Tester & Provider

Genesis 22:1,8,13,14

God tested Abraham.

“The Lord will provide.”

And Abraham looked up, and saw a ram caught in a thicket by its horns.

So Abraham called that place “The Lord will Provide.”

We see in this popular yet deeply layered passage that God both tests us and provides for us. As odd as it may sound to our modern ears, God is the tester at the beginning of this story, and the provider at the end, with an enigmatic statement uttered by Abraham in the middle (v.8) that is a kind of hinge or connector for the two sides of this paradoxical mystery.

This story definitely highlights the faith of Abraham, and is even referenced in the NT in Hebrews 11:17, yet could it be that the even stronger emphasis is on the rock solid truth that ultimately God can be trusted? In the face of anything?

I mean, at the beginning, we have this most incomprehensible command from Yahweh to Abraham. (Keep in mind it may not have been wrong-sounding to Abraham at this time in history, as it is quite likely that he did not know God’s stance on child sacrifice. There was some child sacrifice going on in Canaan at this time, and at least dedicating your first-born to God was of course quite the norm in Judaism.)

But it is almost impossible to imagine being asked to do this in any era, am I right? Abraham’s faith and obedience is indeed radical here. Now his faith wasn’t always so strong before (impregnating Hagar and all), but it sure is hall of fame worthy here!

And we see this quite vividly in that crucial hinge verse 8: “God himself will provide a lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

Abraham’s incredible and abandoning faith is brought out to be represented by his strikingly simple utterance of “God will provide.” Oh if we could always live in such faith! I am inspired and humbled down to the ground all at the same time.

Abraham believed in his soul that God will ultimately take care of everything, confidently trusting in Yahweh’s omni-wisdom, care, sovereignty, and power. And this without knowing how God would provide, but being aware that the sacrificial death of his beloved son at his own hand was a real option! He finds God to be inscrutable, yet reliable. Wow.

Abraham finds his only refuge in the Divine Provider, and that is what Yahweh desires of us. God insists on being trusted only and totally. He prohibits any alternative.

God tests Abraham’s faith in the most brutal fashion, yet also divinely provides in the truest-to-His-character fashion.

As we know, the Angel of the Lord (many scholars believe this to be Jesus) stops Abraham before he can slay his son, and provides that ram caught in a thicket within sight.

Can you think of a time where your circumstances seemed impossible, yet you pushed through only to find a ram caught in a thicket just for you?

This seems to be the way God works, as William Cowper wrote in his hymn which begins with “God moves in a mysterious way,” and later, “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”

And some helpful lines from the old Interpreter’s Bible:

the ways of God are sometimes hidden and at first not understood; but ultimately his will is found to be not contradictory to the purest emotions implanted in human souls.

The Bible read in its great sweep and progress is the story of a revelation of God as love–a love vaster and more profoundly wise than human souls can always immediately recognize, but in the end such as will satisfy all that is highest in those souls.

You know, perhaps one of the reasons Ruach (aka the Holy Spirit) wrote this passage was to show us just how much God detests the irrationality and arbitrariness of pagan superstitions, and express clearly what God really wants–our total trust, confidence, faith, and….heart.

ALL of it.

And this Abba can have because of His love, wisdom, and provision that is beyond our comprehension, and which is all that we’ll ever truly need for our life, which is His generous gift. Perhaps God wants to actually help us get beyond how things simply appear to us on the surface, and to increasingly operate out of a deeply confident trust in His infinite goodness and abilities.

I want our daughters, Gabriela and Zayra, to trust me and Ana insanely more than any other human being, because I know in the depths of my soul that no one on earth loves them, knows them, or cares about them anywhere even remotely near the magnitude that we do!

I wonder if that’s how God feels about us.

Times seventeen centillion, of course.

The faith of the Bible is that God at last can prevent the necessity for that sacrifice; or if he permits it, as with Jesus in Gethsemene and his sacrifice on the cross, will so enter into and identify himself with human suffering that it will become redeeming.

Abraham’s Posture

Genesis 22:1,7,11

God said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

But the angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Another aspect of this story that I love is Abraham’s posture of listening and openness.

