We return to that hillside somewhere in Galilee. “Large crowds,” Matthew says, from cities across the region and down into Judea, followed Jesus as he taught, proclaimed, and healed (Matthew 4:23-25). As we look back into the Gospels, we call his lessons on that hillside “The Sermon on the Mount.”
He began with an attention-grabbing list, an inside-out set of commandments designed to question everything the people had been taught. I imagined he paused between each one, giving it time to “sink in” before he continued. Continue reading →
The guard stands in the tower, eyes cast downward, searching through the thick night for any change, ears tuned for any out-of-the-ordinary noise. He raises his eyes to the distant mountains, their peaks muted by the sameness of the sky. He leans against the edge of the window for a moment, but he cannot relax. He will not descend until the sun ascends.
Even in the deepest, loneliest part of the night, the guard never doubts the rising of the sun. With absolute confidence, he glances to the east for a moment, eager to catch the first graying of the dark sky, the first dimming of the stars. Continue reading →
Eyes still drowsy, he carefully tipped the almost-empty milk jug over his cereal. Instead of a slow stream, the contents glugged out onto his Fruit Loops—gelatinous clumps of white goo. A millisecond later, his nose scrunched up. The inhale required to speak almost made him gag. “Mo-om, the milk has gone ba-ad!”
. . .
I rummaged through the cabinet; “Here it is,” I muttered as I grabbed that last new tube of antibiotic ointment. We had been overseas for almost three years, but I knew there was one more unopened tube. As I tore into the box, something prompted me to hold that fresh, unblemished tube up to the window where I could read the imprinted date on the crimped end. It looked perfectly fine, but it had expired over six months ago. I don’t know how effective it was, but we used it anyway because there was no alternative.
. . .
Genesis 22. Strapping some small logs onto his son’s back, Abraham instructs the servants to “sit tight” while he and Isaac go ahead a little ways to worship. After tucking the knife into his belt and lighting a long torch, he turns his face grimly toward the mountain. “C’mon, son.”
Barely out of the servants’ sight, Isaac asks the obvious question: “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham’s answer reveals his heart.
With every step toward Moriah, God, when are you going to provide?
With every stone stacked to build the altar, God, where is your provision?
With every piece of wood piled onto the stones, God, do I really have to do this?
With every tug on the rope that bound Isaac, God, I trust you, but . . .?
Raising the knife above Isaac’s neck, Abraham takes a deep breath. Last chance, Lord.
Wait! Did someone just call his name? His voice tight, catching on every word, he responds, “Here I am.” (Samuel said the same thing to Eli in 1 Samuel 3. Isaiah said the same thing to God in Isaiah 6:8.) The angel tells him, in essence, that he doesn’t need to kill his beloved son.
After a long and audible exhale (Had he been holding his breath?), Abraham finally shifts his teary gaze upward and notices a ram stuck in a thicket. Was it there all along?!? Doesn’t matter. Hands still shaking, he unties Isaac, and together, they sacrifice the ram.
Let’s step back from the story. How did Abraham come to this place? He was following God’s explicit command to go to that mountain in Moriah and to sacrifice his special son to God. (By the way, child sacrifices probably didn’t seem as crazy to him as they do to us. People did that kind of thing in those days; see Leviticus 18:21.) In obedience, Abraham never hesitated. He didn’t have to enjoy it, but God said to go, so he went—every step of the way. But he stopped when the angel called out to him. That, too, was an act of obedience.
Have you ever considered that God’s instructions or leading might have an expiration date?
We tend to concentrate very hard on the task at hand. Were we to find ourselves in a situation similar to Abraham’s, some of us might even have said, “God told me to do this, so I must go through with it!” and convinced ourselves that the voice we heard—an angel!—was just in our heads, just wishful thinking. What if, in that moment with the knife raised above Isaac’s prone body, Abraham had insisted on following through with God’s command? What if he had killed his son? Think about it: all of history would be different.
Granted, our decisions and obedience rarely carry the weight of Abraham’s decision, but the point is the same. God can change course mid-stream.
That’s okay. He’s God.
Just because He points you (or me) in a certain direction doesn’t mean he wants you (or me) to arrive there. Maybe it’s a test, like it was with Abraham. Maybe it’s a lesson. Maybe something happened along the way that was always His actual intention (like with Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8). Maybe we just couldn’t grasp the full vision at the time of the calling. God’s will is not a straight, logical path through life. The sooner we get comfortable with the altered plans, the switched tracks, the delays and interruptions, the sooner we will find rest in Him.
What is the difference between a hesitation and a pause? Confidence. It’s okay to pause in order to double check that you are still in God’s will, but don’t hesitate. We may watch for the milk to go bad, but we never wait on it. We may check the expiration dates on our medicines, but we don’t live our lives around those numbers. So, like Abraham, we must watch for Him to change His plans (confidence), but we must not wait on that change (hesitancy).
What about you? Have you stayed in a relationship, a job, or a mindset past its expiration date? How did you know and what did you do?
Is it time to pause, take a breath, and confirm that you are still being obedient?