“Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” — Mark Twain
Preparing for our Promise
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Genesis 22:9
If you are at all like me (and I like to think you are!), you can look back over your lives and see how God gave you an assignment that necessitated the learning of new skill. As those skills grew, you might have concluded, “Now I know the reason God is doing this in my life.” But as you look back over the years, you see that God had a completely other reason for making you proficient in a certain area.
Scripture records that Abraham built many altars, so he was obviously efficient at gathering stones and arranging wood. When God told him to build an altar and sacrifice his only son, Abraham repeated an action he had been practicing for years. He did what he was accomplished at doing. Only now he did it in a new and challenging way. He had been preparing for years for just this event, but its purpose was now beyond his imagination.
Like Abraham, I too have found myself moving from place to place, and sacrificing my hopes and dreams that I built around the location or the job I had. I have never lived in only one town, had only one job, or been a member of only one church or denomination.
Each place I have gone to I went with the intention of staying. But I’ve found only two commitments in my life are forever: My relationship to God and my marriage to my wife. Where I live, what denomination I’m a part of, my place and type of ministry, my job and even the amount of hair on my head are all subject to change, but that doesn’t stop me from committing and putting down roots.
We are to give our all to whatever God has called us to do, but always with the understanding that all we have is a gift from the Lord, and that for all we oversee, we never truly own. Everything is a gift from God, and as Abraham discovered, God may require us to sacrifice our “things” to Him.
Scripture says Abraham laid Isaac “on top of the wood.” Over and above all our foundational works and years of church work, we must obey God’s word and place upon the altar all our accomplishments as “living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1). God will allow us to hold nothing as our own. “You are not your own; you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom 14:8).
The problem I have with this passage is the fact that Abraham was directed to sacrifice his promise, because it reminds me of the many times I have had to lay down the things I love for the sake of the One who loves me. But in sacrificing my promises, I’ve always found this to be true: God never wants me to substitute His best for something that is merely good. Abraham could have Isaac, or Abraham could have God, but he could not have them both.
But isn’t this the conclusion that God came to at the creation of the world? He could have His Son forever safe in heaven, or He could have “whosoever will” saved. He could not have both. But like Abraham, the Lord knew that by sacrificing the One He could have the other.
Somehow, in ways I don’t yet to fully understand, living in the Kingdom of God means that the only way that we can become first is to become last, the only way we can live is to die, and the only way we can see His promises fulfilled is by arranging our lives in preparation to sacrifice our dreams. It’s not my favorite part of being a Christian, but the Lord has never failed to replace “my” dreams and hopes with something better. When I think about it that way, it isn’t so hard to arrange the wood when He calls, because I know His plans for me are always better than the dreams I have for myself.