the sacrifice of thanks


reading: Psalm 50, Exodus 13:17-14:31

. . .

Thanksgiving. We don’t often first think of the word “sacrifice” when we think of giving thanks. Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t. Instead, I think of a glad and joyful heart, completely content. I get the image of a family happily seated around a table with a bounty of food before them.

And yet, here in Psalm 50, verse 14 God calls His people to “sacrifice thank offerings” to Him. What’s that about?

Well, it makes sense if you think about it: it’s easy to be thankful, to offer thanks to God, to have a heart of gratitude when things are all fine and dandy, when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping, when all is right in the world and like Will Ferrell in Elf, you’re in love and you don’t care who knows it!

It’s much more difficult to offer thanks when things are dark and dim, when there are clouds overhead and you can’t remember the sound of the chirping of birds–both literally and figuratively, when your brain is weighed down by loneliness, confusion, and depression, and when your heart is heavy with illness, despair, and fatigue from the journey–again, both literally and figuratively.

And yet we are called to do so, to offer thanks. And this, my friends, is where the “sacrifice” part comes in.

The very nature of the word “sacrifice” is in itself uncomfortable. I was sort of shocked to find that when I typed that word into Google, the words “slaughtering an animal or person” came up. It seems so intense. And well, it is.

Here’s the full definition of “sacrifice”:

an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure.

In the Old Testament God’s people slaughtered all sorts of animals as an act of worship to Him. And yet here in Psalm 50 God tells us that He doesn’t need or want physical sacrifices like that. {Check out Psalm 50, verses 9-13}. Instead, in verse 14 He calls us to a different kind of sacrifice: that of offering thanks.

It’s a sacrifice to give thanks when we don’t feel like it, when we don’t feel joyful, glad, or content, when life feels more like we are wandering in the wilderness than like we are living our best lives, being our best selves, and efficiently trekking our way down the straight and narrow path God has set out for us. The act of giving thanks can feel at times nothing short of a great sacrifice, of a slaughtering of something within ourselves in order to offer up this required thanks to God, to answer this call He has given.

In my time of reflection over the above-listed readings, there are three things that God revealed to me about this so-called “sacrifice” of giving thanks:

  1. Promise
  2. Provision
  3. Purpose


Often in the Bible, God’s calls come with a promise.

God called Abraham to leave his country and go to another land. And that call came with the promise that God would make Abram {his name at the time} into a great nation, that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars {Genesis 12:1-2, 15:5}.

In Exodus, God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. And that call came with the promise that God would not only lead them out of a land of captivity, but to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey {Exodus 3:7-10}.

And here in Psalm 50, God calls us, his people, to sacrifice thank offerings to Him. And this call comes with the promise that when we call upon Him in our day of trouble, He will deliver us {Psalm 50:15}.

This is the God we love and know and serve. This is a good God who longs to give His children good gifts. This is a generous and faithful God–a God who could easily just call us, but who chooses to attach a promise to the call.


And in the midst of the journey of answering God’s call, He bestows provision.

The call not only comes with a promise of deliverance to come but also with provision right there in the midst of all that is dark, difficult, and uncertain. Our God is so good that He has provided us with so many examples of His provision in the Bible. Just one of many is the story of Moses and the Israelites.

When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, Exodus 13:17-18 tells us that He took them the long way through the desert {instead of making a straight shot to the Promised Land.}

We live in a culture obsessed with efficiency, with taking the shortest, fastest, and quickest routes to get from A to B. {Hello, Waze app!} And yet in life, sometimes God takes us the long way in delivering fully upon His promises. Sometimes He will lead us the long way in answering his various calls on our lives. And much like the Israelites we, too, will feel stuck wandering, directionless, in the scarcity of the wilderness.

And yet you know what God did for them? The same thing He does for us. He offers provision in the midst of that wilderness.

God provided a cloud by day and fire by night to guide them, so that they could travel day and night, and so that they could travel in safety from Pharaoh’s army that was pursuing them {Exodus 13:21-22, 14:19-20}. {Oh yeah, one other detail: not only were they taking the long way, they were also being pursued by the powerful Egyptian army. Not exactly ideal circumstances.} And yet God provided. The could and the fire. {He would go on to provide manna and quail and water that came from rocks.} And yet you know what they did?

They grumbled. They complained. They asked Moses if he had led them out into the wilderness to die.

They most certainly did not offer thanks.

Much like the Israelites, we, too, will be tempted to grumble in the heart of the wilderness, but I urge you the very same thing I urge myself: Do not follow this example of the Israelites! Take heart! Give thanks! Remember the faithfulness of this God, choose to see His provision in the midst of the wilderness. Have faith and certainty that He who has called, promises, and that He who has called, provides.

Isaiah 43:19 tells us:

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

That’s a promise I can hold onto. That’s a promise He’s given us for every call and for every journey of answering a call.

