I had a few thoughts of my own before reading some commentaries on it, but found all to be helpful nuggets of truth. First, this is the scripture I'm talking about:
"3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell." (Genesis 3)
I noticed how it says that Cain brought "an offering of fruit of the ground" but when it explains what Abel brought it says "the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions". That's a lot more detailed of a description versus the one for Cain's offering. In addition, it doesn't say that Cain brought the first of his crops - just that he brought some fruit. Even on those descriptions alone, it sounds like Abel's offering was more of a sacrifice (but that's just a personal observation).
The commentaries that I read pointed out that it wasn't necessarily about the sacrifice that was brought, but more so about the heart behind it. Abel obviously took time to bring the best of what he had while Cain threw some fruit in a basket and called it a day (I'm assuming here). In another commentary that I read though, he mentioned that Abel's sacrifice was probably also accepted because it was in line with the instructions the Lord had set up for offering sacrifices and that those instructions were just not mentioned yet in Genesis. That made a lot of sense to me especially since it gives credence to Christ's sacrifice in the New Testament. Christ died and was sacrificed for us. His blood was shed for us. He was the ultimate, spotless lamb. "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before it's shearers, so He did not open His mouth." (Isaiah 53:7)
That is truly amazing but I digress...
Back to Cain and Abel for a second. As I read this and thought through the ramifications of everything that happened because of Cain's thoughtless sacrifice, I analyzed how that can apply to us in 2012. It's not like we go to the temple to offer sacrifices anymore (praise God that that is no longer needed) but we do offer things to the Lord and, if Cain is any indication, we can offer the wrong thing in the wrong way (or even the right thing in the wrong way).
Do we try and give the Lord something that is easy for us to give? Something that we think He wants from us yet is not what He is asking of us? Or maybe we give what is easy to give? It doesn't require any sacrifice on our part, it really doesn't take much thought at all. What if God is asking us to give not only what we want to give Him, but what He wants us to give Him? I have a feeling that's the most likely case.
The words of Psalm 139 come back to me from the women's conference this last weekend. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way." It's scary. It's hard. Sometimes I'm even afraid of the answer, but it is always best to ask the Lord what He wants me to give. It is always best to trust Him and His gentle, lovingkindness when it comes to matters of the heart.
What is He asking you to sacrifice to Him? Better yet, how will He help you do that?