Imagine you've had a dream for close to thirty years. It's a big dream, one you could never accomplish on your own. Yet it's a dream you know God placed in your heart. Through the years you've tried to be obedient to God but sometimes you've gotten tired of waiting and veered from His path to the promise, blazing your own trail only to end up in a big mess. Your attempts at making the dream come true, bringing the promise to fruition only brought heartache and frustration to your life.
This is the story of Abraham. This is my story. Maybe it's your story, too.
Travel with me to the ancient world. A man lives in the city of Ur. In his culture, there are many gods. Anu, god of the heavens. Utu, the sun god. Nanna-Seun, the moon god.
Kishar, god of the whole world. Adad, the god of storms. Just to name a few. Yet in the midst of all these gods; this man, whose name is Abram, one day hears the voice of the One True God. He hears and he obeys. Almighty God tells him to leave his homeland and go to the place He will show him. And just like that, Abram leaves. How could he so readily obey a God he had not previously known?
God promised to make Abram into a great nation, to bless him and make him famous, and to bless the whole earth through him. Maybe these promises of grandeur appealed to Abram. Maybe he wanted to see the world. Maybe he was curious to find out what the promised blessing would be.
Fast forward several decades. God has taken Abram into the land He promised, He has made a covenant with him, He has changed his name to Abraham, and He has given him a beloved son. Now God is asking Abraham to take this son and sacrifice him. And again we see Abraham obey a command that just did not make sense. What God was asking him to do went against everything he knew to be true about this God he had come to know so intimately. God had told him not to worship the way the pagans of the land worshipped their gods. Yet here He was asking Abraham to do just that. God had promised the blessing would come through Isaac. yet here He was asking Abraham to sacrifice the very one the covenant was built upon. Why? It made no sense. Still, Abraham obeyed.
"Some time later, God tested Abraham's faith. 'Abraham!' God called. 'Yes,' he replied. 'Here I am.' 'Take your son, your only son - yes, Isaac, whom you love so much - and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.'" Genesis 22:1-2
How quickly do you obey when what God is asking doesn't make sense or seems to go against what you know to be true about Him?
"Go and I will show you." This is a repeat of God's original command to Abraham.
"The Lord said to Abram, 'Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father's family, and go to the land that I will show you.'" Genesis 12:1
Abraham knew God had been with him in his past obedience which aided him in his present obedience. God always reminds us of His past faithfulness to us in His current assignment for us.
Abraham's obedience was immediate.
"The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for the fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance." Genesis 22:3-4
In past encounters with God, Abraham had questioned God. The Bible doesn't tell us there was any such discussion here. We must assume Abraham, though surely heartbroken and a little baffled simply obeyed without question. He had three days to think about what his obedience would cost him. What would Sarah's reaction be when he didn't return with their beloved Isaac? How would he explain this to her? He had three days to walk and talk with Isaac. Were there moments of tenderness between father and son which Isaac couldn't understand? Were there "remember when" stories that brought laughter but also caused dad to break down in tears?
Abraham had three days to change his mind and run away from what God was asking him to do or three days to pray for God to give him the strength to do the hard thing.
How do you respond when your obedience requires waiting? Do you look for ways to get out of doing the hard thing or do you pray for strength to do the hard thing?
"'Stay here with the donkey,' Abraham told the servants. 'The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.'" Genesis 22:5
Abraham was so certain that God was with him and that he was being obedient to what God was asking that he left the outcome to God. By using the plural pronoun we Abraham was demonstrating his faith in God. "We" could refer to Abraham and Isaac, if so this demonstrates Abraham's faith in God's ability to provide another sacrifice or His ability to bring Isaac back from death. Or "we" could refer to Abraham and God, demonstrating Abraham's belief that, no matter the outcome of his obedience, God would still be with him. When our obedience negatively affects others we must believe God is with us in the aftermath.
When you can't understand what God is asking, do you obey, leaving the outcome to Him or do you try to manipulate things in order to get the outcome you desire? When your obedience will have negative effects on others, maybe causing them pain, do you still do the hard thing? How can you have faith that God will be with you in the aftermath of this kind of obedience?
"So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac's shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, 'Father?' "Yes, my son?' Abraham replied. 'We have the fire and the wood,' the boy said, 'but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?' 'God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,' Abraham answered. And they both walked on together."
Many times others will question our obedience to God, especially when what we are obeying seems senseless to them. Isaac questioned Abraham. Perhaps he was beginning to put the pieces together. Nonetheless, his dad's faith in God's provision satisfied his doubts and laid his question to rest.
What is your reaction when others begin to question your obedience to God? How do you remain confident in God's provision in the midst of doubts?
"When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice." Genesis 22:9-10
Abraham surrendered his will to God's will, just as Jesus did in the garden when He prayed:
"My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine." Matthew 26:39b
Maybe Abraham cried out similar words. Maybe Isaac cried out asking his daddy why he was doing such a terrible thing. Again, the Bible is silent but what we do know is that Abraham was offering God his very best sacrifice, the son of the promise. His heart was broken in the process yet this is the very sacrifice David tells us God honors:
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart - these, O God, You will not despise." Psalm 51:17 NKJV
When our obedience is hard we must surrender our will to God. This is the way we "fill up what is lacking" in the suffering of Christ (see Colossians 1:24).
"At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, 'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Yes,' Abraham replied. 'Here I am!' 'Don't lay a hand on the boy!' the angel said. 'Do not hurt him in any way, for now, I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.' Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means 'the Lord will provide'). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: 'On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.'" Genesis 22:11-14
Abraham's faith in God had proven trustworthy. God had proven Himself to be trustworthy, just who Abraham knew HIm to be. Abraham had told Isaac God would provide and that's just what God did. Our sacrificial obedience brings God's provision.
Where is God asking you to sacrificially obey? How can you do so today?
"Then the angel of the Lord called again to Abraham from heaven. 'This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly, bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants, all the nations of the earth will be blessed - all because you have obeyed me. Then they returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live." Genesis 22:15-19
God reminded Abraham of His promise. Our faithful obedience brings God's promise to mind.
What promise has God made to you? What has He asked you to do in order to bring the fulfillment of that promise? How are you being faithful in your obedience?
Years earlier God had given Abraham a dream, His promise of blessing. Abraham followed an unknown God into an unknown land because of His promise. Through years of waiting, wondering, and wandering, Abraham continued to follow God. Sometimes he argued with God. Sometimes he forged his own path to the promise. But always, he obeyed. Obedience was Abraham's lifestyle.
I too have a dream. It's nearing thirty years since God placed it in my heart. Through the years I have followed God into unknown territory. I have waited for Him to bring the promise to fruition. I have wandered from His path, tried to manipulate things to bring the dream to fulfillment. I have wondered at the fact that He would give me such a big dream, nearly giving up because it seems so impossible. I am ready to make obedience my lifestyle. I am ready to sacrifice the very dream He gave me in order to see His provision. I am ready to be faithful in my obedience in order to be reminded of His promise. I am ready to surrender my will for His.
What about you? Has God given you a dream? Will you sacrifice it and see how He will provide?
Gathered manna from Genesis 22:1-19:
When obedience is our lifestyle God enables us to do the hard thing and blesses us through it.
Until next time keep gathering manna, growing deeper, and gaining intimacy,
God bless and keep you,
P.S. You can read the story of Abraham in Genesis 12-25 to learn more about his lifestyle of obedience.