Three times he is addressed, and three times he answers, “Here I am.” He answers immediately and faithfully. You may recall that his answer which is translated as “Here I am” is the Hebrew word “Hinneni” which has the fuller meaning of “Here I am, your servant. I am at your disposal. Tell me what you want me to do!

He is a man ready to be addressed, and is open to whatever is being said in it, for he knows his place in the world as God’s humble created being.

Verse 8 is central to this story, and I would like to quote Walter Brueggemann at a little length because it’s so darn good:

“God will provide.” It is a statement of utter trust and confidence, but one that is quite open-ended. Abraham does not tell Isaac all he wants to know because Abraham himself does not know. He does not know at this moment if Isaac is God’s act of provision. He does not know that God will provide a rescue for Isaac. It could be either way: Isaac or an alternative to Isaac. Abraham does not know, but he trusts unreservedly. He is the man ready to commit his way:

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act (Ps. 37:5)

Abraham finds his only refuge in the divine provider whom he finds inscrutable but reliable. Abraham has turned from his own way to the way of God which lies beyond his understanding but upon which he is prepared to act in concrete ways.

So may we adopt this posture of listening, of readiness to be addressed, and of responding with “Hinneni” and with an open-ended confidence in the goodness and trustworthiness of God our Father.

Are you always ready to be addressed by God?

You know sometimes God’s voice sounds just like our son’s or daughter’s voice. Are we listening and responding?

Sometimes God’s voice sounds just like that friend’s with the complete opposite political views as you. Are you listening and responding to what God is saying to you in it?

Definitely be discerning as to what is truly from God, but also remember that God’s calling out to us is not always what we think it should be, what we might expect, or especially what we may want it to be, at least on the surface. Let God be God and speak through whomever and whatever He pleases. Listen for Him, and not just to your own thoughts, annoyances, and preconceived judgements. God is much bigger than those.

What About the New TESTament?

 

We left off last time seeing that God tested His people’s faith in the OT, and asking if He also tests His people in the NT or even today.

Well, dangit, it appears His people are tested in the NT as well!

Let’s see what Paul, Peter, and James have to say about it.

Paul

It’s interesting to note that Paul actually calls on the Corinthian Church to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5). Paul does not want his hearers to be complacent, but rather to look at their lives to see if indeed they are reflecting their professed faith, or if they are counterfeit. So there is a testing that can be done ourselves to see if the life of the new creation does indeed flow through us–a sign that God’s Spirit is within us. A simple yet sobering test is to see if the fruit of the Spirit is manifested in our lives. Are those nine qualities (which are merely natural outgrowth of one who has the Holy Spirit inside them for realz) given in Galatians 5:22-23 evident in my life?

Love, joy, peace, magnanimity*, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-mastery.

In the Corinthian passage, I think Paul may be saying “test yourselves, because tests are coming, and you will be sifted.”

Peter

That the Christian life is tested is also indicated by Peter’s admonition to his readers: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:12-13). “Thus, Peter tells us that life’s difficulties, their tragedies, are means of testing the mettle of our faith. Do we respond with faith to life’s hardships or with fear and withdrawal? The answer to that question exposes the strength of our faith.” (Tremper Longman)

James

We do suffer, yet can actually experience joy in the midst of our suffering. James reminds us that the trials of life are occasions for joy and the building up of our faith: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (Jas 1:2-3).

Masochistic sicko? Or man of God with tremendous insight?

As A.W. Tozer reminded us 60 years ago, that God’s supreme purpose for us is not to be comfortable all the time, but to make us like His Son, Jesus Christ.**

Notice James says “whenever you face trials”, and not “if you are one of the unlucky few who goes through something difficult.”

Look, in our Christ-following life here and now we can just expect to be tested. I don’t love it, but we won’t be at any sort of peace unless we can, to some degree, allow reality to be what it is. I try to teach our daughters to look at every tough situation or circumstance as opportunity and not simply as obstacle. I do understand how terribly difficult this can be, and have failed countless times, but if we can train ourselves to view life through this lens, which ultimately comes through Christ as we have seen in Scripture, how much more effectively could we live?


*This is from David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament. I love this description of magnanimity from Wikipedia: The virtue of being great of mind and heart. It encompasses, usually, a refusal to be petty, a willingness to face danger, and actions for noble purposes.

**From The Crucified Life page 199.

Does God Test Us?

