Updated: Apr 7
When you read the Old Testament, what do you see?
If you see a series of hodgepodge stories thrown together that are hard to make sense of, you are not alone. For a majority of my Christian life I struggled with the Old Testament. I had trouble wrapping my brain around what God wanted me to see, and how the stories of the patriarchs applied to me at all. But the truth is, their stories are full of profound moments. Moments that God uses to accomplish His plan of redemption for you, me, and the entire world. These moments are full of sadness and heart ache, joy and peace, and success and failure. Each moment designed by God to make the reader, or listener, contemplate and think about what God is doing and how He is doing it.
One of my favorite aspects of the Old Testament is the stories where God uses family to display his vision for the future of humanity. He does this consistently throughout the tumultuous and topsy turvy lives of every family. Like an artist painting a picture. Or a director filming a movie. Each family’s journey tells a story, frame by frame, scene by scene. And each story shows God’s vision in its own unique way. This vision, which is the redemption and reconciliation of the world, is proven at each and every pivotal moment. One of the most infamous moments is found in Genesis 22. And it is a strange tale. A tale of sacrifice, loyalty, and faith. In it, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. To literally kill him on an alter. Isaac is the heir apparent and recipient of God's own promise to redeem the world. So not only is it seemingly wrong in that God is requesting murder. Something he's previously condemned. It also looks like He's going back on his promise to bless the world through Isaac. And so it's natural to think, "What in the heck is going on, and can God really be trusted to do what He says He's going to do?"
To the untrained eye, the above question is answered with a resounding, "No." But wait, it gets stranger. Abraham gathers Isaac, two servants, and his gear, and sets out to accomplish the task. No questions asked! So much for the importance of family, and so much for a loving God who cares for all His children! But before we condemn Abraham for being a fool and God for being a liar, a little back story is needed. Because Abraham is no stranger to God asking him to do strange things. In fact, up to this point in Abraham's journey, we have seen Abraham become prosperous by being obedient to God's strange requests. And we have seen him get into trouble by not following God's plan. Simply put, when Abraham does things God's way, he prospers his life and the lives of those around him. And when Abraham does things his way, he falters.
In Genesis 12, Abraham's journey starts out successful because he listened to God's request and left his family of origin. In contrast, the journey hits rocky ground when Abraham fails to ask God what he should do during a famine. Fear of starvation, a legitimate concern by most peoples standards, caused Abraham to make a decision without God. And so he takes matters into his own hands and moves the family to Egypt. This mis-step leads to deceit, danger, and disaster for Abraham's family, particularly his wife Sarah. And more importantly it puts God's promise of salvation for humanity at un-necessary risk. Because God had already promised to bless the nations through Abraham and Sarah's descendants in verses 2 and 3. But more on this moment later. Because you don't want to miss the principle that Abraham's story is teaching you right now. The Principle of Sacrifice. According to Thomas Constable,
“God called on Abraham to make five great sacrifices: his native country, his extended family, his nephew Lot, his son Ishmael, and his son Isaac. Each sacrifice involved something naturally dear to Abraham, but each resulted in greater blessings from God.”
The Principle of Sacrifice is important to understand, even if you've been walking with the Lord for a while and you know the principle well. Or maybe you know it, and haven't quite had it described to you in this way. For me personally, it is one of the scariest principles you must acknowledge and apply. It is important you know it well so that you can know what the will of God is in your life. Because your sacrifices are going to be inextricably linked to God's plan for you. Ultimately, God will require you to give up things you hold dear in order to bless your life and/or the lives of those around you. Paul says it best in Romans 12:1-2,
Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.
If your first thought is, "Um, no thank you." Don't fret, that makes you human. Furthermore, don't worry, God is not careless with his requests or His tests. He knows how painful they can be. And so He presents them at the right time and in the right way. Which means you can trust the details of your personal sacrifices to Him. For instance, the sacrifice of Isaac was Abraham's final test in his series of five great sacrifices. Abraham trusted God with Isaac's life because he had stepped out in faith in previous sacrifices. All of which included family relationships that were dear to him. After all Abraham had been through, he knew God possessed the supernatural power to bring Isaac back from the dead. Isaac himself had been conceived miraculously and Abraham knew the power to give life resided with God. Hebrews 11:19 gives us the insight we need.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there.
