Defining Moments in the Life of Faith
In 101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, he gives the inspiring stories behind many of the hymns that we know and cherish. What strikes me about many of the inspiring stories behind the creation of these hymns is that many were written out of defining moments in the life of the author.
Take for instance the Hymn It is Well With My Soul. Haratio Spaffard wrote this great hymn after he lost his four children in an accident at sea. Francis Havergal is another author who wrote many of her hymns out of defining moments in her life. Havergal’s hymn I Gave My Life for Thee was written after she saw a picture that had been painted by a painter named Sternberg. The paining was a picture of Christ wearing a crown of Thorns before Pilate and the Jewish religious leaders. Beneath the painting read the words “This I have done for thee, what hast thou done for me?” Francis Havergal was so moved by the picture that she wrote a poem before she got home. When she got home, she was not pleased with the words so she threw them into the fire. The paper did not make it into the fire but is said to have floated out onto the floor and her father would later pick it up and give it back to her and encourage her to put music to it, and she did.
Defining moments are everywhere we look. We have defining moments in history, one such moment being the cross of Jesus Christ. We have defining moments in the history of the church, the great reformation being one. We have defining moments in the world of sports. As we look at Genesis chapter twenty-two we come to another defining moment, a defining moment in the life of Abraham.
Those who have any knowledge of the life of Abraham most likely have a knowledge of what takes place in the life of Abraham in Genesis chapter twenty-two. It is by far a defining moment for Abraham. It is well said that it is not just a defining moment in Abraham’s life, but it is also the high point of his journey of faith.
When we see and experience defining moments in the life of faith what we notice is that these moments come in different forms such as trials, test, and task. Defining moments in the life of faith are moments that God uses in the life of his people for a purpose and that purpose is maturity.
In our study of Abraham we have seen many defining moments in his life. The first defining moment in the life of Abraham came from his initial call to the life of faith back in chapters eleven and twelve. Another defining moment came when Abraham was faced with a famine in the land that God had promised. Then there was the promise of a child and the patients needed to wait on God to act that served as a defining moment in the life of Abraham. What is interesting about the defining moments in the life of Abraham is that they consist of both failures and victories. The Lord has a way of turning even our low points into defining moments.
The defining moment that we have in chapter twenty-two is definitely a high point in the life of Abraham, but only because Abraham would face the challenge and respond to the challenge in a manner that was pleasing to the Lord. And just as Abraham was faced with many defining moments in his journey of faith, so are we who have started that journey of faith.
Defining moments are usually moments that challenge our faith, our trust, and our obedience to the Lord, a challenge that all of God’s people will face. When we face those defining moments in our journey of faith we need to remember that the defining moments in the life of faith are divine moments.
I. Defining Moments in the Life of Faith are Divine Moments
I want you to imagine for a moment where Abraham is at in his spiritual journey up to this point. Abraham has been walking with the Lord more than twenty-five years. He has seen the Lord do many great things. He has seen the Lord faithfully protect him even during times when Abraham’s faith faltered. Most importantly, he has seen the Lord provide for him something that he thought he would never have, a son. Abraham and Sarah were able to have a child in their old age. This child would not only be a fulfillment of the promise of God to Abraham, but also he would be the heir to the promises of God given to Abraham. Abraham is quite comfortable at this time in his life. He is able to peacefully live in the region with king Abimelech and worshiping and witnessing for his God, Jehovah, El-olam, The Lord, the everlasting God.
It is almost as if Abraham has arrived in his journey of faith to some degree. God has blessed him with land and with son. But what we will notice is that the journey of faith has a final destination and that destination will not be experienced this side of heaven. That means that as long as we are making our pilgrimage there will always be opportunities and challenges that will come our way on our journey. There will always be defining moments in our journey this side of heaven.
We become aware of this truth in verse one of chapter twenty-two, “Now it came about after these things.” This points us back to the previous chapters to remind us of what has taken place up to this point, of which we have already touched upon. It also points us forward to another defining moment in the life of Abraham, as well as reminding us that Abraham is still on his pilgrimage and the Lord is still developing him as a man of faith.
The defining moment that is about to take place in Abraham’s life comes as a divine test that comes in the form of a divine task. The first thing we notice about this divine moment is the fact that is a divine test of Abraham’s faith in the Lord.
