In writing to those who believed in Christ, the apostle Peter told them that, "you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5, NIV).
To most Christians, the idea of offering sacrifices is something that ended with the death of Christ because it is generally believed that the concept of sacrificing involves the killing of an animal. However, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a different understanding of this word. Rather than shedding the blood of a slain animal they believe in "offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God."
However, when most people hear about sacrificing something to God they generally think of it as forfeiting or giving away something we cherish with no expectation of receiving much if anything in return. In other words, a sacrifice is a hardship we endure because we lose something that means a lot to us. In Old Testament times, people raised animals to provide themselves with food and clothing, as well as exchanging them for money. Thus, to kill an animal on an altar simply because God demanded it and get nothing in return was like throwing away food, clothing, or money.
Often times we hear of parents who "sacrifice" for their children and the connotation here is that parents give up something they would rather have in order to provide for the needs or perhaps even the wants of their children. Therefore the word "sacrifice" has become synonymous with denial and deprivation.
Yet father Lehi told his family that "men are that they may have joy" and Jesus said that the reason He came to earth is so "that your joy might be full" (John 15:11). When Jesus was born the angels told the shepherds "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (Luke 2:10). Since the message of the gospel is one of joy and since most people consider sacrificing to be something that's unpleasant therefore most Christian faiths don't practice any form of sacrifice as part of their religious beliefs, whether it is spiritual or temporal. Since they believe that Jesus made the last sacrifice when He offered His life on the cross they therefore feel there's nothing left for us to sacrifice.
On the other hand, the LDS Church requires it members to offer many kinds of sacrifices. For example, to follow the principle of tithing is a sacrifice for many people. To them taking ten percent of their hard earned money and just giving it away to the Church without receiving anything tangible in return is a hard thing for them to do. By comparison, in many Christian churches when people donate large sums of money often times their names are placed in a prominent location for others to see, such as nameplates on pews or stain glass windows or in the Sunday bulletin, or other well noticed places. However, the LDS Church generally does not do this. For the great majority of its members who pay tithing there is not even the intangible reward of recognition.
In traditional Christian denominations the pastor or minister gets a salary for their labors but in the LDS Church bishops and stake presidents serve long hours in their calling without receiving any financial reward. Therefore, they must continue to work at their regular job and then perform all their church duties during their non-working hours. And, to a lesser degree, almost all members of the church who accept callings have to do the same thing. To many, this would be considered a sacrifice of their time, talents, and energy.
The LDS Church believes in keeping the Sabbath day holy, meaning that it teaches its members to refrain from buying things on Sunday and to forego recreational activities. Furthermore, church services are three hours long and members are encouraged to attend church every Sunday. The LDS Church also has standards of behavior that its members are asked to adhere to such as not smoking, refrain from drinking, tea, coffee, and liquor and to wear appropriately acceptable clothing. To many people, keeping these commandments would require them to sacrifice their lifestyle. The LDS Church also teaches its member to follow the counsel of their spiritual leaders, especially the President of the Church. To many, this would mean sacrificing their free agency.
It could be said that the reason why we make such sacrifices is to please God, but why would God want us to sacrifice anything to Him? After all, there is nothing we can give Him that He doesn't already have. It could be said that our sacrifices show how much we love God, but why does God get satisfaction out of seeing us being deprived of things that matter most to us? And if there is no sorrow or difficulty in giving something up are we really sacrificing?
The reason why people would ask such questions is because of an improper understanding of what it means to sacrifice. While it is true this word can mean "to forfeit something of value with no expectation of a return," that is not the only definition. To sacrifice can also mean "to forfeit something highly valued for the sake of something of a greater value" (Webster's dictionary).
People make sacrifices every day and often many times a day. For example, most people enjoy sleeping late in the mornings and surveys have shown that most people are not happy with their job. Yet, millions of people will rise early in the morning and sacrifice their sleep to go work at a job they don't like. Most people look forward to the weekend mainly because they don't have to go to work and can therefore spend time at home doing things they want to do rather than working for someone else doing something they don't like doing. During inclement weather, such as a snow or ice storm, people would rather stay at home in a warm, comfortable environment rather than go drive on slippery, treacherous roads in below freezing temperatures and yet people do just that so they can get to a job they're not thrilled with.
Then why do most people sacrifice their sleep, their comfort, and their time to go to work? The answer is: To make money. Therefore, since money is more important or valuable to them than their sleep, comfort, and time, they are willing to sacrifice something of a lesser value for something they consider to be of a greater value.
Yet it's not so much the money that's important as what it can buy. So what people are really doing is working hard to earn money so they can willingly give it away to other people.
But they only give up their money for something that means more to them. Perhaps we can illustrate this principle using a simpler example. Money itself comes in different denominations or values such as a penny, nickel, dime, quarter, etc. Because of this, no one would mind giving away a ten dollar bill to get a twenty dollar bill in return but hardly anyone would exchange a ten dollar bill for a five dollar bill. And the reason why is because people are glad to exchange something of a lesser valued to gain something of a greater value but not the other way around.
And this principle applies to almost everything we do. For example, if someone was going to go on a vacation they might get up very early in the morning, sacrificing more of their sleep time than normal because they want to have more time to engage in an activity they enjoy. Therefore, since they place a higher value on their fun than they do their sleep, they are willing to sacrifice one in return for the other.
