The art of sacrifice

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Hebrews. I would never have said such a thing in my younger years because the book made little sense to me then. Perhaps age and (hopefully) maturity lends itself to greater understanding, because now I love the richness of the book, especially if I read it without interruption. That is, I read several chapters at a time. I think I read the whole book in one sitting one Sunday several years ago. I learn something new every time. One of the verses from chapter thirteen that stands in my memory is the one about "sacrifice of praise." When I think of sacrifice, I think about the ancient Jewish altars where lambs and bulls and goats were offered. Or I think of giving to the point of it affecting what I wanted to do - perhaps sacrificing a want or need for the sake of someone else. Of course, the greatest sacrifice that comes to mind is that of Jesus when He gave Himself on my behalf.

But what is the sacrifice of praise? The phrase is only used one time (that I could find) in Hebrews thirteen. To quote the verse in context, I'll add the two verses around it:

"For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."

The passage is talking first about Jesus' sacrifice and how it related to the Jewish sacrificial system and the reproach Jesus suffered so that we could be made right with God. Then the writer admonishes us to endure that same reproach Jesus endured because this world really isn't our permanent home. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we are looking for a city whose architect and builder is God - a city that is to come. Because we have this hope, our natural response should be to praise God for all He has done for us, to acknowledge His name. The sacrifice of praise is what we speak on His behalf, giving Him honor and the praise He deserves.

But sacrifice isn't just lip service. The next verse reminds us, "do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Faith is always accompanied by actions. As the apostle John put it, "let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

So the art of sacrifice must be words that accompany actions and actions that accompany words. What good does it do to give to those in need if I do so grudgingly? God loves a cheerful giver. If I publicly sing God's praises but never lift a finger to help those who are hungry or hurting, what sacrifice have I given? But if I give up my right to complain in honor of God who gives freely to all, who is good even when life is bad, then I'm sacrificing something of myself, my inner spirit of discontent. I'm sacrificing my penchant for seeing the glass half empty, for looking on the dark side rather than seeing the sun. Sacrifice of praise, the fruit of my lips must mean that I am giving God honor at the expense of my own selfishness.

Does that mean I am no longer honest with God and just pretend life is always rosy? No. But alongside my honesty, and in pouring out those heart-felt prayers, I acknowledge that He is God. I remember His attributes, His goodness to me in times past. I remember that this life is temporary and the ills of this world are not eternal. God has better things in store, and I can praise Him for knowing what's best - and for knowing that in the future He will make all things right.

I dare say that if my attitude is one of praise, despite difficult circumstances, I will be more inclined to share what I've been given with those who need it. What I have are but gifts from God anyway - not my own to cling to. And gifts were made to be given.

Just as praise is meant to be spoken.