 

Genesis 22:1-19

After some time, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

Does God really test us?

At the beginning of this very popular story, God is the tester. At the end, God is the provider.

Odd.

It may rock our picture of God a little bit to read of Him as Tester, but we don’t get to choose, nor can we fully fathom, just how God operates. As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says in a commentary on this passage, “God is not a logical premise who must perform in rational consistency. God is a free lord who comes as he will.”

We see from Scripture that God does on occasion test His people to expose the quality of their faith. Today, let’s just look at that precedent.

  • Probably the best known example is the wilderness wanderings which begin with the manna. God provides manna for Israel in the wilderness, but they are only to collect enough for one day at a time. The temptation will be to hoard for the future. What if God doesn’t send any tomorrow? But God said he would supply manna six days a week (two days’ worth on the day before the Sabbath). Can they trust God to give them enough for that day? Thus God tested His people Israel, as He did throughout the wilderness period (Ex 20:20; Deut 8:2,16). This theme runs all the way through to the NT in Jesus as He teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Do we trust God to provide what we need for today? Whatever it may be? At times of stress, it can be  good to stop and ask “Do I have everything I need right now?”
  • God also tested later generations of Israelites. At the time of the Judges, God tested Israel using the nations that Joshua did not drive out of the land. Will Israel continue to follow God in spite of their presence? (Judges 2:22;3:1,4)
  • Interestingly, the Psalmist on occasion will ask God to test him, like in Psalm 139 when he cries out, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

So it seems clear that God does indeed test His people in the Old Testament. But what about the New Testament? What about today?

We’ll look at that next time.

 

Hinneni

Genesis 22:1

Now it was after these things that God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham.”

“Hineni,” he said.   ~(Tree of Life Version)

What are the biggest questions of life?

What is the greatest call?

And what is our best response?

I believe the two most vital questions come from Jesus:

“Who do you say that I am?” and “Do you love me?”

Each of us, sooner or later, in this life or the next, must deeply respond to Jesus’s “Who do you say that I am?” And for those of us who have already given a heart-felt answer, we likely need to be reminded of just who He is.

Once Jesus’s identity is settled through faith within us, we need to answer His “Do you love me?” If we have indeed acknowledged that He is the great, compassionate, merciful, loving, sacrificial, creating, powerful, almighty I AM, hopefully we may be able to answer, perhaps with trembling, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (John 21)

After this comes Jesus’s challenge/call/command:

“Feed my sheep.”

Minister to my image-bearers. Do unto others as I’ve done to you~in radical equality, wash their feet, show them God, put their needs before your own, teach them, bring my healing and wholeness, overflow with the love of God all over them.

And what is our best response?

“Hinneni.”

This was Abraham’s response, in Hebrew of course, and can be translated as,

Here I am, your servant. I am at your disposal. Tell me what you want me to do!

This is the standard biblical reply. Virtually all of life and all of Scripture, once you take notice, is call and response. From eons ago God calls, “Let there be light!” And there was light. So the very beginning of the world is the result of God’s call. God calls and the world suddenly comes into existence. Much later, Mary responds to God’s incredibly heavy call to bring His Word incarnate into our world with, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Call and response is the most fundamental structure of our lives.

We are constantly being called by God to give the reply “Hinneni”~”Here I am”, which signals our utter openness to God’s command. In all reality, this is the only response to God that makes any sense at all–complete surrender to His omni-everything! What else is there? Besides our pointless, futile fighting for our own way.

With each unique situation in life, there are multiple calls, therefore, a variety of ongoing responses within hinneni specific to the circumstance before us, as God’s reality is constantly unfolded before us in concert with our willingness, or lack thereof, to answer and act accordingly.

What is God asking of you?

How are you responding?

  • “Who do you say that I am?”
  • “Do you love me?”
  • “Feed my sheep.”
  • “Hineni.”

Wanting God from that which is not God

Matthew 14:28-33

Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came towards Jesus.  But when he saw the strong wind he was afraid, and began to sink.

The more people set their eyes on the king’s servants and the more attention they pay to them, the less heed they pay to the king and the less they esteem him.

~St. John of the Cross

This quote has been in my mind for the last two weeks. I feel it names very succinctly what is poisoning so many minds and spirits within the church.

