I’ve been reading a book entitled, Gospel Fear: A Heart That Trembles at the Word of God, by Jeremiah Burroughs, an English Puritan (1599-1646). It is a collection of his sermons on this subject, and though I have struggled to finish the book, I was interested in what he had to say on pp. 108-109 about the tender heart and sacrifice. Having cited Psalm 51.17, where it says that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit”, he goes on to write that
”…a tender heart is that which is instead of all sacrifices. If you cannot offer anything else to God, yet if you can offer this sacrifice God is well pleased. Many poor sinners are troubled that they can do very little for God. But can you offer up to God a tender heart and a contrite spirit? I say, this is instead of all sacrifices whatever before Him…here’s a disposition that commends any other sacrifice. Let this sacrifice be put in and it is as if all other sacrifices were there. Anything must be acceptable where this is, and nothing is acceptable without it…”
Many times missionaries are commended for the sacrifices they make to leave family and familiarity and go to the ends of the earth to labour in ministry. Sometimes it’s easy to be self-congratulatory in this respect and have an attitude of self-righteous indignation when we observe the misplaced priorities of our own Christian subculture. But I have to ask myself if my life is characterized by the kind of sacrifice that truly has value in the sight of God. Sacrificing money or success or recognition or comfort is really of no consequence because God puts no value whatever on these things. Hence, to sacrifice what is not important to God is no perhaps sacrifice at all.
One would think that true sacrifice involves giving up what is important to the one offering the sacrifice, but what God treasures is a heart that is responsive to Him. Jesus said that he who would not leave houses and lands and family, etc. was not worthy to be called His disciple, implying that leaving those things was assumed in the process of following after Him. Missionaries who have “given up” all the things for which many other people live can still be as self-absorbed as anyone else, present company included.
True sacrifice is the sacrifice of self—the one thing that matters most to us and, in the end, the only thing of eternal interest to God. (Carta del norte, 6 August 2008)