The very call of Psalm 50 comes with a promise, and that very promise holds in itself a promise of provision. Verse 15 tells us “and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you…” A promise of deliverance. Provision. Rescue. A way in the wilderness.

And in verse 23 God tells us, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way…” But wait, I thought God was making the way? It’s us who make the way?

Did you know every time Abraham paused on his journey, each time he pitched a tent and set up camp, he built an altar to worship God? He didn’t know where God was leading Him next. He literally would receive a call from God to travel some distance, he would travel that distance, and then wait for further instruction. Thanksgiving–in the midst of the wilderness–is how we worship God along the way. It’s how we help to prepare the way for deliverance, and for the fulfillment of God’s…


The purpose of God’s calls are two-fold:

  1. for our good
  2. for God’s glory

There was a purpose to Abraham’s call. And to his wilderness journey. It was twenty-five years from the time God promised Abraham he would be the father of many nations until the time He actually gave him a son. And he and his wife, Sarah, were not young by any means. Abraham was 75 years old when God first made His promise, and he was 100 years old when God finally fulfilled it.

Talk about a wilderness journey. Talk about feeling like you are wandering and waiting. And yet God used this crazy journey of Abraham to increase his character, to draw him closer to God, to force him to rely on Him. And ultimate to reveal His glory. Check out Genesis 12-21 if you want to read about this story that’s one of my faves; but for now, back to the Israelites and the purpose God had for their call and journey.

God used the journey of the Israelites for their good because as Exodus 13 tells us, if the Israelites had encountered war along the way they would have turned back. They would have literally returned to slavery!

God was protecting them from themselves. Sometimes God leads us through what feels like a wilderness for our very protection from harm! {Flashback to all those years of singleness when I absolutely hated any time someone told me, “Oh, you’re so lucky! You’ve been saved from so much pain and heartache.” I wanted to slap them. And yet looking back I know it was true. The wilderness of singleness was for the purpose of my good and most certainly of God’s glory–but that’s a whole other story!}

And multiple times, in Exodus 14:4, 14:7, and 14:8, God tells Moses, But I will gain glory for myself. And I will gain glory. When I gain glory. The wilderness–the process, the journey, the trek through barren land–it was all for His glory.

So what brought Him glory?

In both Exodus 14:4 & 14:18 God says the reason is that “the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” And when God finally brings them across the Red Sea? “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” {Exodus 14:31}.

The call of the journey was for their good and for God’s glory, that the Egyptians and the Israelites alike would know God. And that God’s people would trust in Him–essentially that they would be saved.

Check out the purposes of our call to sacrifice thank offerings in Psalm 50. Verse 15b says: “I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” Honor–essentially His glory. And verse 23: “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

That He may be known. The we may be saved.

For His glory. For our good.

Salvation is a gift from God that Jesus Christ made possible for us to receive once and for all on the cross, but it is also a gift He longs to continue to reveal to us, through each step of journey, with each answering of His calls. And He longs for us to experience salvation from the deepest and darkest of places by way of offering up the sacrifice of thanksgiving at all times and in all circumstances.

Thanksgiving is a way God protects us from ourselves–our natural tendency being to grumble, our default mode being to focus on the bad, our habitual nature being that of looking inward instead of upward. When we offer thanks, in times of wilderness, it can feel like an excruciating sacrifice. But it’s nothing compared to the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He died so that we can live. And He has come to not only give us life eternal {John 3:16}, but life now and life to the full {John 10:10}.

When we find ourselves in wilderness seasons, would we turn our eyes from looking inward to looking upward, would we choose to see His blessing of provision in the midst of it all, would we remember the greater purpose that encompasses our journey. And would we always remember the good and generous promises offered to us by this good and generous God, who so loved us that He made the ultimate sacrifice to offer us a gift that He longs to give us, over and over and over again.

Even in the midst of the wilderness. Nay, especially in the midst of the wilderness.

Would you join me in offering up the sacrifice of thanksgiving today? This year?

This year I’ve resolved to begin each day in gratitude. I am reading through at least one Psalm a day and filling up a journal page with the offering of thanks. I invite you to prayerfully consider how God may have you answer His call to offer up the sacrifice of thanks today, this year, and in this life.

I’ll leave you with these words from Paul:

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. {1 Thessalonians 5:18}

. . .


Lord God, thank you for being a God who not only calls but promises, for being a God who provides exactly what we need in seasons of wilderness, and who ultimately works all things together for Your purposes–for our good and for Your glory. Would you continue to reveal to me and remind me along the journey of answering You calls to give thanks in all circumstances, to offer up the thanks to You not only in times of joy and health and blessing, but also in times of hardship, trial, and scarcity. Thank you for Your abounding generosity, Your abundant blessings, and Your unending faithfulness. Help me to offer up the sacrifice of thanksgiving to You sincerely and often. For I know this is Your will for me through Your Son. And it’s in His precious and holy and powerful name I pray. Amen.

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