What is the most important thing in the world to you?
Really think about it.
What is the thing you treasure and protect above all else?
Is it your family? Your friends? Your career? Your safety? Your reputation? Your hope for a husband or a child?
Now consider, what if God—knowing you value that thing above everything else—asked you to lay it down? To let go of that dream or that thing for the sake of his glory?
These questions might painfully prick your heart. They do for me.
They make me uncomfortable as I realize the tightness of my grip on things. They reveal my white-knuckled hold on my hopes and dreams. These questions expose my unwillingness to let go of things I hold dear.
Certainly family, friends, jobs, and safety are all good gifts from God to be valued and treasured. But they are not ultimate. They pale in comparison to intimacy with and knowledge of God, as Abraham learned.
A DIFFICULT DEMAND
The story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 is likely familiar to many of us. God tests Abraham by asking him to take his beloved, long-awaited son and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on a mountain.
"Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (Gen. 22:2).
It’s easy to move on to the next verse at this point but take a moment to absorb the tragedy and terror of this command. Consider the pit in Abraham's stomach and the thoughts racing through his head as he hears these words from the Lord.
"Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love . . ."
No, no, no, no, no. God don't ask what I think you are going to ask . . . don't ask me to give up the one thing I have prayed for, longed for, trusted you for . . . the one person I love more than anyone. . . . Please, don't do it.
"and offer him there as a burnt offering . . ."
Oh God, anything but him. You can have anything else in the world—my money, my land, my reputation, even my own life—but not him . . . not Isaac.
The ask seems harsh. Cruel, even. Too difficult. Too big of a thing to demand from Abraham, a faithful servant of the Lord.
What pain could be worse than losing a child? What pain could be deeper than having to kill your own child as a sacrifice?
A PAINFUL OBEDIENCE
Yet Abraham obeys.
I have to imagine his hands shook as he tied his son’s behind his back. I wonder if his voice wavered as he assured Isaac, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son" (Gen. 22:8).
But would he? Would God spare Abraham's son? Would he make a way? Was that provision ever promised?
What enabled Abraham to carry out the seemingly impossible command the Lord had given him? How was he able to know that it was right to obey God?
A SURE CHARACTER
As I consider my own treasured desires and dreams, my heart longs for God to tell me I can keep them. That I can wrap them up in my hands and hold them tightly. That I can rest can be assured these hopes will come to pass. That these gifts will stay in my hands forever.
But is that ever promised?
Has God promised to keep me safe? To keep my reputation clear and untarnished? Has he promised me children and a home and financial stability? Has he promised to make my hopes and dreams come to fruition?
Is God cruel by not promising to give us these good gifts? Is God unkind to withhold from us the good things we want?
Perhaps these doubts plague you, too, but seem too big to voice, too scary to share.
Maybe the only answer to these questions and doubts is to rest in the truth that God’s character is steady and sure. His ways are good, and they are better than anything you may expect and dream for yourself.
A SURPRISING GRACE
The wind whips around Abraham and Isaac as they stand atop Mount Moriah. Abraham remains resolute and trusting.
As I read Genesis 22 and see God’s faithfulness to Abraham and Isaac on this mountain, I’m reminded of God's gracious character, proven again and again in my own life and in countless Old Testament stories.
Isn't it atop a mountain that God has proven his character? Isn't it atop a mountain that God reiterates and reinforces his covenant promises to his people? Isn't it atop a mountain that, though his people waver, God renews his covenant and remains faithful to them?
“When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’” (Gen. 22:9-12).
Do you see the beauty of God's grace? Do you see the sweetness of his steadfast character?
God praises Abraham for being a man who fears him. He praises Abraham for not withholding even that which he held most dear. He praises Abraham and provides a way.
And the God who praised Abraham did not withhold his own beloved son, sacrificing him so that we might know him as father.
He has always provided a way.
AN OPEN-HANDED TRUST
When your hands are open—truly open—you can hold them out to God fearlessly. You might not know if God will place a beautiful gift in your hand or if he will take away what you love most. You might not know if God will place in your hand an answered prayer or if he will leave your hands empty, wanting, waiting.
Regardless, you can remain open-handed because you can wholeheartedly trust that God is unwaveringly good. You can find joy no matter the outcome.
As we hold out our open hands, whether empty and hoping or full of good things, we are compelled to trust deeply in the character of God. With open hands we take hold of our true and everlasting treasure.
We can trust God because he has proved himself faithful again and again. On that mountain in Moriah with Abraham and Isaac. On Mount Sinai with Moses and the Israelites. And on the mountain at Calvary, where God did not withhold his Son, his only Son, but offered him as the full and final sacrifice to make intimacy and relationship with a holy God possible.
Our God is a God of abundant grace and trustworthy character. Hope in him. Come to him in surrender and open-handed trust.
Lauren Bowerman lives just outside of Denver, CO but has been privileged to call many cities, states, countries, and continents home. Her transient life has cultivated in her a deep love for diverse cultures and people. As a writer and a pastor’s wife, she is passionate about encouraging God’s people through writing on her blog and through discipleship.