Reclaiming Sacrifice as a Spiritual Discipline


Over winter break I've been rereading Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew. I first came across this book in the late 90s. I vividly recall while on vacation getting up at 5 am to sneak down to the lobby with the book in hand to sit by the fireplace at the Comfort Inn up in Payson, Arizona. I was hooked. I couldn't put the book down. And now as I prep for a class on spiritual formation I'm working my way through the book again.

Today as I was reading through the chapter on the beatitudes ... "Lucky Are the Unlucky" ... I was confronted again with the radical counter-cultural message of Jesus. It sounded so "old fashioned" and "out of place" from the contemporary rhetoric today within North American Christianity. In essence, Jesus was celebrating the downtrodden and outcasts. Instead we celebrate notoriety, large social media platforms, and success.

In the chapter Yancey writes about the time he spent in the desert outside of Tucson with PhDs in linguistics who're laboring to translate the Bible into obscure languages. Highly educated and could be working towards tenure at a major university, instead, living in mobile homes they worked away in obscurity for the benefit of others. In contrast, Yancey goes on to talk about a high-end drug rehab center close by where celebrities go to for treatment. I know that place well. I worked across the road at their sister company which was a high-end destination spa servicing celebrities and cultural elites.

Yancey writes, "In the Beatitudes, Jesus honored people who may not enjoy many privileges in this life. To the poor, the mourners, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted, the poor in heart, he offered assurance that their service would not go unrecognized."

Talking about sacrifice seems out of touch and old fashioned. We hold up our grandparents (or great grandparents) generation ... those who went through the Depression and one or both World Wars. But sacrifice today? Would anyone even think of sacrificing unless they notified their social media followers that they were intending to do such a thing?

Yancey's story of the PhDs in the desert reminded me of the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. I picked up this book a few month ago. Like Yancey's book I devoured it in a couple of days. The book followed the remarkable life of Dr. Paul Farmer, Harvard-educated MD and PhD, professor, anthropologist, and renowned infectious-disease specialist. And yet he "threw it all away" by living among and giving care to the rural poor in Haiti. What gives? Why the sacrifice? Why the intentional hardships? The same questions could be asked of the PhDs in the Arizona desert.

The same also could be said of those intrepid church planters forgoing the allure of sexy cities to instead plant their lives and the gospel in communities that are nothing noteworthy. Maybe more foundational than all of this is the need to reclaim sacrifice as a spiritual discipline. To point out that this is actually part of what it means and looks like to be a disciple.

What if?