I remember receiving the call that bright summer morning a couple of years after graduating college. I remember where the sun was in the sky, exactly where I was standing and the sinking feeling. I was in California and my friend Dick called me from Colorado to tell me there had been a terrible natural disaster. Rae Ann and others were driving up the Big Thompson Canyon to a women’s leadership conference. A freak rainstorm had dumped so much rain in the upper Rockies that it began cascading down through the narrow Big Thompson Canyon until it formed a 30-foot wall of water overtaking everything in its path. I had driven the road up that canyon many times and knew it would be a death trap if the river overflowed.
Some 144 people were killed that day and five people were never found. One of those 144 people was a very attractive, wholesome, gracious and fun young woman who was a leader with CRU, a ministry that she and I served in. She was clearly out of my league, but nevertheless a relationship was blooming with Rae Ann Johnston of Crystal, North Dakota. Rae Ann was gone. The void remaining in my heart has been my cross to bear ever since—and yes, I will look forward to re-connecting in heaven. Is it possible to turn involuntary losses into voluntary sacrifices?
Years later, after my wife, Nancy, and I had started our family, I also remember waiting anxiously in the conference room; everything seemed bright, white and clinical—almost surreal. Then it was like watching a scene unfold in slow motion as the doctor began speaking and writing on the whiteboard. His lips were moving but I couldn’t quite comprehend his words. The surgery was successful, but Nancy had a 35% chance of surviving five years. We could increase that to 65% with treatment. Uncertainty, fear and anxiety were unwelcome guests. Is it possible to turn loss into sacrifice? What is the difference?
King David of Israel made a very costly sacrifice of another kind—his was voluntary from the beginning, and immense in size. I Chronicles 29 sets the scene for David’s sacrifice. He and the leaders as well as all the people were eagerly anticipating the construction of the temple. A resting place for the Ark of the Covenant where they could collectively come together to contemplate, wonder and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The scene seems like an overwhelming picture of materialistic excess gone mad—precious stones, iron, brass, silver and gold in unimaginable quantities were willingly offered. David personally gave over 100 tons of gold, and the people additionally gave over 180 tons of gold! Tons!! This was a costly sacrifice which inspired David to pray “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given to You” (I Chronicles 29:14). A sacrifice of immense cost.
Sometimes our sacrifices are voluntary and other times they are imposed upon us; sacrifices we would never sign up for. Sometimes we sacrifice time, money or other resources for the Lord’s work. Other times our sacrifices come in the form of a diagnosis, a phone call, a decision to forgive when we have been wounded or a sacrifice of the daily grind of faithfully doing whatever God has called us to do.
Sacrifice always costs us something. I have gladly made sacrifices of time and money to further ministry in service to others. I have also made involuntary sacrifices such as sitting with my best friend as he breathed his last, being betrayed by a trusted colleague, being misunderstood or being falsely accused. All cost me something.
No matter the sacrifice, whether voluntary or involuntary, Scripture tells us we are to give thanks in all things (Philippians 4:6-7). Unless our sacrifice is accompanied with thanksgiving, it is just a loss and not a sacrifice at all. When we give thanks during our loss—whether it is voluntary or not—we turn our loss into a sacrifice of praise through thanksgiving. In giving thanks, even during loss, we tell God we are offering our loss to him, in faith, as a sacrifice, knowing he is our provider and sustainer. Offering thanks through sacrifice is our way of carrying our own crosses, just as Jesus did. And it is this death to self that releases us, regardless of the cost, to turn loss into an eternal gift to God and it thereby becomes a sacrifice of praise.