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God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. How many nights did Abraham spend gazing up at the sky in hopeful anticipation? Descendants were a big deal in his culture. Knowing your bloodline would continue on long and strong was a very comforting and encouraging thought. But like any human, Abraham naturally wanted to see some evidence of that promise coming true. Obviously a man can’t bear a thousand sons in his sunset years, but just one Isaac? And then Isaac went and married a barren woman while his exiled brother Ishmael had twelve sons off in a distant land. Things aren’t looking good for the promised line.
In Genesis 25:21, we see Isaac pleading with God to cure his wife’s barrenness. Another disturbing passage. Since when do we have to beg God to keep His promises? We don’t, but the reality is that God takes so long to get going that we often feel like He forgot what He’s supposed to do. God answers Isaac and Rebecca has twins. Well, at least now we’re getting somewhere. Here come Jacob and Esau, but now God narrows things down again and says it’s Jacob that the promised descendants will come through. So much for being able to count Esau. So far we’ve only got two little stars twinkling in that huge night sky: Isaac and Jacob. By now Abraham is dead and buried. He never lives long enough to see Jacob (aka Israel) have the twelve sons which will become the ancestors of Israel’s twelve tribes. Twelve great-grandsons would have been a very encouraging sight for Abraham to behold, yet he didn’t even get to see his grandsons Jacob and Esau. He probably died suspecting that his son’s wife was as barren as Sarah had been and secretly wondering if God was ever going to follow through on that starry promise. Yes, he believed and his faith was credited to him as righteousness. But no faith is immune to doubting. Abraham was as human as the rest of us.
Why did God string Abraham out like this? Why not move things up a generation and have Isaac be the one to get the Israel name and bear twelve sons? Why not at least let Abraham see Rebecca pregnant with twins so that he could feel encouraged? Trying to compete with a starry sky with only one son per generation would take forever. At least one case of multiples would have really warmed an old man’s heart. But God denied him this pleasure, just as He is currently denying some of us the chance to see His promises to us bearing tangible fruit.
Perhaps God has laid on your heart a vision for some grand ministry and He’s promised to make it happen. You’re waiting and waiting and all you see is roadblocks. Or perhaps He’s told you to look forward to some particular event in your life: perhaps moving to some other country or getting married or receiving some sort of invitation. Now the years are ticking by and you’re wondering if He’s changed His mind. Why does God promise us things and then take forever to deliver? Why does He sometimes kill us off before ever letting us see the fulfillment of His prophesies? The author of Hebrews praises those great names in the faith who died “not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them” (Heb. 11:13). Well, whoopee. Who wants to go through life with a bunch of empty promises? This is hardly inspiring.
One of the most challenging aspects of maturing in the faith is learning to view things from a Divine perspective. As we grow, God will push us to turn our minds away from our current view, which considers the events of our lives on earth to be extremely significant, and adopt His eternal view instead. From God’s perspective, your earthly life is merely a blip and all that matters is how your soul responded to Him in the brief time you spent down here. From His point of view, it is not what you do for Him that counts, it’s how much you value Him. In the end He will care only about how strong the heart bond between the two of you became, not whether or not He launched some ministry or used you in some public way.
To God, the details of our earthly lives are both significant and trivial at the same time. They are significant in the moment because He arranges them all so carefully to lead us closer to Him, but in the broad scheme of things they don’t matter at all. He doesn’t care whether you spend your life lying on a sick bed or crusading around the globe for Jesus—He wants your soul to be focused on Him and cherishing His Presence in your life. It is God Himself that you are supposed to prize—not any calling or promise. When God gave Abraham the promise of many descendants, it inspired Abraham’s faith and no doubt motivated him to follow God more fervently than he otherwise would have. Often God places some future prize before us to secure our close attention. He knows the outworking of His promise is going to be quite different than we expect, but hopefully by the time that day comes, such discrepancies will no longer matter for we’ll no longer be focused on what God can give us, but on who God is to us.
God is jealous for our attention. He wants to be our only prize. When He gives us prophetic words about our future, it is often very far in advance for He wants ample time to massively change our perspective before we get caught up in earthly activities. So many well-meaning souls end up forgetting all about God as soon as they start doing work in His Name. Nothing aggravates our Lord more than having to compete with His own ministry for our attention. When we put Him in this position, He often responds by withdrawing His blessing from our ministry efforts, which is why we see so many Christian organizations in the world today who have resorted to carnal marketing methods to try and stay afloat in the wake of God not supporting them. When our earthly works become more important to us than our internal bond with God, we end up becoming enslaved by our own egos and we develop a warped sense of identity. We start thinking it’s our fancy title or popularity with people that makes us important when in reality it is only God’s value of us that defines our worth. We are important simply because He cherishes us. We only matter because we have great personal value to Him. God’s opinion defines reality: everything else is a delusion.