A. The Divine Test
We read in verse one, “Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham.” The author, who is under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he writes these words, indicates to the readers that what is taking place in these verses is a test that comes from the very hand of God. The Lord puts this truth here for our benefit because if we did not know as readers that this was a divine test of Abraham’s faith we may misunderstand what the Lord is asking of Abraham. The Lord wants us to know that this is a test, but don’t think for a moment that Abraham understands this defining moment as a test, for he does not have a clue. The fact that he does not know makes this defining moment a monumental moment in Abraham’s journey of faith.
So the Lord lets the readers know immediately that what is taking place in this chapter is orchestrated by the very hand of God. The Hebrew word “Nasah” is translated with our English word “test.” Some our your translations may have the word “tempt,” but the Hebrew word “Nasah” does not have the same meaning as our English word “tempt.” Our English word has the connotation of “enticing one to do wrong.” Whereas the Hebrew word “Nasah” has the idea of testing something or someone for the purpose of proving the quality of that someone or something. In this context “Nasah” has the meaning of God testing Abraham for a purpose, and that purpose was to refine Abraham’s character so that he may enjoy even close fellowship with the Lord.
It is very important that we differentiate between test and tempt. One person has rightly summarized the difference when he said, “Satan tempts to destroy, but God test to strengthen us. ” There are some defining moments in the life of faith that come on account of the failure of our faith, that is, some God never intended for us to experience, but because of our faltering faith God would use our failure to define us. This is not one of those moments in the life of Abraham.
These divine test that come from the and of God come in the different forms, but for the most part they come in the form of troubles, tribulations, and adversity. The New Testament equivalent that helps us understand these divine test is found in the first chapter of the epistle of James where it reads, “Consider it pure joy, my brethren, when you face trials of many kinds, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Defining moments in the life of faith are divine moments is that the Lord has us experience them for the purpose of growth. That is exactly what is taking place with Abraham. The divine test that Abraham would experience comes in the form of a divine task.
B. The Divine Task
We are told in verse one that the Lord called out to Abraham and he responded, “Here I am.” The Lord would then go and give him the divine task that would be his divine test. The Lord says to Abraham in verse two, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains on which I will tell you.” As you can see this divine task that would be the divine test of Abraham’s faith was also a disturbing task.
Had the Lord not told us from the start that this was a test of Abraham’s faith then we, the readers, may misunderstand what God is asking of Abraham in this task, and many have misunderstood it. When you realize the implications of what the Lord is asking Abraham in these verses you realize that this divine task is contradictory and illogical.
What makes this task contradictory is that the Lord is asking Abraham to do something that seems contradictory to the Lord’s character. The Lord abhors human sacrifice in pagan religions elsewhere in the scriptures, why would he demand it here? We must remember that this is only a test of Abraham’s faith, one that Abraham is not aware of at the this time.
This task that the Lord asks of Abraham is also illogical from the standpoint of God’s promises to Abraham. Two great promises have been given to Abraham, the promise of a son and the promise of a land, all of which help fulfill God’s promise to Abraham of being a great nation. The more important of the two was the promise of son because through Abraham’s descendents would come the savior of the world, Jesus Christ. God was now jeopardizing his own plan of redemption with this task. All of God’s plans for Abraham and his descendants are now about to be sacrificed on the altar to God. This seems illogical.
The divine task is a test in the sense that the Lord is asking Abraham to do something that is illogical. But even more telling about the type of test the Lord was sending Abraham through is found in who the Lord was asking Abraham to sacrifice, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac.” The test is a test of commitment and love to the Lord. You will notice that the Lord emphasizes Abraham’s son, “your son, your only son.” The test is a test of commitment and love to the Lord. Abraham could not weasel out of this command by offering up his servant or even offering up his other son Ishmael. He had to offer up the son he had waited twenty-five years to be born. He had to give up the son that his precious wife was able to conceive and give birth to through supernatural means. Even more telling of the type of test this was is the phrase “whom you love.” This reveals that Abraham’s defining moment was a divine test concerning his affections and who had first place in his heart.
The defining moment for Abraham was a divine test of whether he loved the blessing more than the blessing, whether he loved the giver more than the giver. The defining moment for Abraham was whether he was willing to give up the blessings of God for God himself, whether he was willing to follow the Lord when all that was in it for him was the Lord himself.