With regard to what we call “church” today, I’m convinced that a large portion of our dysfunction, lack of spiritual health and growth, confusion, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness is due to the fact that we seem to be focused on everything but God.

Most of us would readily agree that there is an obvious toxicity that comes to anyone who is focused on their own problems, on what is wrong with everything, or on what they don’t have.

Yet there’s also a damaging negative impact on spiritual (and emotional) health that comes from too much focus on “good things” that are not Christ Himself. Perhaps it’s looking to preachers, worship leaders, authors, or maybe even “non-human” good things such as books, church services, social justice programs, theology, music, morality, or podcasts.

It’s not that these deserve zero attention, but I believe they have been the stars of our Christian show for a while now, and it’s getting really old, boring, and frustrating. At most, their role should be “supporting cast”.

It’s amazing how many people I’ve encountered over the years who only have an idea of what God is like based on that which is not God. Our earthly parents, especially our fathers, are our first representation of God for most of us, be it good or bad. Then there’s preachers, popes, church people, books or whatever. But rarely do I meet someone who has an unhealthy view of God which came from their actual seeking of God through Jesus, through Scripture, specifically the gospel accounts. Whenever people express their unhealthy views of God, I gently direct them to Jesus Himself, and ask them, “What do you think of Him? All other distractions aside–church people, tragedies, etc. Who is He really?” Generally, there’s silence, some thought or confusion, and then, “I’ve not really thought about that.”

And that is understandable. Few have been challenged with that direct question. But that is the most important question:

“Who do you say that I am?”

That was Jesus’ question on earth two millennia ago, and it is His question to you right now.

“Who do you say that I am?”

At some point, we must all face this question with no help from anyone else.

Please know that I am in no way saying we cannot or do not encounter Christ through other people or countless material sources. I’m just reminding us to ask ourselves, “What am I really seeking?”

Or better,

Who am I really seeking?”

Get Your Assiduity In Gear!

Acts 2:42

They all gave full attention to the teaching of the apostles and to the common life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Assiduity. This is an old word I recently discovered and have fallen in love with.

  • Constant or close attention to what one is doing
  • Archaic–constant attentions to someone
  • The quality or state of being
  • Persistent personal attention
  • Constant or close application or effort; diligence; industry
  • Devoted or solicitous attentions
  • Application, concentration, intentness, constancy, continuity, perseverance

Oh how we need assiduity in our prayer life and Scripture meditation! How many of us have a dedicated time daily, or even weekly, for nothing but God–to focus on nothing but God alone so that we may be able to actually absorb His life? And this through His Scripture, and in prayer.

To just sit with a passage of Scripture with nothing on our mind but listening to the Holy Spirit through it, and what she might want to teach and say to us right now. We often “use” Scripture to bolster what we already know or think (or think we know) or to justify what we’re already doing.

I love the idea of constancy, consistency, and persistence that this word encompasses alongside the close attention and focus.

What do you keep coming back to over and over?

Whatever it is, intentional or not, it is shaping you, I promise.

I wonder what would happen if people who identified themselves as Christians kept coming back to times of prayer, everyday, over and over again.

What if we really took (made) time to sit and pray for each other in assiduity?

To take just 15 minutes a day to do nothing but focus on God through Scripture and in prayer….

The “How” of Divine Mutuality~Communication

“[P]rayer is not a matter of words or forms but an opening of consciousness to the life of the Spirit flowing in the present moment of God, the making of our mind to be one with the mind of Christ: not only to pray, then, but to become prayer.”

~Laurence Freeman

I’m sure we’ve all heard at some point in our lives that communication is the key to having a healthy relationship. And this does ring true, doesn’t it? It’s difficult to comprehend being close to someone with whom you hardly speak, or with whom you don’t understand due to poor communication.

We talked about trust last time, and now we turn our attention toward communication in our “how” of Divine Mutuality, or oneness with God. Since these two ingredients, trust and communication, are key to any good relationship, it only makes sense that these would be vital to a good and healthy relationship with our Maker–God, our heavenly Father, who is quite personal, as Jesus of Nazareth has shown us.

