What Does It Really Mean To Offer Sacrifices In The Right Spirit?

by Kristen Gilles

in Worship Leading

Artwork of Cain and Abel sacrificing“Offer sacrifices in the right spirit, and trust the Lord.” Psalm 4:5 (NLT)

This verse jumped out of my Bible, arrested my attention and demanded my self-assessment of the spirit of my own sacrifices to the Lord.  Do I worship Him (offer sacrifices) in the right spirit?  Do I trust the Lord as I sing out His praises when I’m alone or with the gathered church?  What does it really mean to offer sacrifices in the right spirit?

My first response to this heart probing was “sometimes.”  Sometimes I trust the Lord.  Sometimes I worship Him with a right spirit, acknowledging who He is and what He’s done and praising Him for what He’s promised. Sometimes.

But sometimes I struggle to remember who God is and what He’s done.  Sometimes I fail to trust him.  Sometimes I forget what He’s promised.  Sometimes I offer sacrifices to Him with a spirit of obligation and religious duty.  Sometimes I’m expecting Him to reciprocate, as if He owes me anything and as if He hasn’t already accepted me because of Jesus, my Savior and great High Priest.  Sometimes I withhold worship from the Lord, rather than rejoicing in His presence with a heart celebrating the goodness of God who sovereignly rules over all and has poured out grace to sinners by giving Himself as the ransom for our sins, so that we might be the righteousness of God.  Sometimes.

And yet for all of my imperfect “sometimes,” the perfect sacrifice of Christ is enough.  His blood is always sufficient to cover me, to wash the vilest sinner clean.  The worthy Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Great High Priest over all creation, Jesus, our faithful Worship Leader, never fails to worship God perfectly in our place.  He always lives to intercede and offer sacrifices to God in the right spirit on our behalf.  So we can boldly come to God’s throne through Jesus, who has taken all of our sin and given us all of His righteousness. I’m learning that to offer sacrifices to the Lord in the right spirit is to remember and trust in the finished (salvific) and ongoing (intercessory) work of Jesus.  To trust the Lord is to place our confidence in the finished and ongoing work of Jesus, not in ourselves or any other person, place or thing.  And it is to receive His grace to help us in our times of need (like when we struggle to trust Him). After meditating on this verse from Psalm 4, I discovered some additional insight from my worship pastor, Mike Cosper, in his new book Rhythms of Grace: How the church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel.  He reflects on Genesis 4:1-8, the story of two worshipers who offer their sacrifices to God in two subtle but very different spirits:

“Cain and Abel are both worshipers. . . . Abel’s offering acknowledges the lordship of God over creation. It flows from a heart that knows its place, its smallness in the scope of creation. . . . [it] says to God that He comes first, . . . that He deserves the best. Abel is acknowledging that all of life is a gift, flowing from God’s generous, creative grace. His offering is a response to that provision. “Cain, by contrast, is just showing up.  He knows he needs to make an offering, but it’s an offering of mere obligation, not of love or humility. . . . Forgetting who God is and what He’s done, Cain reserves the best for himself, ignoring that all he has comes as a gift. He makes an offering and he expects God to reciprocate this offering with acceptance. . . . “Abel’s offering is made in faith, acknowledging the God who created all and promised redemption to Eve, but Cain’s offering, made out of rote obligation and with a hollow heart believes “God owes me,” is rejected.”

Mike goes on to point out that God’s response to Cain (and to all of us who offer proud, obligatory sacrifices to God) is grace.  Although Cain’s offering is not accepted by God, and even though Cain responds with rage that leads him to murder his brother whose offering was accepted by God, Cain receives God’s grace.  (Read it for yourself, the Genesis account and Mike’s book.)

“Instead of executing Cain for his crime, God spares his life. . . . God isn’t done with Cain because He isn’t done with any of us. Ultimately, our future hope of worship rests not on the shoulders of any of us getting the equation right, but on the God who promises to restore it.”

For all of us who only sometimes worship God in the right spirit, who only sometimes trust Him, let’s always remember that God has fulfilled His promise and restored worship through the perfect sacrifice and intercession of His Son on our behalf.

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