“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong…When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1,4 NIV)
I put this off for a long time. Too long, some might say. The missionary life is often portrayed as one of immense sacrifice: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose,” and all that. But I’d sit to write, to think about “all the ways I’ve sacrificed” and come up empty. Is it because I don’t feel like I do it all that often? Sacrifice things? Like, really?
Take today, for instance. I write this now from my cozy bed, the sun shining in, a dusting of snow on the ground. We just bought curtains for our bedroom, and after five years, it suddenly feels luxuriously mine. I sent the kids to school today—a public school, where other women teach them. (No homeschooling here, no sir.) And yesterday and today, and maybe tomorrow, I’ll meet a friend or two for a coffee, made by someone else, in a shop or café, where I will count the change in English.
These modern conveniences, these blessings of a life lived in Western Europe, don’t feel very much like sacrifices. They feel like life, normal life, nearly identical to the life I lived in America. Oh sure, maybe with a bit more walking and without drive-thru pharmacies, but by the look of things, it sure does seem the same.
After all, I’m not traipsing through the jungle to get to my front door. We’re not neutering stray dogs on our back porch. My children don’t suffer the pain of a terrible teacher of a mother. We’re not fighting the fires (literally and spiritually) in Lesvos.
Some days it just doesn’t really feel like all that much of a sacrifice.
And then I worry. Have I sacrificed? Am I actually unwilling to sacrifice? Am I sacrificing enough? On a scale of Duluth to Djibouti, where is my place in Dublin?
But obedience is never a task made in comparison. It’s a calling and a command, perfectly curated and suited for each and every follower of Christ; as He called Peter, He called John to something else (John 21:18-22). Sacrifice is only ever defined by what Christ did for us, not vice versa. Even in the days of yore (the Old Testament), every sacrifice made was a sign, a shadow, a glimpse of the gift to come.
And in this life, whether overseas or flyover flatlands, He asks me to give up my plans, my security, my expectations—even my voice—as a living sacrificing to Him. A pleasing aroma.
“Go near to listen,” He tells me, “rather than offer the sacrifice of fools.”
“Fulfill your vow to Me today,” He says.
Who you are and where He’s placed you—where He’s placed me. Fulfill your vow today.
Warmly in Christ,
"But Samuel replied: 'Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.'" (1 Samuel 15:22)
Consider the tasks before you today (the school run, the grocery store, the conversations). Where can you offer a pleasing aroma to God and to those around you?
How has God stretched or challenged you, through asking you to sacrifice or through the sacrifices of others?