Therefore, let me throw this out there: I don’t see how you can have any sort of vibrant relationship with God without lots and lots of prayer. Lots and lots of communication with our Father. Now this communing includes sharing everything with God–thoughts, experiences, emotions, etc. as well as our desires and requests. But it also includes dedicated times of simply being with God, hanging out, talking back and forth, enjoying one another’s company. This we don’t seem to hear much from the preachers and teachers.

How the hades do you share life with someone if you never hang out, talk, catch up, rap about life?? Sometimes I think we forget that prayer is simply talking with God. It’s not a ritual of stilted language we recite to the wall or table in front of us. It is communication with our Creator, a real, living personal being of love. Yahweh.

This is one of those things I regularly harp upon, and feel I will all my days on earth in this form. It’s that important, and it seems sadly forgotten or neglected. Could it be that we are missing out on so much more that God wants to give and do through us because we are simply not asking, or sitting with Him in holy, trusting, communing expectancy?

It’s impossible for me to comprehend how one can stay spiritually strong to any degree without dedicated time for God alone. I know that if I don’t get that regularly, I’m a pathetic, fearful mess. But when I do practice it regularly, I’m a pathetic, Spirit-filled dork. Big beautiful difference!

The “How” of Divine Mutuality~Trust

Faith And TrustHe will carry you safely through the canyons of your life

Last time we looked a little at “Divine Mutuality”, oneness with God through Jesus. Now let’s skim the surface a bit on how we go about this, of our part in this all-important union.

There are two major, non-negotiable components to any healthy relationship: Trust and Communication.

Without one or both of these, you simply do not have much, if any, relationship at all. To be one with someone, you must have these two relational components, and I think it therefore applies to our oneness with our Creator, who is personal.

Let’s look at trust  today. So much in Scripture is about trusting God no matter what. Faith, trust, belief….pisteuo. Pisteuo is the Greek word we translate in English as “believe.” But that can, and has, lost a little punch over the years with us. I love the way St John uses pisteuo almost every time in his gospel account~pisteuein eis~this is literally “believed into”, as in John 2:11: His disciples believed into Him. We don’t really say this in English, but it gives a truer feel for John’s expression. To “believe into” is to place your trust in, or entrust your life to, or a really good word–confidence–to place one’s confidence in. It goes far beyond the rather mental ascent that our English versions connote with their translations as “believe in”. A couple of letters can make a big difference.

I like how one scholar said, “The idea which this idiom conveys is that of the absolute transference of trust from oneself to another.” And of course good ole Brother Lawrence: “We have a God who is infinitely good and knows what He’s doing.”

Do you believe in a God who wants nothing but the absolute best for us (no matter how things might look), and then back up that belief with an entrusting of your entire life to His infinitely good care?

Or do we merely say we believe, and live lives of stress, worry, and anxiety?

DIVINE MUTUALITY

John 15 & 17

“Radical equality”, as we talked about last time, is not truly possible without “divine mutuality”. This is what Jesus talks about in John 15 with Vine and branch imagery–to be so very intertwined…with God.

In His prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus prays for Himself, His disciples, and for those who will become His disciples (us!), and this is all held together by unity.

But not just any unity.

The unity of Divine Mutuality.

This is unity at its deepest level because it is based in God. Jesus prays that we will be able to reach that oneness, the oneness that He has with the Father. Many preach that John 17 is advocating unity with one another, but a more careful reading reveals that Jesus is speaking of union with the Father, which yields unity with one another, if it is Christ, as He really is, whom we are truly seeking. Branches on the same Vine are inescapably unified.

This kind of cosmic, radical unity, this oneness, is as Logos and Father are one [John 1:1-18]. Again, this is not just any ol’ run of the mill unity here. Unity doesn’t really come to fruition through our striving to be unified with one another, for that gets chaotic and breaks down very quickly. As A. W. Tozer so wisely said, “Don’t you know that a hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically in tune with each other?” It is in tuning our hearts in all sincerity, honesty, humility, receptivity, and openness to the Christ, the Son of God, that we will then be unified with others who are seeking the same. The Spirit in us will recognize the Spirit in them, and we will be one, aligned with each another at the soul-level of connection…without much striving.

This is how we can disagree, and yet be in unity. I have dear Christian brothers and sisters with whom we do not see eye to eye on several issues, but we are at the same time unified because of our pursuit of oneness with God through Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s connection beyond words, because it’s better than words.