Satan says we’re only worth something if we do something significant for the Kingdom. God says we’re worth dying for simply because we are His creations and He loves us. Satan says we haven’t really progressed with God unless He trusts us with some special calling or assignment. God says intimacy with Him can’t be measured by external activities, for what matters most is hidden in the secret chambers of a man’s soul where only he and God can see the bond that exists between them. Satan says if God delays in fulfilling some promise to us, it is cause for despair for it means our relationship with Him has become stalled. God says He will withhold blessings from us if He sees there is danger of us turning them into idols.
After waiting twenty-five years for his promised son, Abraham became a little too excited about Isaac. When we finally get our hands on something we’ve been hungering after for years and years, we tend to quickly forget our priorities. No Christian is safe from the temptation of turning God’s blessings into idols. When He saw His relationship with Abraham being threatened, God quickly pulled out the big guns. He demanded that Abraham slaughter his beloved son and burn him to a crisp on an altar.
There’s no quicker way to get humans over something than to take that something away from them. We see God using this same principle today all the time. A tornado ravages a house and we see the owner sobbing into the news camera saying, “That house was everything I have. It was my entire life. Now I have nothing.” Such statements make it very obvious why God chose their house to be one of the ones to be destroyed. Among other things, He is undoubtedly trying to cure them of their misplaced worship. Loss is an extremely effective cure for idolatry, yet sometimes it isn’t enough for God to rip our treasures away from us for we will quickly replace them with new ones. In these cases, more drastic action must be taken: we must see ourselves voluntarily surrendering the thing which is arousing God’s jealousy.
The fact that God insisted that Abraham kill his son with his own hands tells us how serious the internal crisis had become. God saw that this child had become way too important in Abraham’s heart, yet He also saw that Abraham still had enough reverence left to be spurred into obedience if God gave him a direct command. While there was still hope to salvage the situation, God made His horrifying demand and as a result, Abraham’s internal priorities were suddenly slammed back into the correct order: God was first, not Isaac. Even the precious promised son had to be viewed as expendable for nothing could be withheld from his Lord. Notice that God didn’t call the exercise off the moment Abraham agreed, or during the long trek up the mountain that God had specified. He gave Abraham plenty of time to think about the decision he was making and to realize how far off his priorities had slipped since Isaac’s birth. All that time to think clearly had spiritually productive results for when Abraham finally reached the sacrifice site, he didn’t go into a meltdown or plead with God to change His mind. Because God had intervened in time, Abraham arrived at that site firmly resolved to honor God no matter what. He bound up his son, raised his knife, and completely let go of Isaac in his heart so that he could fully embrace God instead. Only then did God stop him, for then He could see their relationship was restored. Isaac had been permanently shoved off of the throne in Abraham’s heart and God no longer felt threatened.
What kind of vibe was in the air between father and son on that long journey home? No doubt things were never the same between Isaac and Abraham again. A permanent sense of distance would have been lodged between them after that act. They could still be friends, but it could never be like it was before. Isaac would have gotten the clear message that he wasn’t the first love in his father’s life—some invisible God was—a God who made some pretty scary demands. Perhaps Isaac had developed a pretty big ego by that point: the favored child who had seen his older brother driven away so that he could inherit from a father who adored him. Then along came a God who clearly viewed Isaac as expendable. No doubt that did major damage to the young man’s pride. If Isaac had had any delusions that God was as impressed with him as his father was, his experience of being bound on rocks would have quickly gotten him over it. What a powerful lesson on reverence and humility. Even the favored son wasn’t allowed to approach a holy God with an “I’m all that” attitude. By making such an extreme demand of Abraham at just the right moment, God shocked the entire family back into a more reverent frame of mind.
If you are struggling with the frustration of waiting for God to fulfill some aging promise in your life, remember what Abraham had to go through because he got thrown off course by a prophecy fulfilled. As maddening as it is to wait, you must let God finish adjusting your perspective so that you will be safely grounded in Him the day He finally does what He’s promised. Remember that your personal bond with God is all that matters—not promises of special blessings or earthly ministries or anything else. The whole point of your existence is to develop a close relationship with your Creator and He is a very jealous Being. He values you so much that He can’t stand the thought of you prizing anything as much as Him. It’s not good enough for God to be first in your heart when He’s followed close behind by a hundred other second priorities. He wants to be way out in front on your priority list: so supremely important that you keep forgetting there’s anything else of value in this world besides Him. Certainly God’s blessings are exciting and watching Him accomplish some feat through you is a humbling privilege. But we must learn to be most excited about our personal bond with Him, and this is a perspective that doesn’t come naturally. When we really love God with all that we are, we’ll be immune to becoming over-invested in anything or anyone else. At that point, He will be able to shower us with many blessings, for we will be so focused on Him that we’ll never be in danger of getting swept away by something He gives us. Nothing God does can begin to compare with God Himself. When we are totally focused on Him, we don’t need any other blessings to enhance our joy for He alone is more than enough. Give God time to fix your priorities firmly in place, for He wants you to have nothing less than His absolute best.
Better than Heaven: Pursuing What Really Matters
How can we make God fulfill His promises?