A few months ago I put up a new gadget on the side of my blog where readers can post their own ideas for blog topics. I was thrilled a few weeks ago when I saw I actually had a taker. And then I saw the topic: joyfully living a sacrificial life. Oh my. Not your typical fluffy topic. I can’t even pretend to be an expert on this, but the Lord is, so I’ve been praying and thinking about it ever since, asking for His wisdom.
Living a life of sacrifice can be difficult enough, but to do it joyfully? Well, that’s a whole other ball of wax. But I’ll tell you what the Lord has shown me. We can sacrifice in the flesh or we can sacrifice in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells us, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11)
Jesus said that if we keep His commandments as He kept His Father’s, we will abide in His love and that our joy would be complete. Don’t misunderstand, God’s love for us never waivers. But we leave a degree of our love for Him when we choose to disobey and then we will find a measure of our joy is gone.
What are those commandments?
1. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)
2. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)
The more we love God the more we will love His people. And as we continue showing love for one another, we will abide in Christ’s love and we will be filled with joy. And loving others requires sacrifice.
There is no joy sacrificing in the flesh.
Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The first part of these verses speak to the bondage of sin in our lives. When left unchecked and unrepented of, it becomes a weight, keeping us from moving forward in our spiritual maturity and usefulness in God’s hands.
When we get out of the will of God, either by allowing sin to reside in our lives, or by sacrificing in a way He has not called us to, the power of the Holy Spirit cannot lead us and the sacrifice is done in the flesh--with our own strength and our wisdom, which are no strength or wisdom at all. This is a sure-fire way to burn out in our faith and lose our joy.
Sacrificing in the power of the Holy Spirit brings joy.
When we throw off that weight, choosing not to sin and when we do, being quick to repent, even of those insidious sins that we may think of as harmless, those thoughts that form in our minds that we can nurture, like jealousy or unforgiveness, then we can move forward in our faith, walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, giving our lives as a sacrifice in God’s strength and wisdom.
Jesus lived a life of sacrifice that culminated in the ultimate act of sacrifice: giving of His very own physical life. He fulfilled the commandment to love others as He laid down His life, and not even just for His friends, but for the world, even while we still hated Him.
But He didn’t focus on the suffering of His sacrifice. He obeyed His Father and endured suffering for the joy that was set before Him. He focused on His reward, on the fruit of His suffering. And that reward was us. He knew that because of His obedience to the Father to give up His life He was purchasing our souls from the pit of hell and that ultimate sacrifice brought Him ultimate joy.
God’s ways are always contrary to our nature and to the world’s way of doing things. Our nature and the world tells us that to be happy we must fulfill our own desires.
But God tells us that when we sacrifice our lives, dying to our own personal desires so that we can allow Christ to love others through us on this earth, fulfilling greater missions than our own comfort, we will be filled with real joy.
Conversely, when we focus on self, when we allow sin to govern our lives, we forgo love of others, we do not abide in Christ’s love, and that brings spiritual separation, depression, fear and loneliness.
God doesn’t require most of us to sacrifice to the point of giving our lives through physical death. We are to be living sacrifices for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are hundreds of ways we can sacrifice our lives every day, but each one boils down to showing love for another.
Joni Eareckson Tada
Joni Eareckson Tada, a woman who became a quadriplegic at the age of 17 after diving into shallow water and suffering a spinal cord injury, is a great example of a life given over to the Lord in humble and joyful sacrifice.
Because of her injury, Joni had been forced to sacrifice much of her independence, her previous love of playing sports, even being able to wipe her own nose. You’d think the sacrifice she was forced to make (yet more than willingly and lovingly submits to her Heavenly Father) was enough. But in one particular book I read about her life she says that, among other things, she has given up eating French fries. Why? Because her husband and friends must lift her in and out of her wheelchair and she wants to be mindful of her weight for them. Now that is love. She shows the love she has for others by choosing to give up her right to eat what she wants for them.
When we willingly give our lives to the Lord, sacrificing in the will and power of the Holy Spirit, that is when we look, act, see, think and feel most like the Lord.
We have two choices every day.
1. We can try to fill our lives with temporary, earthly pleasures to try to find happiness—a hollow counterfeit of the real joy we were meant to have in Christ.
2. We can abide in the love of Christ, allowing Him to love others through us as we lay down our own wants and desires for the glory of God and for His kingdom.
Finding joy in sacrifice doesn’t mean it will be fun. Sometimes it will be downright agonizing work. But as we continue walking in the Holy Spirit, praying and reading God's Word and abiding in His love through obedience, the joy we will have will be evident and deeply satisfying within our spirit. We must remember to keep our focus on heaven, sending up our treasures ahead of us through our sacrifice for the joy set before us--glorifying the Lord now and abiding with Him forever.