After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘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 that I shall show you.’”
This week, my devotions are based on Genesis 22, the story of God testing Abraham. Yesterday, I shared my belief that, during my years as the preacher for Irvine Presbyterian Church, God would often test me by presenting me with unusual and unexpected opportunities to do what I was going to preach about. The following story offers an unusually dramatic example.
In early January 2007, I received a packet from a search committee representing a prominent Presbyterian church far away from Southern California. The packet included a request that I become a candidate for their senior pastor position. After looking briefly through the packet, I emailed the chair of the committee, thanking him for his interest but declining to go further in the process. End of story, or so I thought.
Fast forward to early February. I was preaching through the Gospel of Luke and had come to the new wine and old wineskins passage in Luke 5:33-39. On Thursday, I wrote my sermon, in which I strongly challenged my congregation to be open to the “new wine” of what God wanted to do in their lives. I noted how easy it is for us to settle for the old wineskins, thus missing the new thing God wants for us. When I finished the sermon, I looked forward to exhorting my congregation to be open to God in new ways.
On Friday morning, the day after I finished that sermon, I received a phone call. “Hello, Mark,” it began. “This is Paul from _____ Presbyterian Church. I’m on the pulpit committee for the church as we look for a new pastor. I’d like to talk with you about the possibility that you are that pastor.”
“Good to hear from you, Paul,” I responded. “But I hope you know I received your packet and, after studying it, turned down the invitation to go further with you in the process.”
“Yes, I know that,” Paul said. “But I’d still like to talk with you about why we’re interested in you.”
At this point, I felt as if God had ambushed me. I wanted to say “No” to Paul. But if I did, how could I preach the sermon I had written the day before? I’d be a hypocrite. I felt trapped. If I wanted to be a preacher of integrity, then I had to talk with Paul and be open to the possibility that God was completely messing up my life (or so it felt at that moment). Thus, I listened to Paul and said I would pray about the church’s interest in me.
After I hung up, I told God how unhappy I was with him. I didn’t want to deal with this unwelcome wrinkle in my life. I didn’t want to move my family far away from home. I didn’t want to have to pray about whether I should be open to Paul’s church. But I sensed that God was testing me, helping me to be a person and a preacher of integrity. I just didn’t like it very much.
That weekend, I did preach my sermon on new wine and old wineskins. And I did feel in a fresh way the weightiness of what I was calling my people to do. Plus, I did pray with as much openness as I could muster about whether I should become the pastor of Paul’s church. However, I did not sense God leading me in that direction.
Now, you might think this is the end of the story. But it isn’t. There was more testing to come. I’ll share about this tomorrow.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you ever felt that God was calling you to be open to him and his plans in a way that you did not want to be? How did you deal with this test?
Why do you think it seems like God makes things so hard for us sometimes? Why doesn’t he just tell us exactly what to do?
Gracious God, I thank you once again for not settling to the level of my expectations for you. Thank you for not accepting my comfort zone as the limit of your work in my life.
Help me, Lord, to be open to you, even when it feels unsafe. Help me to seek you and trust you in all things and at all times. Amen