On the other hand, let's say it's Saturday morning and someone has to perform a task that day they aren't looking forward to. In that case they would probably not be willing to sacrifice their sleep in exchange for something that has a lesser value to them. Therefore, in all likelihood, they would stay in bed for as long as they could. Some people love working in their yard and other people hate it. Therefore, depending on the value we place on working in the yard will depend on how much of our time we're willing to sacrifice for yard work
What all of this illustrates is that we place values on many things in our life including our time, energies, activities, and comfort and we are willing to exchange something we consider to be of a lesser value for something we consider to be of a greater value.
And we do the same with our activity in the Church. The reason why some people willingly sacrifice or give up their time, talent, money, energies, and desires is because they feel they're getting something of greater value in return. This is why some people are willing to accept the calling of being a bishop or a Relief Society president or an Elder's quorum president even though it will require them to sacrifice much of their time, while others in the Church have difficulty sacrificing just a couple of hours a month to do their home teaching. The difference between these two situations has to do with the value each person places on their time and their calling. Those who think their time is more valuable will sacrifice their calling. Those who think their calling is more valuable will sacrifice their time.
We see this same situation outside of the Church. Some people are willing to pay $2,000 or more for a 50" High Definition TV. What they are doing is giving up, forfeiting, or sacrificing not just their money but the hours upon hours of hard work that went into earning that much money. And the reason why they are willing to do this is because they value the thrill and excitement of watching that kind of a TV more than they do keeping all of that money in the bank or spending it on something else. On the other hand, most people are content to buy a TV that cost just a couple of hundred dollars because they don't see the value in spending anything more than that just to watch TV. Therefore, our willingness to sacrifice is directly related to the value we place on things.
If that is true, then what value is there to serving God?
Jesus taught His disciples saying, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26).
The reason why Jesus asks us to deny ourselves and follow Him is because He is offering us the opportunity to obtain eternal life, which life includes possessing all the power, glory, and responsibility that God enjoys. And to help us be prepared to inherit that life God has established a school of higher learning where we can gain all the knowledge, skill, and intelligence needed to live as He does. As the Lord explained, "And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. (D&C 130:9). That is one of the primary purposes of the Church.
The reason why some people are more diligent than others in serving the Lord is because they see the value of gaining as much of this godly knowledge, skill and intelligence as they can. As a result, they are willing to sacrifice that which they consider to be of a lesser value in order to gain that which they feel is of a greater value. On the other hand, there are those who don't see the value in giving up earthly materials and desires for some future event that they feel may or may not happen.
We see the same situation among college students. Some are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes even going into debt for years afterwards and willingly sacrifice all the time it takes for them to study and learn their lessons. And the reason why they do this is because they place a higher value on their education than they do their money or having fun. On the other hand, there are some students who do not take their education seriously and would rather be partying than studying. And the reason why is because they place a higher value on fun than on learning.
Jesus taught, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matthew 6:19-20).
Most people willingly sacrifice their time and money to get a college degree, not just for the sake of gaining knowledge but because they expect to someday make far more money than they could without such a degree. And we see this same situation in the financial world. There are people who willingly spend their money, not on goods, but on investments that they hope will give them a better income in the future. In both of these situations what people are doing is sacrificing their money in the short term with the expectation of receiving a much greater financial reward in the future.
However, there are people who don't worry about the future but instead are more concerned about what is happening in the present. These people are not as willing to give up much for the sake of the future because they place a higher value on living for the present. Unfortunately, too often when the future does arrive these same people find themselves in a worse situation precisely because they did not plan ahead. So, instead of sacrificing in the present, what they have done is sacrificed their future.
In the same way, sometimes Latter-day Saints joke about how we are working for the retirement program of the Church. And indeed, God not only offers us glory and honor but all the riches of heaven as well as other glorious blessings, many of which we can't even comprehend at this time. There are many in the Church who place a high value on obtaining these future blessings and are therefore willing to sacrifice whatever it takes now to someday enjoy a more glorious life in eternity. On the other hand there are those who don't see the value of planning for a future life beyond the grave and therefore are not willing to sacrifice earthly things for heavenly treasures. But in reality, they have made a sacrifice. As Jesus put it, they have exchanged their soul for the things of the world.
The Psalmist wrote, "Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psalms 16:11). Although happiness is something intangible, it is nonetheless highly valued by most people. At Christmas time and during birthdays parents have a habit of spending more money than they should to buy gifts for their children. And the reason why they forfeit or sacrifice so much of their hard earned money is for the pleasure of seeing the joy that these presents bring their children.
Most parents willingly sacrifice their time helping with their children's homework or attending their children's activities. While there may not be any immediate reward for this sacrifice yet years later they will be repaid many times over. To see a child graduate school or achieve some other kind of distinction brings a joy into a parent's heart that makes all of their past sacrifices worthwhile.
In the same way God our Father wants His children to be happy. While there are many things we can do that can bring us happiness, only eternal life can give us a fullness of joy. That is why God has shown us the path that leads to eternal life and says to us, "Don't place your heart on the things of this world because they are only temporary and will not bring you any real satisfaction. Give up your bad habits because they will only make your life harder. Forfeit some of your fun to gain godly knowledge, intelligence and skills because it will make you a better person. Sacrifice a little bit of your time serving others because it will enlarge your soul and bring you untold eternal rewards."
The reason why God asks us to make sacrifices is not because He wants us to give up something for nothing. Instead, He wants us to give up something of a lower value so that we can receive something of a much higher value. And what God asks us to give up is so little compared to what we can get in return. It is as though we are being asked to invest one dollar in His teaching program so that we can get back hundreds of thousands of dollars later on. When understood in this light, we should have no trouble taking joy in sacrificing to the Lord.
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