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.’”
As you probably know, this week my devotions have been different from their usual format. Most of the time, each devotion focuses on a passage of Scripture and draws out implications for your life and leadership. This week, however, I’ve taken more time to share how God’s testing, as modeled in the biblical story of Abraham, has been a reality in my own life. I’m hoping that my witness might help you see your life in a new light. Perhaps it might even help you be open to God in a new way.
The story I’m going to tell today is, in many ways, more like the story of Abraham’s testing than any other episode of my life. God did not ask me to literally sacrifice my children on an altar, but what God did ask of me felt rather similar to this.
As I explained in yesterday’s devotion, in 2007 God tested me, first through a sermon I preached on Luke 5:33-39, a passage about new wine and old wineskins. By use of this text, God tested me to see if I was really open to his “new wine” in my life. Or, was I too comfortable with my “old wineskins” to be open to the new thing God sought to do in my life?
This testing became focused on the possibility of my leaving pastoral ministry and becoming the Executive Director of Laity Lodge, an extraordinary retreat center in the Hill Country of Texas. As I got to know the people who led Laity Lodge, and as I learned more about their ministry and vision, I began to feel drawn to join them.
But there was the little problem of geography. If Laity Lodge had been in Southern California, this job change would have been a no-brainer. But the only way I could become part of the Laity Lodge team was by moving to Texas. This meant moving my wife and children away from our family, most of whom lived in California. It meant moving my teenage children away from their wonderful friends, great schools, and a church that they loved and that loved them. How could I ever do that?
As Linda and I talked and prayed about this possible move, our children continued to be the sticking point. I knew several pastors who had moved their teenage children. The trauma of moving led to major heartache for these families. In some cases, the teenagers left the church and even their faith. Was I supposed to move my kids away from so much that was good in their lives?
As time went on and I felt God leading me to Laity Lodge, I often argued with God. How could he expect me to move my children? What if they had a terrible time in Texas? What if they couldn’t get a good education there? What if they stopped going to church? What if they gave up their faith? Was God asking me to risk the well-being of my children so I could obey what I thought was his call?
I still remember the moment I finally said to God, “Okay, I’ll trust you. I’ll trust you with what I care about most in this world. I’ll trust you with the people Linda and I cherish most in this world. I’ll trust you with my kids, Lord.” Those words were truly some of the hardest words I’ve ever said. And acting on them was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
Was God testing me through this experience? I believe so. Was God surprised by what I did? I seriously doubt it. Was I surprised? In many ways, yes. I’m not a big risk taker. I can’t imagine doing things that might hurt my children. Plus, I like to be in control, yet was choosing to give up control and trust God. So, what I know for sure about this experience is that it helped me exercise and therefore grow in my faith. It strengthened me in ways that would be needed later. As I’ve said before, I believe God’s testing isn’t so much for God to learn about us as it is a way for God to form us by his grace so we can become more and more the people he wants us to be.
P.S. We did move to Texas. It was pretty traumatic for my children for a while. But God was gracious beyond measure. In the end, Nathan and Kara deeply valued their time in Texas. They received a fine education and met great friends. Their faith grew because of what they experienced there. What can I say but “Thanks be to God!” (The obligatory Alamo photo above is from our first week in Texas.)
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you ever felt that God was asking you to trust him with something big, something that you would much rather have control over?
Can you think of times in your life when God tested you as a way to help you to be formed in Christ?
Gracious God, as I look back on life, I’m thankful for times you have tested me. And I’m very thankful for how your grace helped me in those times. And I’m extremely thankful that your love for me is not dependent on my “passing the test.” Thank you for your grace in Christ, who passed the ultimate test on my behalf.
O Lord, given your faithfulness in the past, may I trust you more in the future. Amen.