Abraham and Jonah

About thirteen years ago, Ray Goolsby preached a sermon on Abraham and Isaac. I watched and listened from under the dim lighting of an empty room upstairs, his image coming through a television broadcast. I absorbed the story and the message and had never felt so in sync with a person from the Scriptures before. God was telling me to let go of my desires and dreams and trust Him. 

Fast forward to the present, and I feel much like Abraham again. Walking up the mountain without understanding. 

Or like Jonah. Thrown out of the boat, in order to save his comrades, waiting to be swallowed up by the monster in the sea. 

That’s what faith is, you know. Because hope that is seen is not hope. And for the Peace to come, we must relinquish our necessity for Understanding.

People love to beg for miracles. In good season or bad, we want to see something miraculous. But we forget miracles lie at the bottom of Hell, right there before death—and sometimes after. There the miracle is waiting, deep in the belly of the monster.

Life will have its ups and downs. But listening and following God wholeheartedly? Pfft. What highs! What lows!

Abraham moved his entire family across the desert to the unknown because…

Abraham took his only begotten son to be sacrificed on the mountain because…

I have lately wondered what Abraham thought about as he walked to Moriah. Three days it took to make the journey. What ran through his mind as he watched his son running and playing ahead of him? What did he answer with when the servants and Isaac asked him where the sacrifice was? Did he tell the truth? Did he remain silent? Was it as much of Isaac’s sacrifice as it was Abraham’s? Did his family and servants know? Was he lonely and despondent, pushing himself through the tears and fear with faith and loyalty to his YHWH?  

I have walked some miserable steps these last few weeks. Ones that have felt heavy, lonely, and long. And I think of Abraham clinging to the rocks on the mountain, brutal, exhausting step after step, to sacrifice his dream to God. And God’s faithfulness. 

You know just because you have a call on your life from God—a promise from the Heavenly Father—does not mean those dreams will all fall into place and people will want to listen to you. Consider Jesus in his early life. As a boy, the shepherds worshipped, the wise men brought gifts, Simeon confirmed, Anna of Asher prophesied, and the scribes were amazed. The signs were there. He was the Son of God. And yet it wasn’t until after, in that he grew up, serving and obeying his parents and speaking and learning at the temple, that he received favor among men. And it was that favor that led to his death. 

What is fame? 

What is glory? 

What is walking around hoping to expand and become something great? Are not these things simply fool’s errands for a dream born of greed and status? 

How far does my heart have to chase after growth before it becomes barren?

How long do I assume and second-guess motives before I am a tyrant? 

There is a line between sin and dreams, where ambition lives. After all, whose ambition do I seek? 

Keep my heart pure, Lord. In that, I see nothing but you. And let me marvel at the smallish conversation. The dew on the grass. The butterflies in the air. The love of my bride. The pride of my children. Let my heart rest on those things all the days of my life. 

Leaders: if one only gives public praise, and in private always correction, the people following you will fear privacy with you, and thus, won’t trust your public praise. You must praise in public, and even more in private. Let the private man always be the more intimate one. Relationship and followers thrive on that intimacy. 

About six years ago, when I got off the stage after preaching, I was on cloud nine, thinking, “Look at how special I am! I said this and that, and 10 people were saved!”

My friend turned to me and said, “If you take credit for the good ones, you have to take credit for the bad ones.” 

Insecurity comes in a leader when they take credit for the high moments, because now they must take credit for the low ones. 

And so now here is where I am. Somewhere halfway up the mountain, listening to God, and struggling to know what’s up the hill. Will my dreams have to really die this time, or will God come through and save them? How much further until the top? And what if everything back there isn’t as bad as I had believed—what made me wander up this god-forsaken hill, anyway?

Had Abraham ever wondered if the land he left behind was all that horrible as God had made it seem? 

And the worst thing of all would be that I get to the top of the hill and look back over my shoulder and see that all is healthy and righteous—God came through and healed and redeemed, as He always does, because He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness. One who relents from doing harm. Then God would raise up a plant to hang over my head and give me shade, and I would look back and wish death upon myself. 

God forbid, I become Jonah more than Abraham.

Jonah, a poor helpless shrivel of a man, hearing from God, alone and bitter on the mountain. His story ended because He lost sight of the heart of God and only cared about hearing Him. He did his one job and sat on the mountain, looking back in despair.

Abraham never looked back. His vision was ahead, regardless of setback, failure, or lack of understanding.

His friend’s wife was turned to salt for looking back. I think of that salt. Perhaps looking back turns you into nothing more than the preservative that you were for the place that God is removing you from. Perhaps looking back makes your life frail, bitter, and overwhelming. Like too much salt on a piece of meat, turned harsh and oppressive, giving way to coughing spells and watery eyes.

Don’t sulk on the hillside, you fool. There is an entire mountain of glory waiting at the top.

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