A couple of generations ago, it wasn’t unusual that payment for goods and services was done in trade. In fact, I’ve heard that my grandfather who was a pastor, a schoolteacher, and an insurance agent occasionally got paid in chickens – live chickens. That tradition has pretty much since died out officially. (Now we have direct deposit and it would be hard to put live chickens into that scenario.)
However, several years ago, a pastor in Nova Scotia called us and asked for an accompaniment track to a song we had written. He said that he led a small choir in a small church and that they didn’t have much money. Dennis graciously offered to provide the track and told the pastor he’d send it at no charge. The pastor was so grateful and humbled. He then explained that the church was in a small fishing village in Nova Scotia and that lobstering was their main source of income. That sounded interesting and we could imagine that picturesque village with sounds of one of our songs being sung in the background. It was a humbling thought.
A couple of weeks later, a large package arrived at our door – a special delivery box from Canada that said “Live Lobsters” stamped on the outside. Yeah, we got paid in lobsters. We opened up the package that had been shipped in dry ice and found thirteen live, but a little weary, lobsters straight from the sea. It was amazing! We didn’t really know what to do. What a gift! And just how do you cook thirteen live lobsters anyway? We finally figured out how to cook them, extract the meat, and freeze it. Needless to say, we ate well for quite a while.
When I think back on that experience, I realize how important it is that we give the best that we have as offerings – the first fruits, if you will – to God, even if it means giving it to people in His name. I know He loves it when we do that, and this is how I know:
King David had messed up – again. His subjects were being punished for something he did and he asked God to ease up on the innocents and let him make atonement for his sin. God agreed. David went to find a proper place to offer a sacrifice. There was a threshing floor near by that would do just fine. As he was going to buy the threshing floor, the owner saw the king and his entourage on their way. The owner was humbled that the king would come to him, a mere servant. The man offered the king not only the threshing floor at no cost, but his oxen and their yokes as wood for the fire – free of charge as well.
David could have accepted the offer and perhaps God would have accepted his sacrifice. Who knows? But David knew better. His absolute best was the only thing good enough. David’s answer to the guy always gets me. He said, “No, I insist on buying it from you for a price, for I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 2: 24).
We used to sing a hymn called “Give of Your Best to the Master.” The second verse goes like this:
Give of your best to the Master;
Give Him first place in your heart.
Give Him first place in your service;
Consecrate every part.
Anytime I think I can “phone it in” – in my work or my service – I think of David, this old hymn, and how unacceptable my sacrifice would be. I might get away with it, but God would be really disappointed in me.
Then I start to crave seafood.