“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High; call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me… He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me; to him who orders his way aright I will show the salvation of God!”
Psalms 50:14-15, 23 (RSV)
The Psalmist speaks for God, who essentially says in verses 10-13, “I don’t need your animal sacrifices. I’m not hungry, and I own it all anyway”. He’s addressing the Israelites here, whose worship system is one of various material sacrifices: sheep, bulls, goats, grain and wine.
God, through the Psalmist, states that while He doesn’t need their offerings there is something He wants from His worshippers: sacrificial thanksgiving. Calling upon God “in the day of trouble” (verse 15) glorifies God, and bringing thanksgiving “as [a] sacrifice” honors God (verse 23). What does this mean, in practical terms?
Here’s what I think. If I “sacrifice” my all-too-human desire to become angry or complain about an annoying person, and manage instead to thank God for the growth challenge which that person presents to me (something I would only do for love of Him!), I am doing something which gives Him an opportunity to “shine” in my attitude and my response. It’s not my natural way, so if I choose – with His help of course – to respond gently and compassionately rather than with hostility or irritation, it’s God’s nature shining through my human nature, so He gets the honor; He is glorified.
Likewise, if I experience a painful circumstance, and “sacrifice” my natural response of self-pity, blame or anger, and instead thank God for that very circumstance (again, something I would choose only because of love), I honor Him with my trust as I await to see how He will make a way for me. I let go of insisting on my way, of trying to be in charge, and defer instead to His wisdom and plan. And when I’m on the other side of the problem, I give Him the credit for leading me through.
Basically, with God’s grace and help, I can choose to “put my money where my mouth is”; I say I believe God is good, and loving, and will never leave me, and will always provide for me, but unless I cooperate with my will, it’s just words. I can’t do this without His help, but I still need to align my will with His.
The “sacrificial” part is “denying” my self, as Jesus says in Matthew 16:24. I say “no” to what the natural “I” wants to do, what feels easy in the moment because it’s self-indulgent. I instead look to God, asking for His help to choose the higher way, the loving way, the way which glorifies and honors my Savior, the way of trust and thanksgiving. That’s “paying [my] vows, and “ordering [my] way aright”. That’s the self-denying way of the Cross, the way that leads to real Life, “the salvation of God”.