During my days as ESL teacher and giving a test, I would sit at my desk and carefully watch the students, looking for signs of cheating. Pacing up and down the rows of desks, I noticed brows furrowed in concentration. Pencils and pens scribbling. Occasionally a hand would go up, and a student would claim that he or she didn’t understand the question or didn’t know the answer. At that point, I could no longer help. Their response to the test revealed what they needed additional work on. Their scores helped me know what to do differently. It was in their best interest that I NOT help them during a test.
I’m glad that God does not work this same way. Actually, God is ALWAYS willing to help, but His tests serve a different purpose, which is to learn whether or not we can assimilate and apply His lessons. The Holy Spirit uses our tests to bring out the best in us. Yes, that’s right. The BEST in us. They are not intended to make us look weak or inept. They are intended to grow and strengthen our trust in God. Obedience. That hardly makes it fun or easy.
God put Abraham up to a major test in Genesis 22. He asks Abraham to give up the very thing that was so precious. God asks Abraham to give up his one and only son. (Does this sound familiar . . . a loving father sacrificing his only son to save the world from sin . . . ?) Yet God had also promised that through Isaac, a great nation would grow.
Abraham doesn’t understand. We generally don’t understand either. But it is not understanding and logic alone that will satisfy us. We must strive instead for obedience. Faith does not come from understanding and logic. Faith comes from obedience.
I know. Crazy. On the way up the mountain to perform the deed, Isaac innocently inquires of dad as to where the sacrificial animal is. “God will provide it,” Abraham responds. Abraham gives no indication of distress, fear or anger. Nor does he hesitate when God tells him to perform this task. At first I found it distressing that no emotion is recorded in this chapter. Then I realized that Abraham is well over a 100 years old, and had been walking with the Lord all of his life. When you have such an intimate walk after a lifetime of seeing other promises fulfilled, you just obey – without drama, doubt or seeking out advice – because you know God has a purpose. Otherwise known as spiritual maturity.
God asked me to surrender my own “Isaac” about 15 years ago. I had to give up on my first marriage. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, at least at this point in my life. The idea of being single and alone was more terrifying than staying miserable with an emotionally abusive man who refused to deal with an addiction. I was making an idol out of marriage. But when God asks us to give up something we consider precious, He always blesses us with something (or someone) even better. “What if God calls you to let go of someone you love or your hopes for the future? Faith in God requires trusting Him with precious relationships and desires we think will bring us the greatest fulfillment. True fulfillment is found in loving and trusting God.” (mybsf.org; lesson 14; notes). Abraham tells Isaac in verse 8, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Actually Abraham was wrong. God did not provide a baby sheep. God provided a ram, an adult male sheep with horns that was caught in a thicket (verse 13). Why is this so significant? Because the thicket was pointing to the crown of thorns shoved down on Jesus’ head as he hung on the cross. I know nothing about sheep or horns, but a quick google search reveals that horns, in Hebraic culture, are significant because they represent power and strength. A ram is much more powerful than a lamb. References to horns are sprinkled throughout the Psalms as a symbol of strength. (The way everything is connected from the Old Testament to the New Testament is so brilliant and beautiful). I did not realize it at the time, but it was only a few days after completely surrendering my marriage (the divorce had been final for several months and no further contact was necessary) that I met the man I would eventually fall in love with and marry. God always provides something better.
Please help us to respond rightly to the tests you present to us everyday. Let us not respond with self pity, anger or fear, but with perfect peace and trust in you. Letting go of something or someone can often be very painful, but we know you are with the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit. You are with us in grief and in our joys. You are with us amid the challenges and amid the victories. Amen.