave of conviction and determined to give my new friend my treasured key. The next time I saw her, I did.
By the time I got home, I regretted giving my key away. This was an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling. I love, love, love to give gifts! It didn’t occur to me that giving could make me feel bad. For weeks I would feel sad when I thought about it. It was just a key on a chain, but I missed it and felt it still was helping me to “renew my mind” as spoken of in Romans 12:2;
“Do not conform 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.”
A friend helped me out when I confided to her my sense of loss over giving away my key. “It was a sacrifice,” she simply said. She was right. I was feeling the pain of sacrifice. None of my previous giving had taken from me. This had.
This is what God meant when He spoke of sacrifice. Sacrifice and giving are not synonyms. Sacrifice costs us something. Giving may, but doesn’t always. It took me over 50 years to understand that. I have sacrificed before, but it was usually for an eventual payoff. I “sacrificed” nicer clothing, international vacations and a nicer car so I could stay home with my kids. It was a choice, but was more of trade-off than a sacrifice. What may be a sacrifice to one person may be less costly to another. Sacrifice is personal.
I was feeling the pain of sacrifice. None of my previous giving had taken from me. This had.
In I Samuel 15, King Saul had grown accustomed to routine sacrifices. God had given Saul victory over the Amalekites. Saul had been instructed by the Prophet Samuel, “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them.” (verse 3) Instead, Saul destroyed “everything that was despised and weak,” but spared “everything that was good.” (verse 9) He blatantly ignored God’s instructions. This is what God told Samuel to say to Saul in I Samuel 15:22;
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
Sometimes the costliest sacrifices are a result of obedience. Integrity and righteousness can cost us.
My key necklace wasn’t expensive, and I didn’t give it away under duress or to prove myself. I just didn’t understand its value to me until I had given it away, until I no longer had it. God taught me a lot through this experience. Once I understood how even a little sacrifice felt, I understood a bit more about the sacrifice that He made for us. My appreciation for His plan and purposes increased. I was good with the lesson ending there. But it didn’t.
Christmas came, and my wise, enlightening friend came with a small gift. She had understood my sacrifice. You may guess what was in the little package, but it wasn’t even on my radar at that point. My key necklace was in my past, and I had given it freely and had finally come to peace with its being gone from the ceramic box on my dresser that had been its home. I looked at the little gift. Earrings? Gold or silver hoops? She knew I loved those. The black velvet pouch was familiar, and very heavy for its size. I poured its shiny contents onto my open hand. The gold key said B R E A T H E.
God knew my sacrifice, and it came full circle. I believe that He understood that there was still work to be done, and He provided the key. He loves us so much. Maybe my little gift touched His heart? It was so little, but so imporatant to me. His little gift, through my friend, touched my heart. Now that precious gold key means so much more than it’s predecessor did. He cares about the intimate details of our hearts. He’s awesome.