Defining moments in the life of faith are moments where God pushes us out of our comfort zones to see if are affections are for the blessing rather than the one who blesses. Our Lord Jesus Christ never hesitated to have those who wanted to follow him count the cost of discipleship. When Jesus was asked by the rich young ruler how he could have eternal life Jesus did not hesitate to tell him that he had to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus, hypothetically speaking, spoke about hating ones own family to be able to be his disciple. Jesus did not mean that we must literally hate our families, but what he did mean is that he must have the preeminent place in our affections. We must be willing to sacrifice and surrender all to follow him.
We need to be careful to limit these divine moments to the spectacular. That is, we should not think of these divine moments only as consisting of a call to the mission field or full-time ministry. The divine moments are everyday occurrences that come are way where God calls us to move outside of our comfort zone. This can come in the form of making a phone call to someone who needs to know Christ and tell them how Christ has made a difference in your life. Your divine moment could be a call to teach a Sunday School class or help your church in their visitation program or some other ministry in your church. What are usually at stake with these divine moments are our own perceptions and comforts.
God asks, “Will you serve me only when things are going well? Or will you serve me when things are discouraging? Will you serve me when the only thing in it for you is me?”
Is there a defining moment that you are being challenged with? Remember that these defining moments are divine moments orchestrated by the hand of God to mature you in your faith. The second thing we notice about defining moments in the life of faith is that they are deciding moments.
II. Defining Moments in the Life of Faith are Deciding Moments
In my defining moments, sas I willing to follow the Lord and do as he commanded and called me to do or was I willing to forsake the Lord so that I could enjoy his blessings, but not he who blesses? Defining moments in the life of faith are deciding moments; a decision has to be made. And as we see with Abraham he makes a decision concerning his test and he decides to obey the command of God.
A. Decision to Obey the Command of God
We see Abraham’s obedience in verse three, “So Abraham arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.” What amazes me in this verse is the absent of any discussion on the part of Abraham. All we see is quick and swift obedience on the part of Abraham.
This is a great contrast when you compare other occasions in the Bible where God called men to a specific task. Take for instance the story of Moses, God called him and when he did, Moses made every excuse why God should not use him. Gideon is another example that contrast Abraham’s obedience. When the Lord called Gideon to fight, Gideon did not immediately obey, but instead insisted not once, but two times for a sign from God.
Abraham of all people knew how to help God out in situations such as this. When famine came to the land he helped God out by going to Egypt. When Sarah grew tired of waiting on the promises Son, Abraham helped God out by sleeping with Hagar. When Abraham found himself in trouble with king Pharaoh and king Abimelech he helped the Lord out by deceiving the two kings. What Abraham was really doing was not helping God out, but instead not obeying the commands of God.
But that is not the case this time. God gives him a command and there is no discussion, no offers of suggestions, no helping God out, just total obedience to the command of God. Abraham does not try to rationalize his way out of this divine moment, but instead shows his total affection for the Lord.
How would your respond to such a request? I imagine many of us, myself included would have rationalized our way out of this divine moment. How many times does God asks us to do minimal things compared to what he asks Abraham and we fail to obey. You see, divine moments are deciding moments; moments where we as God’s people have to decide to obey the command of God are not.
“When God sends a divine moment of testing in your life through means of a divine task, are you willing to obey the command of God no matter what the cost.” Abraham revealed his willingness to obey the command of God. The foundation of Abraham’s decision to obey the command of God can be found in his decision to trust the character of God.
B. Decision to Trust the Character of God
As Abraham and Isaac arrive at the place where the Lord commanded them to go, they leave the servants that came with them behind and they make their way to the place of sacrifice. On their way, Isaac is going to ask a good question of his father in verse seven, “Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, ‘My father!’ and he said ‘Here I am, my son.’ Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’” This was a good observation on the part of Isaac seeing that his father made sure that everything else was taking care of.
