Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that. (James 4: 14-15)
Having survived what I call the Abraham test, I find myself looking forward to the new year with its promise and potential – there is always the sense of ‘starting afresh,’ with endless possibilities, all wonderful and so much better than last year. Or at least how last year turned out. We quickly forget that we started 2016 with exactly the same sentiments, and that our walk with Christ means that every day is ‘new.’ The hope and expectation should be new every morning because our God never changes, irrespective of our circumstances.
It is with joy and peace that I return, finally, to Truth Immutable after a seemingly endless six months fraught with trial, difficulty, ill health, family tragedy, and a severe test of faith. It was also a time where I wondered, as we all do…why? While trials and tests are to be expected, my greatest frustration was being compelled to step aside from what I knew I had been guided and instructed by God to do – this devotional site. Of all the tests, this Abraham test seemed to be the most difficult.
This is a quandary that confronts every man or woman of God at some point.
Our natural response is the “I don’t understand” cry of a confused heart. We question our calling. We question our relationship. We question our faith and whether we’re really ‘hearing God’ simply following our own inclinations. The cry of our heart is to serve Him where He places us with every ability and grace with which He has blessed us. Yet, no sooner do we step out in faith and obedience, and just when things seem to be ‘going well,’ He yanks us out – or at least allows ‘stuff’ to do so – and we’re left confused and yes, hurting. It is this inner conflict that epitomises the Abraham test.
I have – and not easily – come to an understanding of the Abraham test. I have also come to see that this is one we will all face at some point in our walk with Him. While we may not physically be required to sacrifice our only son, the principle behind the story of Abraham and Isaac is one of surrender and obedience, and especially of those things which He has promised.
Our difficulty with the Abraham test is the simple fact that God has promised.
Realistically, the ‘here and now’ seems to contradict that, and our understanding of faith is that we have to ‘fight’ or ‘push through.’ God cannot possibly expect us to step back and surrender – can He? The fundamental problem is that we have a wrong understanding of surrender. In our minds, it means ‘give up.’ To God, it means ‘give over.’ There is a world of difference.
We know that whenever we do the Lord’s work, self and Satan will seek to divert us and derail the ministry. At the same time, we’re also subject to the vagaries of a fallen world. Because we don’t live in a vacuum, we’re affected by the things and circumstances around us. Because God is in control, He allows things to happen, or allows our own choices, or may even cause things to happen because He knows we need the lessons to be learned. Comfortable Christianity doesn’t like this truth, but it’s a truth nonetheless. We also don’t like to consider that we may ever be called on to endure the Abraham test – the real measure of our relationship with God.
But the Bible tells us that all things work to our good because we love Him.
This is the crux of the Abraham test. The willingness to surrender – to sacrifice – the promise of God to Him. It’s a matter of His will or ours. It’s about finding the peace to say ‘none of this makes sense, but You are sovereign, and however this works out, I know it will always work to my good.’ It is, in essence, being willing to give over to God the things He has promised us, to yield them up, and to acknowledge that it’s about Him, not about us.
What it often boils down to is our expectations. We expect that self will get in the way. We expect the world to hinder us. And we expect Satan and his minions to harass and attack us. But we don’t expect that God will ‘take away’ what Has promised or given. It’s a natural human tendency to convert expectation into entitlement. God has promised or given, and so it’s ours. We’re entitled to it. It’s our destiny and nothing can stand in the way of it…not even God. But He did with Abraham. He gave him Isaac, fulfilling part of the promise, then demanded he be sacrificed, thus taking both Isaac and the future that Abraham had been promised. The Abraham test questions our commitment and our motives.
Our greatest battle here is not Satan or even the world.
It’s self. We’re conditioned to operate on the principle of ‘all about me.’ When things are going well, it’s easy to ‘have faith,’ to ‘be strong,’ and to believe absolutely that we’re fully surrendered to the will of God in our lives. In a way, our ‘success’ is what proves that we’re in the right place and doing the right things. This is our ‘destiny,’ God’s promise to us…and it can quickly become our entitlement. We can so easily lose sight of the fact that even the calling and promises of God are subject to the sovereign will of God. This is the reminder that the Abraham test brings home, and often painfully.
The Bible teaches that we are created to serve, that we have a destiny in Him, that He has plans for us, and that each of us are called to a particular purpose. All this is absolutely true. But the premise behind all of these promises is His sovereign will. ‘Our purpose’ is not ours at all. It’s His. While it’s important to have His vision for our lives, we so easily lose sight of the fact that it’s an incomplete vision. We never see the whole, or even the duration of it. So many committed, faithful men and women of God have been distracted by the ministry into losing sight of its real purpose – the glory of God. The Abraham test reminds us unequivocally that God’s glory is all that matters.
It’s a simple question that every believer should answer.
If our God should command us to surrender the promises, will we do it? Are we willing to step back and give over to Him all that He has promised or commanded, trusting in His wisdom and perfect will, or is the ministry more important than yieldedness and obedience? There is an enormous difference between giving up and giving over, and only prayer and seeking His face can bring the wisdom we need. Only He can reveal clearly whether the present moment is one in which to fight to hold onto the promise and the calling, or one for giving it over to Him in praise and surrender. The Abraham test requires that we draw near in humility and a willingness to obey, even if that means reliquishing everything that He has given us.
Like any soldier, we are eternally subject to the commands of our General. But Christian soldiers are very different to those in the world. Most of the time, we win the battles on our knees in the place of humility and obedience. Things seldom ‘make sense,’ but beyond the confusion lies the omnipotent God who holds the universe in His hand and orders all things by His will. The Abraham test is a very hard and lonely one, and it’s not for nothing that God, in His mercy, withheld this until he had grown in faith and righteousness. This is the place where nothing matters but what God wills. It’s the place of being absolutely sure that His promises, plans, and purposes for us will always be manifest despite the seeming impossibility of what He demands from us.
Peace comes when we give over to God set our eyes on Him.
Faith comes when we look beyond our expectations and entitlement and see Him in all His power, majesty, and glory. The Abraham test will always be the place where we choose God or self, and we may have to face it many times. It’s God’s way of reminding us that He is in control, and that everything we are, have, and will be, is ultimately His to order as He wills.
Lord, in each and every day, help me to seek Your will. Help me to give over into Your sovereign hand all the plans, promises, and purposes You have for me. Grant me the grace, always, to look beyond these to You, and the peace that comes with knowing that no matter what You ask of me, Your will is perfect, even when I don’t always understand.