In the Old Testament, God prescribed for the Israelites different types of offerings to accomplish specific purposes. Some were mandatory, such as a sin or guilt offering, which was necessary to atone for sins. Some were voluntary, like a fellowship offering, which was offered as an act of thanksgiving and worship. This “sacrifice of thanksgiving” was shared as a communal meal, with God receiving the best portion, the priests receiving a share, and God’s people sharing in the rest.
A communal meal of thanksgiving – sound familiar? As we consider how we honor God with our best portion at Thanksgiving this year, it may change our perspective to consider the gratitude we offer as a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” unto God.
In Psalm 50, God has a word for His people about their offerings. He reminds His people that He doesn’t need their sacrifices; He already owns all they might bring before Him. In verse 12, “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.” God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills,” and “every animal in the forest” is His. Furthermore, God has no physical need for the offerings brought to Him. He asks, rhetorically, “Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” The object of their offering was not valuable to Him in any practical sense.
The offering of a thankful heart, however, was and is precious to Him. Psalm 50:14-15 says: “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” The value of the offering came in the way their hearts were drawn to Him. The value was not in what His people offered, but in the way the offering created a deeper recognition of their dependence on Him.
We, too, can sacrifice thank offerings to God, recognizing all we have to offer has first come from Him. And perhaps, the recognition of our dependence on Him is the sacrifice. Let me explain.
For my first Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I brought a sweet potato casserole. The family enjoyed it; so much so, my mother-in-law asked me to bring the casserole again the next year. And the next year. Making the casserole took a little bit of work, but I took pride in showing up to the table with something valuable to offer. But then after a few years, she stopped asking me to make it. In fact, she stopped asking me to bring anything at all. (Nothing makes a person question their culinary skills more than a Thanksgiving host who insists that you need not contribute to the meal.) Even though I knew in my head my mother-in-law was simply trying to make Thanksgiving with young kids more manageable for me, showing up to the bountiful feast prepared by others with nothing of my own to offer felt uncomfortable.
In the same way, it can be hard to acknowledge – sacrificial, in fact – that we have nothing to offer to God that He has not first given to us. Like bringing food to a family Thanksgiving, I struggle to want to “do my part” in my relationship with God…to bring something valuable to the table. I long to feel that I have done something, or brought something, or sacrificed something, in order to deserve His love.
But I fear that misses the point. In a great paradox, the offering most valuable to God is my acknowledgment that anything I offer to Him, He has first given to me. The sacrifice God calls for is a slaughter of my misplaced belief that I am sufficient in myself to bring something of value apart from Him. Rather, my thank offering begins with the understanding that “every good and perfect gift is from above.” James 1:17. My offering of voluntarily laying down my pride and my independence from God at the altar, and thereby recognizing my dependence on Him for all I am, all I need, and all He has already provided to me, honors Him.
Greater awareness of our dependence on Him for all things is also the beginning of a more grateful heart. How profound our sacrifice of thanksgiving becomes when it springs forth from the seed of recognition of all we lack in ourselves! When we more fully understand our need for Him, and more clearly appreciate His bountiful provision in our lives, our humble offering of thanks is invaluable to Him who already owns the world.