Trust & Obey
Growing up the daughter of a small-town Baptist preacher, I soaked and marinated in that life for 18 years. I knew all the hymns by heart, became a professional at incorporating the right Christianese terms into conversation (when needed), mastered church traditionalism by age 7, and even became a closet fan of the Gaithers. I experienced and relished in everything that comes along with the proverbial PK territory.
Sure, I look back now and roll my eyes when I think of all the cheese that oozed out of the church I grew up in, but make no mistake, at home, my parents were Jesus lovers/followers to the core. When it came down to it, they believed and lived the transforming gospel of grace—and they still do. If it weren't for them, I may still be trapped in a “less God, more religion, please” mindset.
Since my childhood, my dad has repeated one age-old phrase from a timeless hymn over and over to me—”trust and obey”—so much so that it still makes me a little queasy every time I hear it. That is, until about a year ago when I started a spiritual trek up what seemed like a treacherous, impossible mountain of trying to understand why God hadn't seemingly “come through” in certain areas of my life and trying to be obedient to a sacrifice He called me to.
For over a year, I've wrestled with God. I don't mean a controlled verbal debate. I mean I've been acting like a spoiled 5-year-old child who isn't getting her way. In the beginning, he patiently tried to teach me to wait in faith, asking me to specifically follow his instructions, but I would always walk away from our conversations kicking and screaming, yelling, “I want it now! Why not now? Why don't you just bless me now! You're not a good daddy if you don't give me what I want.”
You see, since I was five years old, I've had my life mapped out—centered around a dream that first developed when I began playing with Barbie and her Ken. In my plan, I would graduate college, put a successful career in my pocket, marry the man of my dreams by 26, have my first child by 28, and own a home by 30.
Milestones have come and gone. Currently, I'm a 29-year-old woman (soon to be 30) with no husband and therefore no kids, a career in ministry (which wasn't in my plan, but one that I DO actually love), and overpriced apartment rent. In my mind, God hasn't come through on his part of our plan. And, as a result, I've lived the last few years as an frustrated woman, shaking my fist at the Almighty and questioning his goodness.
Nearly a year ago, God finally submitted his rebuttal, “When did I ever agree to this plan?” And then he asked me to lay my precious, lifelong plan on the altar and stick a knife in it (so to speak)—a similar command he gave to Abraham.
I've read Genesis 22 over and over again—slow, fast, in various translations. My favorite is in the New Living Translation:
Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.
“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”
“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”
The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about.
On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”
So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.
When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice.
At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”
Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
Then the angel of the Lord called again to Abraham from heaven. “This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”
Can you imagine what Abraham thought when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac—his “son whom he loved so much?” Why wouldn't God have asked him to sacrifice something easy like a ram, a sheep, or even some nomadic luxuries in life?
I can relate. I begged God over and over to take something else instead of my dream. I even went so far as to offer up myself as a lifelong foreign missionary, never to enjoy Tex-Mex, cable television, or shoe shopping again, just so I could keep it—the dream I loved so much.
It took me nearly a year to make it up the mountain and I knew he wanted it all—every piece of it. So, I slowly sauntered up the side of the mountain for a long while, hesitating all along the way, clutching it tight in my arms, and wondering if I shouldn't just turn around and sprint back to the bottom.
Along the way, I laid down some heavy items—insecurities, issues that weren't yet resolved, things from my past—and I worshipped. In my pain, I worshipped. In my joy, I worshipped. Every time I got discouraged, he reminded me to “trust and obey.” God was more concerned with my obedience than my sacrifice (see 1 Samuel 15:22).
At the top, I hesitantly laid it all before him, then flinched, waiting for him to lick it up with fire or provide a substitute. He didn't do either. I learned that sometimes God sacrifices our happiness and plans simply for His glory and our holiness.
One precious mentor even told me on the journey, “Kaylan, if you'll just lay it down, then it will free up your hands for the next thing God has.”
Along the way, I removed an idol from our relationship which freed up space in my hands for God to give me several blessings: an authentic awareness that he's enough and he's for me; victory over the enemy despite his attempts to spiritually pummel every day; belief in the fact that God is genuinely good, faithful, and trustworthy in this life; and a new understanding of “trust and obey.”