Faith, Personal

The sacrifice of thanksgiving

I’m not by nature a happy person. That doesn’t mean I’m an unhappy person. I just don’t go around all day thinking sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. I see the good and the bad.

I’m also a bit of a type-A personality. I have a considerable internal drive to make things better and to fix what is broken. I spend a lot of my time frustrated because I just can’t fix it all. Sometimes the problems are beyond my abilities, and frequently I lack the resources I need.

So you see where my focus is: more on the bad than the good. I’m aware of the good but I feel the bad.

The other day in some words in a psalm caused me to stop dead. From Psalm 50, verses 14-15 and 23:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.

sacrifice of thanksgiving? I know all of these words individually, of course, but strung together in that order I struggled to understand them.

So I asked, because this came up during Sunday school. And the teacher said, “One way to look at it is that you’re giving up ingratitude. But thanksgiving itself really is a sacrifice.”

It left me more puzzled than satisfied.

But as I studied on it and thought about it, I came to see that just because something is always wrong, and some things are very wrong, it is a sacrifice to set it aside for awhile and be grateful for what is good and right.

This helped me realize that I had lost touch with something important. Going on ten years ago now, my life fell apart. I had made some bad choices, and I reaped what I had sown and more. And as I put my life back together, the bad days and bad things dwarfed the good. I had to search hard for the good. They were usually very small things, and they were always very few in number. But I looked for them, because finding something good in every bad day was the knot at the end of the rope to which I clung.

Thanks to a lot of hard work over the past several years, there’s way more good than bad now. But I’m still that guy who wants to fix and improve things – and often that’s all I can think of.

It’s hard to sacrifice it and offer up thanksgiving to God.

Perhaps that’s why it’s a sacrifice. When things are truly going poorly, when the biggest thing I have to be thankful for is mighty small, it can really hurt to thank God for it. And for some reason, at least for me, when more is right than is wrong it’s easy to focus on the wrong. It is still surprisingly hard to thank God for what is good.

And sacrifices – you should feel them. Otherwise it’s not a sacrifice.

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8 thoughts on “The sacrifice of thanksgiving

  1. I enjoyed this post. When things get desperate in life, it’s so important to roll our cares over to Him, because “His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.” But most times I’m like you. I absorb the burden of my own pain, and try to “fix” it. If we can offer thanksgiving, and sacrifice our desire to be in control even if the midst of pain, it glorifies God and brings us closer to him. Happy Thanksgiving Jim!

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  2. Like you, I had puzzled over the “thanksgiving-as-sacrifice” thing. You put it in perspective. We sacrifice self to God’s control. Not an easy thing to do. Are you familiar with the song wherein the chorus reads, “Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid, your heart does the Spirit control? You can only be blessed, and have peace and sweet rest when you yield Him your body and soul”?

    Happy Thanksgiving!

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    • I’m not familiar with that song, David, but I bet I’d like it. Isn’t a life following God ultimately one of keeping working on laying all at the altar of sacrifice?

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  3. N.S. Palmer says:

    “Not to know suffering is not to be a man,” says the Talmud. And I know you’re a man — a fine and good man whom I’m privileged to know. I’m sorry that it’s rough sometimes, but your friends walk alongside you on that bumpy road.

    I would be very surprised if you made “bad choices” in the sense of having bad judgment or bad intentions. Sometimes, bad choices are entirely reasonable based on what we know at the time, even if they lead to painful consequences. Then, even though we’ve committed no wrong, we still have to extricate ourselves from them.

    Regarding Psalm 50, you might not know that at the time the psalms were composed, the main way of worshipping God was to make sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was only after the destruction of the Second Temple that individual and communal prayer became the main form of worship, since sacrifice in the Temple was no longer possible. So in the context of its time, Psalm 50 makes perfect sense.

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    • Scott, one day I’ll tell you my story.

      I do have some understanding of temple sacrifice. I find that the Christian path is one of sacrifice, too, although the days of slaughtering flawless lambs is past. Our sacrifice is supposed to be joyous, the firstfruits of all God has given us, plus letting go of control and trusting that God has it all in hand.

      Christians do well to understand worship in the time of the Hebrew scriptures. Christ came to perfect that worship and so ancient words such as Psalm 50 still have something to say to us today.

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