Sacrifice of Thanksgiving
I've seen the phrase "a sacrifice of thanksgiving" several times in the Bible, but I never paid much attention to it because sacrifices are, well, something we don't really do that anymore*.
*"we" meaning 21st century Christians living in America, insofar as slaughtering an animal on the alter goes.
That all changed one night, about six month after I moved to Providence, when I attended an all women's Bible study. I didn't know anyone there (I'm actually not even sure how I found it, now that I think about it), and since I was late, I unwittingly had to force everyone on a couch to squish together to make room for me. The girl whom I sat next to, also in her mid-20's, was soft-spoken and didn't say much--until she did.
When she spoke, we listened.
She told us her family was from China, but she had been raised in a Christian household. I think her dad might have been a priest or worked in the church in some capacity. Nevertheless, her dad was very demanding about her scholastic achievement. She attended a top engineering university, and her program was so intense, all of her classmates were overstressed and emotionally depressed. She knew of more than one suicide, and she herself had battled depression. But it was from this perspective that she addressed Psalm 116 (v 17).
“I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord."
As I mentioned, verses with sacrifice were not my favorite, and although I was familiar with Psalm 116, I hadn't stopped to consider what this phrase meant, "I will sacrifice a thank offering..."
I suppose I assumed it was pigeon, or something, given to God to say thanks.
(In fact, there are two types of sacrifices: propitiatory sacrifices, which are mandatory to atone for our sins, to restore fellowship with God; and dedicatory sacrifices, which are thank offerings voluntarily offered to God.)
Her perspective was this:
What if thankfulness is the sacrifice?
Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes everything sucks. We are not in the mood to give thanks; in fact, it's the last thing we want to do. We'd rather curse God than offer him praise and thanksgiving. So, what if that's the sacrifice--putting away our feelings in order to be grateful to God, regardless of how much time we have or what our circumstances are or whether or not we want to?
That idea has stuck with me ever since.
In a large part, that's what this project is. I don't expect all 365 days to be rainbows and sunshine. But the least I can do for all that I've received in my life is to be grateful. It seems a lot easier than slaughtering a pigeon or giving a bushel of my own threshed wheat.
There's another psalm, Psalm 50, that also makes me think of that Bible study every time I see it:
"I am God, your God...
I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,
and keep the vows you made to the Most High."
I think she was right.