John and I were married March 12th, 2009. Less than five years later, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, something we certainly hadn’t planned for or wanted at the time. However, because of ALS, we were introduced to Inheritance of Hope and received the great gift of a Legacy Retreat. Less than two years after our retreat, though, on March 26th of 2016, John passed away.
Since his death, I have loved serving other IoH families, and at the May 2017 Legacy Retreat, I met Tom, another volunteer. He came on the first retreat in 2008 with his family, and his wife Shannon passed away shortly after. He, too, understood terminal illness, the loss of a spouse, and single parenting grieving children. He, too, had experienced a failed marriage as a result of not following Christ. He, too, had two boys with complicated pasts, and the older with behavioral struggles. And, he also lived in the Carolinas, but he lived in the wrong one. Though only a little over an hour away, he lived near the lakes of upstate South Carolina, whereas my home was in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. To say this difference was a concern would be a great understatement.
As usual, though, God had something to teach me. I knew Proverbs 3:5-6, which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” I thought I had learned to do that rather well during John’s illness, and maybe I had, but it was becoming clear that God wanted me to go deeper, and so He directed me to learn from Abraham.
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”
Abraham in this passage shows us Proverbs 3:5-6 in action.
- Trust in the Lord with all your heart: Before He was even asked, Abraham offered himself to God. When God called Him, Abraham didn’t say, “Yes, Lord?” or “What?” like we so often get from our kids, right? He simply said, “Here I am.” He presented himself to God without question or condition.
- Lean not on your own understanding: The same God that told Abraham that He was going to bring forth a nation as numerous as the stars in the sky and grains of sand wanted Abraham to kill the boy that was a key piece in that process. How does this make sense? However, Abraham didn’t tell God the “flaw” in His plan; he simply obeyed and trusted that God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice.
- In all your ways submit to Him: Submit means to yield. Abraham gave up his own plans for Isaac, and followed God’s commands, even in the smallest details. “And he himself carried the fire and the knife.”
- He will make your paths straight: God rescued Isaac, provided the ram, and blessed the world through Isaac’s offspring as He had intended to do from the very beginning.
So now that we have this example to follow, submitting is super easy, right? Well, not for me. The thought of moving to South Carolina made this clear. Absolutely nothing in me wanted to leave my home, especially to go to South Carolina. However, I knew early on that God was calling me to go, and I chose to obey, but I didn’t trust with my whole heart. I said, “Here I am, Lord…as long as you give me a running trail like I have at home,” or “as long as we find the right house,” or “as long as you lead me to a church and community support like I have now.” Basically, even though I didn’t say it, or consciously know it, I was telling God, “I’m here as long as you do it my way.” I’m learning that submission doesn’t mean to go along when you agree (aka, done my way), though, but basically to go along when you don’t; it means that you surrender your plans and hopes and follow through even when you don’t like it.
It’s easy to get stuck here and feel defeated, but there’s more to learn from Abraham in this passage. His secret to success in submission is clear: “Now I know that you fear God.” Fear of the Lord is not a monster in the closet kind of fear, but a healthy and reverent respect for God as we recognize His power, wrath, mercy, wisdom, and sovereignty and realize there is nothing better than what He plans for us, and even our best offerings are nothing but filthy rags in comparison. It means humbling ourselves before God and placing absolutely nothing before Him.
During Legacy Retreats, we have this incredible opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to help carry these families’ burdens for a short time, to show love and share faith. We long for those who are lost to understand the gospel, the good news that even though we are separated from God by our sin, that He sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay the penalty for that sin, so that we could receive abundant and eternal life by reconciling us to God. We also struggle with a desire to see families united and supporting each other, for hearts to be encouraged, and for physical healing. While those things are not wrong, I wonder if we don’t sometimes approach God with a “Here I am, as long as…” heart, rather than a heart that simply trusts and submits, even when we don’t like it. Do we really fear God enough that we are willing to “let” Him allow pain and loss to accomplish His will?
Here’s some more good news. We are not God, but He works in us and has given us His Holy Spirit to convict, guide, strengthen, and comfort us, and in His timing, He will reveal His good and perfect will. In the meantime, He gives us a weapon against the spiritual attacks that so easily lead to doubt, fear, and pride. Ephesians 6 tell us to put on the armor of God, and while the shield of faith is a great defense, our offense is the sword of the spirit, the very word of God. When submission is hard, and we forget God’s goodness, it is time to read His word and let Him remind us of who He is and how much He is worthy of not only our praise, but also our trust.