Something struck me the other day about the story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4). While we can’t know for certain why God honored Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s, it’s commonly believed that it was because Abel brought an animal, providing the required shedding of blood. And that makes sense, given what we know.
But there’s an additional detail provided that I’d never noticed before. The verse specifically states that Abel brought the firstborn of his flock, while it just says Cain brought something he grew.
So we know that Abel brought God the firstfruits of his labor, and it doesn’t mention the same of Cain. That could just be an omission in the text, but I find that unlikely.
Throughout the bible, God makes it clear that the firstborn (of man and beast) and the firstfruits (of crops or produce) are set apart and belong to Him (Ex. 13:12, 22:29-30, Num. 18, Neh. 10:35-37, etc).
Because God is the sovereign Creator, technically everything belongs to God. He owns it all. When we bring the first yield of our labors and our lives to the (literal or figurative) altar, we are acknowledging that fact and asking for His continued blessings.
And God was very clear that His people should not be bringing merely what remains after meeting their own needs (leftovers), or bringing stuff that’s not quite “up to snuff” (flawed).
The true firstfruits in our lives
Today, WE are God’s firstfruits, spiritual Israel…those who have answered His calling, are keeping His commands, observing the sabbath and holy days, and striving to live a godly life (James 1:18, Rev. 14:4).
As we near the end of the firstfruits season this year, with Pentecost upon us, the Cain and Abel offering discrepancy got me thinking about the application in my own day-to-day life.
Our offerings today are different from those in ancient Israel’s sacrificial system, but the concept of setting apart the firstfruits of our labor to God is still applicable.
And perhaps even more importantly than material possessions or money, this should apply to our real resources—our time, our thoughts, and our energy.
We acknowledge God to be the owner of everything that we are, and the giver of everything that we have. Therefore, we should give Him our first and best.
So it’s worth each of us asking, is God getting my firstfruits? Or does He get the dregs, what’s left over at the end of the day or week?
Have you ever been in a relationship where you just got the dregs of the other person? Whether it’s a friendship, marriage, or some other dynamic, it feels awful. You feel disconnected from the other person, there’s no intimacy or trust…you sense that you’re unimportant to the other person.
And yet that’s how we inadvertently treat our Almighty Creator and our Messiah all too often. God wants a deep relationship with us. But relationships take time spent together, learning about each other, talking, listening, being vulnerable, showing up when it counts.
So what are the firstfruits we should be joyfully laying at God’s feet?
The ultimate resource: time
Our time is perhaps our most precious and finite resource, and we should be offering God the firstfruits of it—that is, the first pick, the choicest and best parts.
We should be making sure to set aside time for prayer, Bible study, and meditation (thinking about God’s word), finding a way to come to God with a focused, fresh brain rather than just an exhausted one as we lie in bed, fighting sleep.
When we look at the examples of God’s faithful in the bible, we see that Noah and Enoch “walked with God”, spending quality one-on-one time with Him (Gen. 5:24, 6:9). Isaac would go out in the field around sunset to meditate, finding a beautiful, quiet place to talk to God and think about His commands (Gen. 24:63).
Despite being a key administrator in the world’s largest empire, Daniel set aside three times daily to pray and talk to God (Dan. 6:10). The Bereans “searched the scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11). Even Jesus showed us an example of getting away from the crowds and busy-ness of daily life to spend quality time with the Father (Mark 1:35, 4:36).
These examples and countless others throughout the bible provide us with clear conditions that need to be met in our one-on-one time with God, to ensure we’re bringing Him our best (whether in prayer, bible study, or meditation).
- Priority: In today’s busy world, we’d need a 36-hour day to have a hope of getting everything on our to-do list done. There is just never enough time. So if we don’t prioritize setting aside time dedicated to our relationship with God, it will never happen—or will only be random snatches of thought or muttered prayers when we need something, vs. a real connection. Typically, consistency is best, carving out a certain time of day (even putting it on your calendar, if you have to), to build a habit and make sure it happens.
- Solitude: There is certainly a time and place for group or family study and prayer. But that cannot entirely replace YOU spending time with God—in your bible, on your knees talking to Him, mulling over His words inside your mind. So whether it means going for a walk, getting up 30 minutes before the kids, or closing the door on your roommate, you need to have that alone time with Him.
