Once upon a time God asked each of us to give Him everything we had. Every little thing. Really, God asked us to trust Him. God asked us to believe that He was different enough from humanity to be trusted.
We believe this of God sometimes, and we give God our vote of confidence, offering our fears and our hopes and our talents freely to Him. Other times? Not so much. Abraham understood this. Andrew Peterson framed this story so sweetly in the song below. Take a listen.
Isaac, in this setting, is the embodiment of every good thing in the life of a man. He represents the fear of never having children or a future . . . and, conversely, he represents the hard won gift of a future and a legacy. When Abraham gets this gift he is reluctant to hand it over. Why should he have to give it back? He was terrified he'd never ever have it to begin with.
We're just like that, aren't we?
We don't want to hand anything over, especially if we were afraid we wouldn't have it to begin with.
I have trouble handing my life to God without reservation. I always seem to be holding something back for myself . . . tucking things away "just in case" I go through some sort of famine later on. Much of my anxiety in life comes from this sort of hoarding. If I trace the existential crisis right back to its origin, I usually find myself deep in my own heart, face to face with a safe deposit box that I can't remember the combination to.
Why is this so difficult for us?
I went for a walk this morning and saw blooms on a cherry tree I've been watching for about 5 years. It never blooms in the right season. It's a slow growing tree. There are only ever a few blooms and they don't last long because they always seem to get caught in a frost.
She is so eager for spring, so eager to share her gifts with the world, that she can't hold back. There's something admirable about that. It's tempting to think, "If she could just wait a month or so she'd be twice as pretty." But we don't really know that, do we? Only God knows that. Only God knows what's written in the book of life. We like to think we'd be better off knowing, too, but would we? With no knowledge of the future, we have fewer concrete reasons to hold back. Think about it - any line we feed ourselves about why we ought to hedge our bets is only a suspicion.
So, Abraham takes his whole life, wrapped up in the precious form of a child, and lays it down on an altar before God. And as he prepares to cut it all down for the sake of a required sacrifice, God stays his hand. Because God's request of a sacrificial life is not a request for us to destroy all that is good.
God's request for a sacrificial life is a request for us to trust Him.
If you're thinking, "That's dangerous," you're completely right. It is dangerous. The love of the Lord is dangerous. It's more powerful than anything we've tried to create for ourselves here on Earth. It can lead us into the mouth of the lion. It can land us in a fiery furnace with our best friends for the sake of doing what is right. It can and should cost us every penny we ever earn. Our lives were not promised to us, dear ones. Our lives were gifted to us. When we give our lives back to God we will find that we become part of the loaves and fishes story . . . . we will be involved in acts of Divine Multiplication. We might, then, have less for ourselves. Somehow, this will be ok.
In the end, God provides God's own sacrificial lamb for Abraham . . . and also for us, later on, in the form of Jesus Christ.
The sacrifice of Jesus is both a pathway to God's ultimate forgiveness and a pattern for our own living.
Hear that again.
Jesus' sacrificial life is both a pathway to God's forgiveness and a pattern for our own living.
It would be easier if the lamb were offered up and nothing more were required of us. Have you ever read the rest of Abraham's story? Many things happen to him, both good and bad, after the day God spares Isaac. When we offer our lives wholeheartedly to God there is some risk involved. God will take the life we give back to Him and weave it into the miraculous tapestry He's been working on since before the beginning of time.
You know, I still feel that the most challenging line I ever wrote in a song came partway through the tune, "Synchronicity," when I said, "And with my hands, wide open endlessly, receiving presently, whatever else this life may bring."
I didn't write those words thinking I could actually accomplish them. I still experience fear when I consider the reality of them. So then I have to pray about it and ask God again to help me unclench my fists, releasing my life back to Him. I have to do this every single day, every other minute. Don't you?
Thankfulness is one of the only things that can pry our stubborn fingers apart. Thankfulness compelled Abraham. An awful thankfulness (I mean awe in a literal way).
Some people will tell you, Dear One, that they have it all figured out and that trusting God has to do with whether or not we're getting what we think we should have. Please don't listen to those people. Please don't worry about those people. Look at God. Keep your eyes on the words and actions of Jesus. The red letters in your Bible are beautiful. Read them again. They are challenging enough. There's no need for us to seek out challenge in one another. Those red letters will keep us busy, I promise.
So, are you all in?
If I'm honest, I've got to say that I am not always "all in." But I want to be. And I'm willing to jump into this adventure, accepting that I will sometimes mess up. I'm willing to risk all of that along with every good thing I've ever been given. Are you? Will you join me?
This week, consider making a list of things you might be holding back from God - clenching in the middle of your fist . . . locked away in your heart. It might look like this:
1. My safety...
2. My sense of righteousness...
3. My money...
And so on. Those are just some common examples of things we are not so willing to hand over to God. What else, Friends? What else?