Sacrifice. One can't truly know God or be called by His name without it. Sacrifice is what grants us access to the Father. He chose to offer the ultimate sacrifice - His Son - that we might enter in. One would scarcely give his son for the best of men...God offered his up for the chief of sinners and all the rest of us average sinners. Our God is a sacrificing God...willing to suffer and sacrifice that we might end our futility and chasing after wind and find all that truly satisfies in Him...for eternity.
Once we are called by His Name, we begin to become like Him...and find ourselves called upon to sacrifice, too. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were called to sacrifice for sin and in order to enter in to the presence of God. Those of us under the New Covenant of the Blood of Jesus Christ have those things provided by His atoning work. So, we are called to sacrifice for different reasons. We sacrifice to die to self, to put temporal things in their proper perspective, and to further and continually surrender to God. Each day provides a new opportunity to sacrifice. To take up our cross and do as Amy Carmichael says and deny ourselves of something "that would not be if we were not following Him.”
We can't truly say we know God without this sacrificial death to self. If we have never denied ourselves anything for His sake, we cannot call ourselves His. Failure to do so is to live to Self, not Christ. And in this there is no gain. Self denial, when we find our will crossing Christ's, is to be a daily aspect of the Christian life. But, these daily denials are not just about forsaking bad things, as Elisabeth Elliot says, sometimes it is about offering up some very good things.
Since I have become a Christian, a very many "good things" (in my estimation) have found themselves on the altar of God. In fact, every hope, wish, plan, dream, and scheme has had to take its place there and be put through the fire. In some cases, the Lord has given that hope, wish, plan or scheme back to me, better than I left it and filled with much less of me. In others, the fire consumed all...not just the sinful "me" parts...and all that was left was a pile of ashes. My pile continues to grow. Sacrifice upon sacrifice, the bits of me that burn away, or actual hopes and plans which are consumed all together, have formed a huge pile of ashes next to the altar.
Yet again, I find myself standing there, future hopes and plans in hand, placing them on the altar. I step back and watch the fire burn. I hope some day like silver which is refined in the fire, my hopes and plans will be returned to me, pure and able to reflect the face of the refiner. But, I can't know that now, as I feel the heat of the fire on my face. I can only know that this is what I am called to do. And that I must trust my God who is the fire.
This morning, my friend Elisabeth Elliot said to me (via her e-mail devotion) "[you] must persist in faith. God has a splendid purpose. Believe in order to see it."
God has a splendid purpose...not just a "good" one. Splendid...what a word! Sacrifice doesn't feel splendid. It feels awful at first...scary. But I have His promise that He is for me. That He won't give me a snake when I ask for (or sacrifice) a fish, and that He is able to do beyond all I can think or imagine. Now...I have a pretty vivid imagination, so that is pretty exciting to me. Yet, still, there are times when I would rather cling to my daydream than let go "trade" for an unknown.
But that is faith. "Who hopes for what he sees?"
I can also know that the sacrifice is for no purpose. Not only are they leading me deeper into the knowledge of Christ and His crucificixion, but they are also being used to prepare the land, the pleasant places, He has in store for me.
Not that He doth explain
The mystery that baffleth, but a sense
Husheth the Quiet heart, that far far hence
Lieth a field set thick with golden grain,
Wetted in seedling days by many a rain;
The End - it will explain.
(Amy Carmichal, The End, in Toward Jerusalem)
The land, the pleasant places, the field of golden grain may not look all that habitable or pleasant or golden right now, but they are being watered with my tears and fertilized with the ashes of my consumed hopes and dreams. Each time, as I turn away from the altar in grief, an unseen hand scoops them up and spreads them over that land He is preparing for me, according to His purposes. I cannot till or plant or make the seasons progress more quickly...but I can offer the material for sacrifice which will nurture the field and cause it to grow - though not more quickly than it should.