Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 14. Faith and Letting Go
Heb 11:17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son
I am going to be very honest at the outset of this study: I am not sure I could have done what Abraham did with Isaac, but then I have two caveats that make me feel better about that. First, I believe the matter of God testing Abraham in this way was a unique event. There is no other indication throughout scripture of God asking us to sacrifice (literally) a loved one. Second, I believe Abraham had special grace to enable him to do something that was unique. Let’s see what is behind this story and what it can say to us today.
First see it in the big picture, all that had happened to Abram, now called Abraham. There were several stages to his life so far. First there was leaving home at God’s prompting. He heard God and left. Second, there was settling; he arrived in Canaan and despite some rocky early days he settled there. Third, there is the amazing miracle of being able to have a son at the age of a hundred and when his wife was well past child-bearing age. It is the phase of new life and the couple are overjoyed by it. Years pass and then we come to this incident. Did God want Isaac killed? No, He just wanted Abraham’s complete trust.
The enormity of this is seen in verses 17 and 18 of Hebrews 11: “He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” His entire future is wrapped up in Isaac and yet God says kill him. There is the lesson for us as Christians: the Lord wants us to trust Him with our futures. This is enormous, because all round us the world is working away to provide for their futures and to achieve meaning by achieving great things in the long-term, but then the Lord comes to us and says, “Trust me with your future.” We often say when we come to Christ, it has to be as Saviour AND Lord, and the Lord part means he is sovereign over what we do, where we go and what we eventually achieve.
Perhaps the nearest the language of sacrifice goes is in Paul’s writings: “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” (Rom 12:1) I like the Message Version’s enlargement of that: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” It’s simply handing over the rule of the whole of your life to Him instead of being self-motivated. I also like the little clarification: “God helping you.” The truth is we can do nothing meaningful in the spiritual realm without Him helping us.
Now of course the enemy leans over your shoulder and whispers negatives into your thinking: “Oh you don’t want to have anything to do with this stupid talk of self-sacrifice; that’s Old Testament superstitious stuff, not for the twenty-first century.” Oh but it is when you understand Abraham’s thinking behind what he was prepared to do. We may think he was crazy to contemplate doing this but he had come to a place of realising that he was dealing with the Creator God who could do all things.
He had learned something when he had encountered Melchizedek king of Salem who was described as “priest of God Most High,” (Gen 14:18) and “he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. (Gen 14:19) See how he described God and in what follows we see that Abram picked up on this: “Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you.” (Gen 14:22,23) This was the first time that Abram put a title or description to this God he had been listening to, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.
Abraham had come to realise that God could do anything and this is why our writer now says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Heb 11:19) When you give God your future, you die to your ambitions, but here is the wonderful thing, we are talking about a God of resurrection. In the fourth phase of his life with God Abraham has arrived at the resurrection phase where God can bring to life all our lost hopes and dreams and bring something even better to us than we could ever have dreamed of.
Here is the challenging part of this: I wonder how many of us will get to heaven and then (if the Lord allows us to look back) realise we had always lived in second best and had never achieved our full potential in Him because we had never come to the point where we could leave it all in His hands.
Many years ago my wife had a very serious accident and was rushed into hospital with blood pouring from her. They took here into the Emergency Room of A&E and was able to hear doctors talking urgently and desperately about not being able to stop the blood pouring from an artery. As she lay there she realised that potentially she was about to die and cried to the Lord, “Lord what about my three children, how will they cope?” and in that room a quiet still voice replied, “Don’t you know that I love them more than you do?” Amazingly the blood flow was stopped and her life was saved. We can leave our future in His hands because He loves us more than we do! Moreover His power is greater than ours and He can achieve more in us that we can on our own.
Faith is about trusting our Lord with our family and our future. I am at a point of life where the Lord has spoken prophetically over me of yet better things to come, but I am still waiting. Even this morning I cried out to Him about this and then my eye was caught by a flip-calendar given to me at Christmas and today’s reading had this on it: “If our hopes seem to be experiencing disappointment right now, it simply means that they are being purified. One of the greatest stresses of life is the stress of waiting for God. Continue to persevere spiritually.” Apt! We’ve given Him our future and we’re waiting for the blessing. Be patient and persevere. It will come. He IS faithful. He is the God of resurrection who, at the right time and in His way, will release life and blessing. Living in the good of His love until that happens is what faith is all about. [Postscript: four days after writing the above testimony, the Lord opened two doors I had almost given up on! Hallelujah!]