June 13, 2018
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Remember those school days when they used to call the roll every morning? It was the official way for the school to find out who was present and who was absent. Remember the standard answer?
TEACHER: JOHN DAVID WALT?
Sure there were always those kids who had to say “PRESENT” in order to be different. I won’t say anything more about “those kids” because there are undoubtedly some of them reading along. I remember doing it a time or two myself. ;0)
Wouldn’t it have been amazing if some kid along the way had answered the roll with, “HERE I AM!” ? I wish I had thought of that.
There is something to publicly identifying oneself as HERE.
There is a sense in which I believe Jesus calls our names every morning. To speak aloud the words, “Here I am,” could become a significant practice of prayerful mindfulness to become conscience of the “right here, right now” presence of Jesus.
That’s hardly the point of this most shocking biblical text. This text is a test of trust. I have mostly thought of it as a test of whether Abraham would trust God. I see it differently now. I think it is a test of whether God could trust Abraham.
In my judgment, God never intended Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. After all, the story begins by telling us this was a test. Nor did Abraham ever intend to go through with it. “He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” It strikes me as a game of divine chicken. Who would flinch? In the end, it was God who flinched.
Isaac was the long awaited answer to Abraham and Sarah’s prayers. Abraham proved his faith was not founded in God’s answer but in God himself. A life of prayer is built on trust. The trust, however, is not in the answer but in God. It reminds me of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (or as Veggie Tales dubbed them, “Rack, Shack, and Benny). Because they refused to worship Nebudchadnezzar’s idolatrous image, he threatened to throw them into the fiery furnace. Their response is stellar.
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.” Daniel 3:16-17. ESV
The next bit is epic; the stuff of legend.
But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:18. ESV
A friend of mine, who against all odds remains a quite eligible bachelorette, recently had these three words inscribed in permanent ink on the inside of her wrist: But if not. This is the mark of a true believer. It’s not about placing our hope in the answer to our prayers, but the wholesale, full-scale abandonment of our lives to the One who is himself the answer—come what may. These are the ones whom God trusts.
So many of us are praying for and about so many things—good things. We want a soulmate or a child or a job or healing or deliverance or this or that blessing. Jesus wants to bless us with the desires of our heart. The greater glory is that he might become the desire our heart.
These three little words, “But if not,” … let’s call them the prayer of holy abandon.
Lord Jesus, you are right here, right now. We want so much from you. What we most want, though, is to come to the place where we ant you more than your blessings. Teach me this “But if not” way of trust. I will not find it on my own. Right here, Jesus. Right now, Jesus. Amen.
- Are you ready for the practice of sanctified imagination of answering the roll call of Jesus in the morning? Here I am! Try it and note the effect it has on your awareness and praying.
- Do you tend to put your trust and hope in the answer to your prayer or are you learning to place your trust and hope in God, regardless of the answer?
- What do you think of this “But if not” prayer? Would you be willing to add those words to the end of your normal way of praying? Note the effect on your faith.
Join the Daily Text Fasting Challenge here. Whenever you sign up, it will begin the following Tuesday.
J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.