Alabaster Heart: On Grace & Imperfect Offerings

While [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could… -Mark 14:3-8

I’ve thought a lot about “offerings” in the past month. What does it look like to offer up our relationships, dreams, or talents, practically? What is an acceptable offering to God? I wrestled with these questions as I tried to offer up some long-held relational hopes– the desire to eventually get married, expectations for a specific relationship, plans for the future.

As I sought to radically surrender, I always presupposed that I was offering God things that were good. I was giving Him my dreams, my relationships, my heart. After doing so, I expected God to show up in extraordinary ways. I expected to develop depth of intimacy with Jesus, to be filled with a radical sense of satisfaction in Him, and to better discern His voice, all because I had sacrificed good things in His name.

Yet after a month of battling with myself in this quest for radical surrender, I was left in quite a different state. I was spiritually drained and confused about how to discern God’s voice. I had spent so much mental energy trying to understand how to surrender “the right way,” fearing that by doing it wrong I’d miss God’s work in my life. What was worse, I was left even more convinced about certain relational hopes and felt like I’d made no progress in letting them go. I found myself thinking, God, this isn’t what I bargained for when I offered up those dreams and expectations. I thought you’d make it easier once I laid them down.

This frustration exposed a deep flaw in my act of offering. My offering wasn’t “good,” as I thought; in reality, it was legalism shrouded in the facade of self-sacrifice. Somehow I had believed that by following a “right way” to surrender, by laying down “my best,” I would receive some reward– whether that reward was nearness to God, ease in letting a relationship go, or even getting that relationship back. Legalism is inherently transactional. When I came to terms with the fact that surrender would not guarantee the fulfillment of my expectations, I felt cheated. With all pretense of making a “good offering” completely shattered, I was left only with my bitter disappointment.

These realizations came during my quiet time one Friday morning, and as I attempted to journal I came to the end of my ability to understand any more. So I gave up. I slumped onto my desk and cried. God, I’m so disappointed. Things haven’t worked out the way I expected them to. I thought I was offering up good things for you. And now I see that I was wrong all along.

In that moment where I had nothing more to give than shattered expectations, exposed legalism, and aching disappointment, I could see Jesus smiling and holding out His arms. I’ll take everything, He said. I’ll take your offering of disappointment and frustration. I don’t want you doing good things for me. I just want you, disappointment and all.

I was immediately reminded of the story of Jesus’ anointing at Bethany. In it, a sinful woman brings her most precious possession– a bottle of expensive perfume in an alabaster jar– and pours it onto Jesus. She weeps at His feet. The disciples criticize her for wasting such an expensive resource when it could have been used for the poor.

But Jesus turns the table on their thinking. Yes, the woman could have sold the perfume and given to the poor. But more than any good deeds done in His name, Jesus simply desired her. He saw her act of offering as a beautiful demonstration of devotion made directly to him.

For most of my life, I’ve been like the disciples, focused on what good things I could do for God. I’ve prioritized good acts of surrender done in His name, just as they thought that selling the perfume for the poor would be more honoring to Jesus. But in that moment of disappointment, I had no other choice but to recognize myself as the sinful woman, with no other option than to cry at Jesus’ feet. Like the woman, I gave Him what I had. The only difference was that what I had to give was far from an expensive and prized possession. The contents of my offering were the messiness of my heart, the mistakenness of my legalism. Unlike the woman, nothing about my offering was good. And still, He took it.

This is grace. Not that we’ve done anything for God so that He will be pleased with us, but that we come to Him with our alabaster hearts full of brokenness, and He eagerly takes it all. He accepts us, with all of our misgivings and arrogance and selfish expectations. He loves us anyways.

So what does surrender and offering actually look like? Perhaps it means that we give up any pretense that our offerings are “good” or that we can control our self-presentation at the altar. Perhaps it means that we bring everything to Jesus, good and bad, trusting that He will take it. Perhaps it requires doing so without any expectations of return, being fully satisfied with the ultimate reward of Christ Himself. His grace and preeminence are always the final words when it comes to surrender.

What do you need to offer to God? What are the good dreams and desires you must put into His care? Give them to Him. What are the ugly areas of disappointment, frustration, or confusion you must lay at His feet? Give them to Him. Don’t worry so much about doing good things for Him; instead, simply bring yourself to Him. He takes it all and He is pleased. If you proclaim Jesus Christ as your Savior, the contents of your alabaster heart are made perfect not because they’re good but because He is good and has defeated sin and death.

 “So here it is, my alabaster heart
I'm keeping nothing back from who You are
No hidden treasure veiled by key or lock
You're a lifetime worth of worship
And that's only just the start.”
-Alabaster Heart, Bethel Worship

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