It is in Abraham’s response to Isaac’s question that we see the foundation for Abraham’s obedience to the command of God, “Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’” Here is a statement of trust on the part of Abraham in the character of God. Now, this verse does not do justice to exactly what Abraham is trusting in when he makes this statement. But thanks be to progressive revelation we learn exactly what he was thinking about from the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews where is says in verse nineteen that Abraham, “considered that God is able to raise people from the dead.” Abraham knew God’s character and that God was faithful to his word. Therefore, even if the Lord had him sacrifice his son, he believed that the Lord could raise him from the dead. Abraham trusted in the character of God and that was the foundation for his obedience.
Abraham may have thought that the command was contradictory and irrational and just outrageous, but he made a decision to love the Lord even when all he got out of it was the Lord. He made a decision to obey the Lord, knowing that he could trust in the character of a good and gracious God. Defining moments are decisive moments for the life of faith, and when God’s people decide to obey the commands of God and trust the character of God they find that these defining moments are decisive moments in the life of faith.
III. Defining Moments in the Life of Faith are Decisive Moments
The obedience and trust of Abraham to this divine moment unfolds in verses nine through ten, “Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” All of Abraham’s hopes and dreams are about to be slain on the altar, but what happens next reveals that this divine moment was a decisive moment. This moment was decisive in three different ways.
A. Decisive in what it accomplished
First, it was decisive in what this divine moment accomplished. In verse eleven we are told that the angel of the Lord called out from heaven for Abraham and he responded “Here I am.” In verse twelve the angel says to Abraham, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know what you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” God tested Abraham and he passed the test with flying colors. At the heart of this divine moment was whether Abraham feared the Lord or not. At the heart of this divine moment was whether Abraham loved God more than he loved his son. This is a significant moment in the life of faith, that moment when God says, “do love me even when there is nothing in it for you?” When those moments come will they accomplish what the Lord desires?
B. Decisive in what was learned
Second, this divine moment was decisive in what was learned. Notice what takes place in verse thirteen after the Lord stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, “Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The Lord will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” The Lord substitutes a ram in the place of Isaac, and Abraham responds to the Lord’s faithfulness by naming the place “The Lord will provide.” In the Hebrew it reads “Jehovah Jireh.” Abraham had learned the faithfulness of God throughout the years, but never like he did in this divine moment, a lesson that he learned only after he made the decision to obey the commands of God and trust in the character of God.
C. Decisive in what God did
Third, this divine moment was decisive in what God did for Abraham after he provided the ram. In verse fifteen we read, “Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord,, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed…” Do you see the result of Abraham’s willingness to give up the blessing of God for God? God blessed him. This should dispel the notion that God is our worst enemy. The life of total surrender to the Lord is a life that God blesses. When we put God before his blessings he blesses. The greatest blessings are found in the life of surrender and sacrifice.
I shared with you earlier how defining moments in the live of many of the authors of our great hymns were the source of their inspiration. Francis Havergal, who wrote the hymn I Gave My Life for Thee is probably more known by another hymn that she wrote Take My Life and Let it Be. Havergal was known as the “consecration poet.” These two hymns that I have shared with you deal with our total sacrifice and surrender to the Lord. When she wrote the words to Take My Life and Let it Be she did so after divine moment in her life. She was led by the Lord to visit a house that was occupied by five people, some of those people were unbelievers others were believers who had strayed from the Lord. She spends five days with these people praying for them and pleading to them to come to Christ. By the end of her visit the Lord was faithful to bring those who did not know Christ to him and those who did know Christ back to him. After leaving the house and reflecting upon the faithfulness of God in that situation she penned these words that as a prayer of consecration unto the Lord, “Take my life and let it be, Consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.”
God’s people are faced with defining moments every day. We are faced with a decision ever day whether we are going to give our best to the Lord our save it for ourselves. We are faced every day with a decision whether we are going to love God more than we love ourselves.
I would be amiss if I did not show you how this chapter of the book of Genesis is a foreshadow of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary. For it was at Calvary that our heavenly Father would not spare his own son, but would sacrifice him on the cross in our place so that we could have redemption through his Son’s blood, the forgiveness of sins. For many of you this is a divine moment that deserves a decision. At this moment many of you find yourself in a divine moment that demands a decision of obedience and trust. Will you obey and trust Christ so that you can have eternal life?
Christians, after all that God has done for us, how can we not surrender all and follow him, trusting him to take care of us? What is a divine moment in your life demands a decision? Will you show your love to the Lord and put him before yourself?