What is the most important thing in the world to you?
Really think about it.
What is the thing you treasure and protect above all else?
Is it your family? Your friends? Your career? Your safety? Your reputation? Your hope for a husband or a child?
Now consider. What if God, knowing that you value that thing above everything else, asked you to lay it down? To give that dream or that thing up to him for the sake of his glory?
To be honest these questions prick my heart quite painfully.
They make me uncomfortable because I realize the tightness of my grip on certain things. They reveal my white-knuckled hold on some hopes and dreams for my life. They make me see my inability to let go of things I hold dear.
Now, to be fair, family and friends and safety and hopes and husbands and children are good things. They are very good gifts from God, gifts to be valued and treasured.
But they are not ultimate.
They pale in comparison to intimacy with and knowledge of God.
The story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 has been lingering in my mind lately. It’s likely a familiar story to many of us.
God, in order to test Abraham, asks him to take his beloved, long-awaited son and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on a mountain.
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Genesis 22:2
The story reads quickly and it is easy to move on to the next verse… but take a moment and consider the tragedy and terror of this command from the Lord. Consider the pit in Abraham’s stomach as he hears these words from the Lord…
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…”
No no no no no, God don’t ask what I think you are going to ask…don’t ask me to give up the one thing that I have prayed for, longed for, trusted you for…please don’t do it…
“and offer him there as a burnt offering…”
Oh God, anything but him. You can have anything else in the world – my money, my land, my reputation – but not him…
The ask seems harsh. Cruel, even. Too difficult. Too big of a thing to demand from Abraham. Abraham, a faithful servant of the Lord.
What pain could be worse than losing a child? What pain could be worse than having to kill your own child as a sacrifice?
But Abraham obeys.
I have to imagine that his hands shook as he tied the hands of his son behind his back. I wonder if his voice wavered as he said to Isaac, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.“
But would he? Would God spare Abraham’s son? Would he make a way?
Was that provision ever promised?
As I consider my own treasured desires and dreams, my heart longs for God to tell me that I can keep them. That I can wrap them up in my hands and hold them tightly. That I can count on the assurance that these hopes will come to pass, that these gifts will stay in my hands forever…
But is that ever promised?
Has God promised to keep me safe? To keep my reputation clear and untarnished? Has he promised me children and a home and financial stability? To make my hopes and dreams come to fruition?
Even as I write I have to fight the thought that tells me that God not promising these tangible gifts is a cruelty to me. I have to tell myself not to believe that God is being unkind to me by not giving me what I want.
Rather I must remind myself that God’s character is steady and sure in a way that is infinitely better than my prayers being answered.
The wind whips around Abraham and Isaac as they stand atop the mountain in Moriah, and Abraham remains resolute and trusting.
And as I read the words in Genesis 22 I am reminded again of God’s gracious character, proven again and again in my own life and in countless Old Testament stories.
Isn’t it atop a mountain that God has proven his character? Isn’t it atop a mountain that God reiterates and reinforces his promises to his people? Isn’t it atop a mountain that, though his people waver, God renews his covenant and remains faithful to them?
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
– Genesis 22:9-12
I want to weep as I read these words. Because is not God’s grace so sweet?
He praises Abraham for being a man who fears God. He praises Abraham for not withholding even that which he held most dear. He praises Abraham and he provides a way.
I am sweetly reminded that when my hands are open, truly open, I can hold them out fearlessly. I don’t know if God will place a beautiful gift in my hand, or take away the thing in my hand that I love most (but was it really in my hand to begin with?).
I don’t know if God will place in my hand the very thing I have desired and prayed for, or if he will leave my hands empty, wanting, waiting.
But. Regardless. I can remain open-handed because I can wholeheartedly trust that God is unwaveringly good. I can find joy in whatever the outcome.
I can fully trust because God has proved himself to be faithful again and again. On that mountain in Moriah with Abraham. On Mount Sinai with Moses and the Israelites. And on the mountain at Calvary, where God did not withhold his son, his only son, whom he loved, but offered him as the full and final sacrifice to make intimacy and relationship with a holy God possible.
Oh what grace is this…