Many years ago, I worked in an advertising agency in Indianapolis. One day, my fellow art directors and I were eating at Wendy’s. I distinctly remember the moment one of the guys unwrapped his sandwich, a look of disbelief and disappointment on his face.
“Does this look like that?” he asked, pointing to the large color poster covering the window next to us. No, not even marginally. The chicken patty was smooshed flat, the bun crushed on one side and wrinkled where it had been too tightly wrapped; the lettuce was a tiny piece of off-white, limp iceberg lettuce; and the tomato was the palest of pinks, drooping halfway off the bun. The photo on the poster showed fresh, plump, thick, mouthwatering chicken with a glorious red tomato and deep green, ruffly-edged lettuce. There are rules in advertising about showing the actual product you’re selling, but there are also people called food stylists who know how to make ice look like it’s exceptionally cold and the produce look like it’s glistening with moisture, freshly picked from the garden out back. The bedraggled sandwich sitting in front of my friend was a pale, poor substitute for what he thought he was getting.
Sometimes I think I do a similar thing when it comes to God. Oh, I mean well. I want to present Him with the best I have to offer — worship that is sincere and authentic and passionate, writing that is for His glory, prayer that never ceases and always seeks His will. But instead, I find myself throwing up a quick prayer before being distracted by the busy-ness of life. Or I come into church to worship, freely and gladly, but because I haven’t sought Him in prayer yet that day, it takes me a while to focus. Or, worst of all, I write an essay or prepare a lesson and when I get praise, I chalk it up to my own abilities. I know He inspired it all, but sometimes I want part of the credit. So what I end up giving Him is like that sandwich at Wendy’s, a second-rate, disappointing substitute. Yes, I’m still offering Him something, and in His goodness and mercy He always accepts it, but deep down I think He must be sad not to get what I’d promised.
We are called to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice — and that means our whole selves. If we take credit for some of our abilities, or if we offer not our first fruits but our second (or third or last) fruits, we’re trying to pass off a mealy slice of tomato for the lush, juicy, nourishing one we promised. Our sacrifice is no longer complete, but something less. What we bring to Him doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be sloppy or small or faulty, as long as it’s the best we have. If it is, He will turn it into something beautiful. No more shoddy replacements for the real thing. I want to see His eyes light up at what I present to Him, knowing I’ve truly offered it all.