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In a secular world where “me” is god and everyone else is a means to more of “me,” who wants to serve others? In a techy world where “selfies” are currency and “likes” are gold, and where academic achievement, sporting achievement, money, fame, media celebrity status, and the latest cool fashion logos have iconic status, who really cares about living sacrificially? Who really cares whether I care? What even is sacrificial living?
Sacrificial living means giving our time, talents, and resources for the benefit of others. For most of us, that will be lived out in our ordinary everyday lives, in our ordinary everyday homes, families, churches, and workplaces. It won’t make the news, and may not bring obvious reward, but it will be seen by God and will have an eternal impact on others.
God calls me to such sacrificial living. He cares about whether I care. Why? Because behind the gold, the currency, and the apparent successes, His creatures have great need: brokenness, loneliness, lostness, sickness, sadness, emptiness, helplessness, and despair. And God cares that I live sacrificially, to highlight His beautiful sacrifice, and His heart of love and care.
“But how can I sacrifice with what I don’t have?” “I have no gifts.” “I have only one gift.” “My gifts are not very impressive.” “I don’t have time.” “I can’t be a famous missionary like Amy Carmichael or a famous evangelist like John Wesley.” “I’m not a pastor’s wife.” “I’m not gifted or called to preach.” “I barely have money to survive, far less to give away.” “Everyone seems needy.” Or perhaps, “I’m already burnt out, so how can I reach out?” These challenges can be met—if we first of all grasp the essence of sacrificial living.
Sacrificial living is motivated by a love for God and gratitude for salvation, not by legalism. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). It therefore involves wholeheartedness and joy, not half-heartedness and misery. It’s driven by the concern to meet others’ needs, because Christ met my need. A sacrificial heart, driven by love to Christ can’t but want to help. A selfish heart grudges and avoids every opportunity to help. Sacrificial living is love-motivated, not law-motivated.
Sacrificial living recognizes that my gifts belong to God. Every minute, every penny, and every human interaction are His gifts. I will therefore use my ears for listening to others, my mouth for encouraging others, and my resources to practically help others. Sacrificial living makes my redeemed heart vulnerable and willing to feel the broken pain of others. It will cause me to cultivate softness and approachability, not the persona of a perfectly hard shell. Sacrificial living is therefore also costly.
Sacrificial living is not quantified by our successes, failures, or degree of recognition. It is quantified by God. Remember the widow and her two mites? She was poor, despised, and ignored by many but was considered rich and valuable by Christ. Few, if any, would have attended her funeral, but she was memorialized by Christ in His Word. Many Christians living sacrificially for Christ face multiple disappointments and often loneliness. But Christ is not disappointed when He sees faithfulness, love, and true concern for others. He sees the heart, and He ordains the reward (Matt. 6:1–4).
Sacrificial living uses our own unique giftedness to bless others and resists trying to use gifts we don’t have. Sacrificial living involves the willingness to choose the lowly and the menial instead of striving for the more glamorous. It involves prioritizing God’s agenda and avoids enslavement to human expectations or our own selfish preferences.
Sacrificial living remembers that God is the multiplier. He multiplies my meager efforts for the blessing of others. “Five barley loaves and two small fish” with God’s multiplying power fed thousands. This inspires the struggling Sunday school teacher and the struggling parents to keep praying, to keep listening, and to keep loving.
Sacrificial living requires proactive prioritizing in order to avoid long-term damage from reactive fumes. It means we pause and think and pray, not spiral out of control through a lack of prioritizing the needs we really can meet. Be it time, money, empathy, a listening ear, caring for children, or cooking a meal for a needy neighbor, we do not have the ability to do it all at the same time. We need God’s help to prioritize.
Last, to sustain a sacrificial life requires godly care for our blood-bought bodies and souls (1 Cor. 6:12–20), because we are the vehicles through which God blesses others. In our fast-paced, productivity-focused world, we are required by God to counterculturally nurture our bodies and souls for God’s glory and for the good of others. Sacrificial living can thrive and survive only if we regularly cultivate our spiritual relationship with God through His Word, prayer, church, and Sabbath rest. Our bodies (temples of the Holy Spirit) will continue to serve us only if we gratefully use God’s gifts of adequate sleep, rest, exercise, diet, and relaxation (Ex. 20:8–11; Pss. 4:8; 3:5; 46:10; 127:2; Mark 6:31). Neglect of such care leads to our physical, spiritual, and emotional damage. Ironically, it also leads to the damage of others and the damage of our Christian witness, as sin thrives in a neglected body and soul.
A Christ-bought heart, out of love for God, longs to do others good. It seeks God’s blessing more than human approval, and it humbly submits to God’s maintenance manual so that it can go on serving others for longer.