- Focus: The constant physical and mental noise of today’s society makes it difficult to truly focus on what we’re doing. We must approach our time with God with intention. Turn off phone notifications and put it somewhere you won’t automatically reach for it. Don’t multitask. It takes practice to get our brains to focus solely on one thing (vs. remembering something we needed to do, adding to our grocery list, or making sure the kids are doing what they’re supposed to). But just as you’d commit to not sitting on your phone during a romantic dinner, it shows we respect and prioritize God when we focus wholly on Him.
These conditions are easier to meet in some seasons of life than others, but even in our most crazy times we can’t just ignore them or put them off til another season. In order to develop a deep, trusting relationship with our Father, we MUST spend quality time with Him.
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The firstfruit offerings God really wants: our minds and hearts
We are only in a position to offer God what He’s really after when we are first bringing Him the firstfruits of our time—in prayer, bible study, and meditation, listening to His voice, and developing that strong personal relationship.
God is clear about what He desires: “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:33)
He’s after our hearts and minds. He wants to see Himself and Jesus Christ reflected in each of us…Their character, mercy, love, kindness, and discernment shining out as a beacon in a dark world.
God wants us to surrender fully to Him, and submit our carnal, flawed desires to His will. He wants to carry our burdens (Ps. 55:22), acknowledge our repentance and blot out our transgressions (I John 1:9), and wipe away our tears when we’re hurting (Rev. 21:4).
And this can only come about when we spend time with Him and allow Him access to our thoughts and emotions, our fears and vulnerabilities. When we meet the conditions listed above by setting apart time to spend with Him, only then are we able to turn down the noise of the world and hear God’s “still, small voice” (I Kings 19:12).
What does the bible tell us about what God wants for our hearts and minds, the sacrifices He desires?
- “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8)
- “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me…16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:10-11, 16-17)
- “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing [renovation] of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2)
- “Therefore submit to God…draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded…humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:7-10).
What are some tangible ways we can work toward this in our lives today?
First off, go to God. In your prayers, ask God to reveal your innermost thoughts, and show you areas that need improvement. Spend time in your bible study and then thinking about what you’ve read (a.k.a. meditating, see deeper study on biblical meditation).
Then spend a few days paying attention to your thoughts. Maybe even jot down some notes on them every hour, then go back and see where you’re investing the majority of your mental resources. Do the same with your feelings. Be honest. Get a sense for where your heart and mind are spending their energy, paired with how you’re spending your time.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying that we should ignore all the other elements in our daily lives, like finances, parenting, careers, relationships, kids’ activities, or anything else. And I’m also not saying that it’s wrong to read things for fun, watch a movie, or play a game. Not at all.
I’m just saying that if those things take up ALL our time, thoughts, and emotional bandwidth, leaving only the “dregs” for God, then there is no possible way for us to be undergoing the transformation that He expects of us.
He’s promised to help us on this journey by giving us His holy spirit and the forgiveness of our sins—but we have to do our part. (I also want to note that this focus on spending time with God does not negate the requirement for faithful actions, such as serving others and caring for the brethren.)
But we must remember that Jesus listed the greatest commandment as “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”, paired with loving your neighbor (Matt. 22:37). It’s not an “either/or”—both are required.
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Redeeming our time
Every year we begin the count toward Pentecost from the wavesheaf offering. Pentecost is unique in this respect—it is not a fixed date, instead we can only get there through Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection, and acceptance before the throne of God.
When looked at in a very macro way, the spring holy day season pictures the journey of God’s firstfruits from start to finish, Passover to Pentecost.
I believe those 50 days of the firstfruits harvest picture our spiritual journey on this earth (individually, and collectively as the Body of Christ)…from baptism and the beginning of conversion, when we receive a down payment of God’s holy spirit, to getting the full measure as resurrected saints standing before God’s throne at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7).
As such, that act of counting the days and weeks until Pentecost should be a pressing reminder to each of us to redeem—that is, to buy back, rescue from loss, or use more effectively—our time (Eph. 5:16, Col. 4:5). We should each be praying as Moses did: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).
This world moves at a frenetic pace, and our daily lives are designed to keep us focused on everything BUT God. It takes an immense amount of intention and discipline to do it.
But Jesus cautioned us to think carefully about how we spend our earthly resources, saying, “Store up for yourselves wealth [treasure, resources] in heaven…for where your wealth is [that is, your resources are invested], there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:20-21, CJB).
So I’ll leave you with the original question: Are you joyfully bringing God the firstfruits of your time, energy, thoughts, and feelings? Or are you bringing your leftovers?
“I exhort you, therefore brothers, in view of God’s mercies, to offer yourselves [your whole self, body, mind, and soul] as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please Him” (Rom. 12:1, CJB)
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