man kneeling in front of cross
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In Psalm 116 the phrase “sacrifice of thanksgiving” appears. Historically, it’s pretty clear that God has been moving humanity away from blood sacrifice of children and animals toward cleaner forms of propitiation. God suggests that simple gratitude for all God’s gifts will suffice. But the phrase “sacrifice of thanksgiving” still puzzles me. How is saying “thanks” in any way a sacrifice?

“Sacrifice” implies giving up something valuable for the sake of another. The cow or lamb we slaughter on the altar could have fed our family for several meals. The money we tithe to the church could have bought us new clothes or Disneyland tickets. But just giving thanks? What are we sacrificing in saying “thanks”?

When we give thanks to God we give up the illusion that we are the makers and controllers of our lives. We acknowledge that we owe our blessings to someone or something else. We admit we are not self-made. Letting go of ego, will, and control is a major sacrifice most of us will never make until we are forced to. Even Jesus struggled to say “Thy will (not mine) be done.”

Gratitude, I think, is the fruit of humility, and humility implies letting go of ego, a painful sacrifice for most of us.

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