ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THOSE WHO GIVE IT
The Rev. Ralph McCune
5. “Remembering It’s Just a Matter of Trust”
There simply cannot be any greater life ordeal than Abraham’s recorded in Genesis 22; through this ordeal it seemed that everything Abraham had hoped for and worked for was about to end--but he was instructed to do it:
“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘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 of which I will tell you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey . . . and went to the place of which God had told him” (Gen. 22:1-3, NASB).
Like all Christian leaders I too have had enormous moments of discouragement in ministry. None was greater than when many years ago someone for selfish reasons sought to damage and ruin a ministry into which I had poured my life. The emotional pain was enormous. I had invested so much of my life into the lives of hundreds of high school and college young people, and now a new regional director of the non-denominational ministry to which I belonged told me that he wanted to establish his own team. In a city-wide ministry that I started, my services were no longer needed. The local boards who, for years, had been so faithful in their financial support were also stunned when they learned that I was to be removed.
But that experience could not come close to what Abraham must have gone through. Isaac was his only son. This was the son he loved. And now God was commanding him to lay this precious boy on an altar, plunge a knife into his chest, and burn his limp, dead body on a pile of rocks on a distant mountain. Was that to be the end of God’s program for Abraham?
Scripture does not tell us anything about Abraham’s emotional reaction to this word from God. We only know that he was faithful. But we would be naive if we imagined that Abraham was immune to the discouragement or the stress that we sometimes must go through in the exercise of our service to God.
The practical question is this: How did Abraham handle this staggering emotional moment? How was he able to submit and pass through this incredible test that God placed on him? After all, it would seem that Abraham as a parent would have been quick to tell God that this was not right, that it was not fair. He no doubt could have told God that this action violated everything he had come to know about God, and jeopardized the future of the promise. And yet in spite of his own personal grief, he took his son Isaac to the land of Moriah to do what God had instructed.
How did Abraham find the strength to meet the challenge? It was just a matter of trust. That is what the writer of the Book of Hebrews says:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.’ He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type” (Heb. 11:17-19).
In other words, Abraham, in what must have been a severely painful moment, never lost sight of God’s promise that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. And this seed would go from Abraham through Isaac. Abraham could obey God because he knew that God would bring Isaac back from the dead. He knew that God would keep His Word.
Trusting God to keep His Word is one of the most difficult lessons to learn, not only as believers, but as ministers who strive to be faithful laborers in God’s Vineyard. The best encouragement for any of us who serve as Christian leaders is to be reminded that God keeps His promises. We should remember that it is just a matter of trust. Individual setbacks and discouragements, as painful as they may be at the time, do not nullify God’s call and plan for our part in His work.
For instance, any leader should know that God still tests His children. These testings are designed to build spiritual character into their lives. They are a part of a process called sanctification, a divine plan initiated to make us the people that God has destined us to be. We may not like the inconvenience and grief of the ordeal, but the experience is directed to us with our best interests in mind. That is why James says: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of you faith produces endurance” (James 1:2).
We should learn a great lesson from Abraham. Encouragement does come when we trust God’s promises. Unfortunately, however, when difficulties make their presence known in our lives, we may be tempted to focus all our energy on the problem, and not on the truth that God is doing a significant work of construction in our lives through it. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any pain. But it does mean that we can have the assurance that He is working out a marvelous plan in our lives.