Here's the short and skinny. In your relationships, trust is earned, not given. And earning trust takes time. It takes periodic acts of faith where risk of safety and security are on the line. Which takes faith in the person, persons, or Person you are in relationship with. And every relationship in your life contains levels of trust. Do you trust your spouse? Do you trust your children? Do you trust your boss or those who you do ministry with? Why or why not? If the answer is "no", it may be because you have stepped out in good faith and been burned. If the answer is "yes", then the relationship has been rewarded by stepping out in good faith and having that person come through for you. This is The Principle of Faith Equals Trust.
The Principle of Sacrifice -- God will require you to give up things you hold dear in order to bless your life and the lives of those around you.
The Principle of Faith Equals Trust: All relationships require acts of faith, big and small, which multiply trust and increase connection in that relationship.
In these chapters you're focusing on your relationship to God. Do you trust God? If not, why? What happened? Did you get burned? Before moving forward in your relationship with God you will need to answer these questions. Because if you do not trust Him, your relationship can only go so deep. And if your relationship with God does not get consistently deeper. You will become stagnant in your faith. Imagine if Abraham did not have a relationship with God, then he would not have trusted God to do what He did in any of his moments. I believe there must have been hundreds if not thousands of times that God and Abraham spoke with one another. Each time an opportunity for God to build trust with Abraham.
Go back to Genesis and read each moment where Abraham is required to make a sacrifice. Do these seem like random one-off conversations between two strangers to you? No, they do not. In fact, Abraham recognizes God and God speaks to Abraham as if they know one another intimately. God and Abraham are connected on a deep relational level. And if Abraham did not trust God, then stepping out in faith becomes unreasonable. But if you live by the framework, and you develop a trusting relationship with God built on faith. What is reasonable to you will change. Because you have seen God accomplish great and wonderful things when you step out in faith. And your faith will increase, multiplying moment after moment. Increasing each time you place your trust in God and step out in faith in your relationship with Him.
Now, I don't want you to get the wrong idea. God is not calling you to literally sacrifice your teenager on the alter. No matter how much you may wish for it! So listen carefully. This is one of the most important takeaways for your understanding the principles above. God will challenge your trust in him by asking you to step out in faith during your moments. And the more you trust Him, the more He will ask from you. Faith and trust will compound on one another via your relationship with God to bless your life and the lives of those around you. Your spouse, your children, your coworkers, and your ministry. And it all starts by building trust in your relationship with God through faith. That is how God works. And this makes it even more important that we keep an adequate check and balance on the things we think God is asking us to sacrifice. So if God has brought you to a moment and you are confused about what to do next. Check three things.
Check the Bible. Is what God is asking you to do consistent with the commands you see in Scripture?
Check with God. Pray about what God would have you to do and ask for him to bring clarity to your situation.
Check with your spouse and at least one pastor, counselor, or mentor. You don't do faith alone. You have a spouse and a church community for a reason. Use them to help guide your decisions. You'll be glad you did.
Making big decisions should always be brought before our important relationships for a thorough analysis. This is because we cannot always trust our own hearts and minds to lead us down the right path. Emotions are great teachers, but poor leaders. The prophet Jeremiah says it this way, "The heart is deceptive above all things, who can understand it?" And so we must live with the fact that our thoughts and emotions cannot always be trusted. Because we don't want to take our family to Egypt when the Lord wants us to stay put.
This all looks contradictory. Because I am asking you to trust God in order to increase your faith. And these things are, in essence, wrapped up in your thoughts and emotions. Which introduces our next section perfectly. Because your psychology, the way you think and feel, matters to God. Your thoughts and your emotions play a pivotal role in your relationship with Him. Therefore, before you sacrifice your "Isaac" on the alter, read the next two chapters on thoughts and emotions, and their role in your relationship with God.
About the Author:
Dr. Corley is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor (LPC-S) in Missouri and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in Kansas. He specializes in marriage counseling and trauma recovery. This is an excerpt from his series called Framework for Family. If you have a question or comment for the podcast please call 1-800-410-6829.
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