1. Why does it matter?
Memory Verse: "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." Hebrews 11:4
Did God really care whether it was a lamb or a bundle of straw that was sacrificed?
No. God cared about the thoughts, feelings and effort the brothers put into their sacrifices. Abel did his best -- gave his best -- and THAT is what was important to God. Abel thought hard about what God wanted and made a REAL sacrifice by giving up his best lamb.
Cain spent all of his efforts justifying what he was doing. And Cain didn't really sacrifice anything at all. He gave God something he didn't really need or care about. And God knew it. But God wasn't cruel or harsh to Cain. Instead God gently showed Cain that the straw wasn't an appropriate sacrifice by causing it to smolder instead of burn.
Instead of seeing God's action as the loving reminder that it was, Cain became angry and lashed out at his only brother.
Jenny's mom knocked on her door and asked Jenny if she could please clean up her bedroom. Jenny nodded at her, but as soon as her mom left, Jenny thought to herself, "Gosh, I don't feel like cleaning my room -- it's such a mess! And I have a really neat homework assignment from school that I've been looking forward to doing. And homework's a good thing too, right? I'm going to do that instead."
Although it's true that it's good to do your homework, that's not what Jenny's mom asked her to do. And it's not what Jenny promised she would finish.
In fact, doing her homework instead of cleaning her room might be worse than doing nothing at all! It isn't easy to be a parent. Mom's are people too and sometime struggle with how to act in certain situations. Imagine being in Jenny's mom's position! I'm sure she had a very hard time trying to decide whether to scold her daughter for not cleaning her room or praise Jenny for doing a good job on her homework.
Jenny put her mom in a really difficult position and that wasn't fair. Jenny could have talked to her mom about homework versus cleaning and made a decision together about which would take priority. But Jenny made a choice on her own to do the one she preferred without taking her mom's feelings into account.
In the story of Cain and Abel, Cain could have prayed to God with an open heart about whether he should sacrifice straw or a lamb. If he had done that, he would have realized that the left over straw wasn't really a sacrifice and it wasn't really what God wanted. God wants us to do our best, to give our best and to pray to Him when we aren't sure what to do.
It is easy to close our hearts and justify our actions. But with God's help and an open heart, we can find the path He wants us to follow.