Webster’s Dictionary has a definition for sacrifice that is easily understood and it is: To give up something for the sake of another. Out of the many complicated definitions in Webster’s, this is not one of them. The problem is that sacrifice is easily defined but not easily put into practice.
Do you know of anyone in your life who you consider selfish? When someone is selfish we also seem to characterize the individual as being childish. Isn’t it true that when we see a couple of two year-olds playing that even if one of them isn’t interested in something as soon as the other child wants it, the child hollers out: “It’s mine!” Of course as parents we try to teach our children to share and it's embarrassing to watch one of our children being selfish.
As adults we are supposed to put aside some of our childish ways (like selfishness) and act more mature. A major part about being an adult is that we are supposed to grow up and serve society in one way or another. In other words it isn’t supposed to be about us any more and instead about what we can do to support others. The reason it is so important is that it is what typically creates our livelihood. The better we can serve society the better off in the long run we can become personally and professionally.
This is so different from childish thinking in that the child just sees what’s in front of him and he takes it. What he doesn’t realize is that in the end he is so much better off if he shares. When other kids see him sharing they are more inclined to share what they have. Not that any child should do it for that reason, but there's a natural law in play and that is we are much better off in the long run if we let go of selfishness.
It's the same way when it comes to personal sacrifice in that in the long run it is much better for everyone involved. First of all, when we sacrifice our selfish desires to help make someone else’s life better, we honor God. Not unlike how it makes you proud when you see your child playing fairly and sharing his or her things, God also takes pleasure in seeing us doing the right things. Knowing this should cause us to pursue living unselfishly but most of us fight our human nature to take care of self first.
This is why in the Bible Jesus talks about picking up our cross daily to follow him. What he's saying is that all of us have our personal baggage due to how we were born into sin. Our sinful nature is all about self (i.e. cheating, lying, lusting, stealing, etc.), in order to get things that we think will make us happy. People who travel this path generally find out the journey is empty. What they thought would make them happy in the end causes a lot of pain and disappointment. Not only do they end up with even more personal baggage but there is often collateral damage as well in that they ruin some of their business and personal relationships due to making the wrong choices.
Living an unselfish life (which is unnatural), is kind of like the song by Chris Rice called: "Living Life Upside Down.” The lyrics include the phrase: "What if we reached up and touched the ground only to find we've been living life upside down." It's a lot like the song because this whole concept of personal sacrifice and unselfishness actually leads to a better life than approaching it selfishly and trying to get everything we can out of life. This is exactly what Jesus told his followers; something they didn't want to hear but needed to hear.