Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pleasing Sacrifice

Wow, it's been a while since I wrote last. Between mid-terms and other varying obligations, it's been difficult to find time to write without feeling that I am betraying some other duty with my time and efforts.

Heh, duty. (I am still six years old and crack up at that word, but only most of the time.)

(And when people say, "I do do that!" Bahahaha!)

Anyway, this is not to say that nothing noteworthy has been going on in my head. I often wish I could take a break from the barrage of questions and struggles and revelations -- an endless cycle, it seems -- but I can say without hesitation that the wisdom I have now would have been useful several years ago, and I'm thankful to have it. That's two millimeters farther on the endless road of stuff left to figure out, though.

I find that we as human beings have trouble sacrificing things that are dear to us. If something is fun, important, or comforting to us, we have a hard time seeing any reason to let it go, even if such value that we put on it is only temporary. That momentary satisfaction or thrill is enough to keep running back to, even if the long-term results are very clearly harmful.

The contentment I find in eating a rather bare salad for dinner, or avoiding pizza and pasta like the plague, and finding my comfort in body image, is enough of a drug to which I keep running back. I know I don't want to live my whole life this way. I hate feeling tears well up in my eyes sometimes in dressing rooms, or feeling like I want to hurl after giving in to a bowl of ice cream, being disgusted with myself. It's comforting to cling to the idea of looking thin, even though it is never enough. It can't be the ultimate happiness in the world.

(By the way, I hate talking about this, but there's no point in pretending I don't have problems.)

However, I think that just about anyone can see the value of giving up things that hurt us; it's overriding common sense. Otherwise we wouldn't have rehab clinics or therapists. Anyone with a brain can understand that there are things with no immediate consequences, but that will bring ruin in the end.

I used to think this was the only kind of sacrifice I would be called to make. Obviously, God doesn't want me to do things that grieve him. Therefore, life is all about handing over the ten commandments I break -- these sins -- to him, saying, "Never mind all that, God. I'm done." Being clean of breaking the rules, I would be set, right? That's what I thought, until I read a rather challenging verse:

"You must present as the Lord's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you." Numbers 18:29

The context here: the Lord is laying out the sacrifices that he wants of the Israelites, in the fashion that has been laid out since Genesis. Abel's offering was pleasing because it was the best of what he had. God continues to admonish -- rather, command -- the best that they have, because there is no better use for it than offering it back to the Lord, and not becoming greedy or attached to worldly things. When did we decide to be the exception to such a heart towards God, choosing what's his to control and appropriate and what isn't?

Take, for instance, the desire of 99% of Christian females, thirsting and pining to get married to Prince Charming (aka Jesus of the 21st century). This is obviously not contrary to God's word; in fact, marriage is very good! It was the Lord's design for unity between men and women, the ultimate form of service and intimacy, loving someone else more than yourself and letting your needs die so that theirs can replace them. Ideally, of course. This is one of the holiest, most sanctifying, and difficult things God uses to teach us to follow him better.

Do most of us want marriage because it's hard? Not really! We watch Disney movies and expect these perfect guys to come wait on us hand and foot, and have a void filled with mushy honeymoon love for the rest of our lives. We tend to put matters into our own hands to make this happen, because from all that I have ever been told by real people who are really married, everything is not magic and sparkles every single day. It is our inclination to be in control of such matters and delude ourselves into thinking that if God loves marriage, then he is okay with sitting in the backseat and letting us drive all over the place, off the road and swerving wherever seems best at the moment.

Because that makes a whole lot of sense.

A new and dear friend of mine named Elisabeth Elliot has really shed light on this in my reading Passion and Purity, which is quite the book! She says: "A good and perfect gift [is love], these natural desires. But so much the more necessary that they be restrained, controlled, corrected, even crucified, that they might be reborn in power and purity for God." I had never thought about that before. We have the capacity to screw up perfectly good institutions and gifts for our own glory and self-fulfillment, when both of those are only meant to be byproducts of a different motivation, which is to make God's magnificence known above all else.

So we put all kinds of things on the altar. The sins we hang onto. The gifts we keep tightly gripped in our hands. The things that we selfishly guard for ourselves, wanting to be in control, wanting to bring all attention and praise to ourselves, wanting to be blessed by and wanting it for ourselves alone. This covers just about... everything! Haha. As a self-attested control freak and perfectionist, and self-centered being extraordinaire, I can think of almost nothing that I don't want to take care of for myself and for my own good.

There is good news, though, for that which we give up to God's control: he controls it.

"Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." Psalm 55:22

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food and clothing, basic needs] will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33

God has a more than reasonable track record for fulfilling promises and remembering his faithful people. We might envision different blessings than what he gives, but in remembering that God is sovereign and good, it becomes less difficult to imagine that he could possibly have a more accurate idea of what I need and what will take care of me.

Therefore, offer up to God everything that cannot be pried from your hands, because he loves you too much to rob you of the freedom to control things if you want to, and keep it all for yourself. But give back to the Lord, and see what he does with the offerings. Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into food enough for five thousand men and all their accompanying women and children.

Challenge him to do the same with the things you place on the altar.

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