Sacrifice is Safer than Sincerity

There are plenty of stories in the Bible that speak to worship, but some of the most confusing and convicting are those of failed worship. Often drizzled with good intentions, we find a subtle difference often separating good worship from godly worship. Good worship will sometimes ignore, but most often augment God’s instructions for various reasons of convenience, efficiency, pride, haste, or outright personal preference. Godly worship listens before it speaks, kneels before it stands, and observes before it acts.

Of these stories, one is found in an account of Israel’s first king, Saul. He was instructed to punish a city that had defied God and terrorized Israel during their time of wandering. With clear command, Saul was told not to take any spoils of war, but subject it all to destruction. We soon find that he’d subjected most to destruction, but salvaged the best of the spoils (sheep and oxen) for sacrifice to God.  
Clever. Sounds noble. Insightful. Generous even. It was both creative and practical. But after the battle, the prophet Samuel confronted Saul,
               “Why am I hearing the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen?”
Saul began his defense with cleverly placed pronouns.
                “They [the people] spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
Samuel pressed in, recounting the simple command of submitting all to destruction.
Saul postured once again,
                 “I did obey.... and brought back... and the people took...”
Saul was caught saying, “I did obey.. and added to it.” “I saw an opportunity!” “I went above and beyond!”
Samuel sighed,
                  “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord?”
As the conversation continued, Saul’s intentions began to unravel.
                  “I have sinned... I feared the people and listened to their voice.”

Guitars For Glory Destruction

A tale as old as time, Saul listened to the voice of the people rather than the voice of God. It’s tragic really. What was structured to be a great victory and celebration was diluted with dishonesty and clouded to satisfy a crowd.

And so the internal justification begins - the augmenting we first mentioned:
This spoil is too good not to use.
Perhaps if it’s repurposed for worship.
How could God be angered if we show up with a gift?

Saul’s attempt to improve God’s plan for worship that evening was simple disobedience. He thought he could creatively marry the desires of God and the desires of the crowd. With Saul’s intentions laid bare, the prophet informed him that his short-lived anointing would soon expire, yet Saul still couldn’t resist the approval of the people:
               “I have sinned; but please honor me now before the elders of my people.”

Reviewing the narrative with Saul’s intentions made known, we begin to highlight each time he mentioned the people. His deepest concern was with their perception of who he was and what he did. It swayed him. Tortured him even. Their approval eclipsed God’s, casting a shadow on all that he was. Saul’s worship was placed before one with hopes to pacify Another.

 Though we could end here with plenty to consider, the stark realities of Saul’s sacrifice is just that - it was sacrifice. It’s disorienting to consider the abuse of sacrificial worship because it is the very act of giving, laying down, offering of ourselves. How could this be tainted?! Could our greatest intentions be subverted by subtle motives? The truth is, because it is so very tangible, it is most vulnerable. Truly, sacrifice is safer than sincerity.

Another prophet once reiterated God’s heart,
                   “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.
                    I want you to know Me more than I want burnt offerings.”

We see it still today, with so many noble causes and platforms for sacrifice, it’s often easier to write a check than book a flight to a destitute country; cleaner to offer a handout than lend a hand; safer to write a blog than hold a conversation. And so we gravitate toward sacrifice without sincerity. It is after all more visible, tangible and tax-deductible. Naturally, the call of this article is not to cease in our sacrifice, but rather to guard against its insincerity. The success of this sin rests in its subtlety. It’s true, Saul wove his worship with threads of sacrifice, but he laid it at the feet of One he wasn’t worshipping and hoped He didn’t notice the holes of insincerity.

The final verse of Saul’s narrative is this, “The Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.”  Without wanting to derail this article into a theological debate, let us simply read another use of the Hebrew, “to sigh” - e.g. “The Lord sighed that He had made Saul king...” Could their be a greater sense of disappointment?

May we guard against our motives as we aim to worship as He’s asked. Let us not think we can improve upon what God expects and deserves for the sake of efficiency, convenience, pride, haste, or outright personal preference. Godly worship listens before it speaks, kneels before it stands, and observes before it acts.

“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord?”

- Matthew Ouellette
(Worship Pastor, Creative, GFG Team Member)