As we sacrifice certainty and attempt to discern God’s will for us and our communities, how do we know we are on the right track? How can we rest assured that our efforts are pleasing to God?
In the early verses of Psalm 50, God is preparing to render judgment on the people. God summons those called faithful to account for their actions. It appears that the people are doing exactly what they have been taught to do, moving through the rituals and preparing burnt offerings. Yet this is not the sacrifice that God desires. Instead, God asserts that sincere gifts of thanksgiving are most desirable and pleasing.
One interpretation of this text is that a sacrifice that is pleasing to God holds at the center a spirit of gratitude. Today the term “thanksgiving” in the United States is most often associated with a holiday filled with family, food, and football. Yet, as the classic gospel song by Dr. Charles G. Hayes and the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer reminds us, “Every Day Is a Day of Thanksgiving” or, at the very least, has the potential to be a day of thanksgiving. Scientists have long studied the positive benefits of gratitude and have found that the daily practice of expressing appreciation is correlated with better mental and physical health, improved self-esteem, deeper empathy for others, and even better sleep.
The writer of this psalm might have been onto something. Even in the midst of our sacrifice God desires for us to be whole and well. Placing gratitude at the center of our daily spiritual practice can and will improve our well-being.
For whom or what do you feel grateful today?
The prophet Isaiah brings a harsh message to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Although they are performing sacrifices and observing feasts, they have lost their heart for God. God wants no more meaningless sacrifices but instead wants the people to repent. The psalmist proclaims a similar message from God. The people’s sacrifices have become pointless because the people have forgotten God. The primary offerings that God desires are thanksgiving and ethical living. The author of Hebrews sounds a note of harmony, emphasizing that Abraham’s faith in action—not his performance of religious duties—brings him favor with God. Jesus teaches that we cannot rest on our laurels of simply “having faith.” Instead we should remain vigilant and continue to perform acts of charity, including caring for the poor, as a response to our faith.
Read Isaiah 1:1, 10-20. Consider the author’s difficult questions: Is there blood on your hands? Does your worship lead you to acts of mercy and justice?
Read Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23. How do you “bring Thanksgiving as [your] sacrifice” and “go the right way”?
Read Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16. How do you demonstrate faith as a verb, not just a noun?
Read Luke 12:32-40. God promises us a bountiful kingdom, but we cannot take our worldly possessions there. How do you work toward living as if you are already in God’s bountiful kingdom? How do you help to create it?
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