Recently, I was listening to a podcast, and something the speaker, Dr. Chris Green, said captured me. The point involved Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac within a larger discussion of the sacraments and how we approach the Lord’s Table.*
The kind of work God wants to do in your life is deeper than you can imagine. Think about Isaac and Ishmael. J. H. King** … preached this sermon about Isaac and Ishmael. You remember the story from Abraham. Abraham cannot have a child. Finally, Sarah convinces him to have child with Hagar, the servant girl. This boy, Ishmael, is born. And then later God miraculously gives them Isaac. If you’ve been around Pentecostal churches at all, you’ve heard this sermon about Isaac and Ishmael.
J. H. King says this, ‘Ishmael is an example of what it looks like when God takes out of our life what should never have been there. The sin that you brought into your life or that others forced into your life, when God takes that out, that is God ridding you of Ishmael.
But when God calls you to sacrifice Isaac, that’s God calling you to give up something God gave you.’
Lately, I have been very interested in scrutinizing the way we do church. As a technical director, I am “in the flow” of how we communicate the Gospel and very often, the forms of our ministry. Let’s apply the difference between these two sacrifices to how we do the work of the ministry.
And I should add that I really think this is applicable to all Christians. All of us are on assignment even if we do not work at a church. There is a ministry that God has given you. That’s what I’m focusing on.
I wonder what we have built in our churches that represents Ishmael?
These would be our best efforts to help God fulfill His promise in our ministries.
Sarah asked Abraham to get rid of Hagar after Ishmael was mocking Isaac.
But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”
Could it be that our planning has created a system that is now antagonistic towards God’s promises?
The promise cannot properly develop as long as our strategized substitute is in the way.
The sacrifice of Ishmael was distressing to Abraham. And rightly so. He had invested a great deal in Ishmael, and regardless of incorrect choices, Ishmael was his son. Think of how hard it is to end programs the church has been developing for years; programs with an enormous investment in time and money.
The way we are ministering is often:
- The best decision we could make given the variables.
- The hard choice after counsel from a close friend.
- A method that others have used successfully.
Those characteristics were certainly true in Abraham’s case. It only looks like a compromise in hindsight. One could possibly say that Ishmael was Abraham’s while Isaac was God’s. There is not room for both offspring. Be careful what you build for God.
If our activities are not consistent with the promise God has given us, we must expel them and make room for what God has revealed.
God invites us to cooperate with Him. I’m not against planning. I’m against strategizing alternatives when God doesn’t seem to be following through. I’m against substituting our work for God’s work.
After dismissing Hagar and Ishmael, in a move of extreme irony, Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. What has God given us that He could ask us to sacrifice? This is a matter of the heart.
Just because God has given us tools and blessed them–a building, a program, a ministry form (like Sunday School classes), an effective outreach idea, etc.–does not mean they are ours forever.
When it comes to following God, everything we do (and everything we have) should be on the altar.
If there is something so crucial that we cannot put it on the table for discussion, reflection and review; it needs to go on the altar of sacrifice.
I read many books about ministry, management and church leadership. This is true of most Christian leaders I know. The idea that my best-effort strategies could be blocking the development of God’s agenda is disturbing. It humbles me and makes me realize again how dependent I am on His grace and mercy.
Take a moment and consider the direction and promises that God has given you for your ministry and your work in His church.
No really. Please stop and think about it.
When you have it in your head, join me in pondering these two questions:
1. What things are you doing that represent your best efforts and strategy to help fulfill God’s promises?
God expects you to remove all barriers to His plans. Even the ones you’ve erected.
2. What has God given you along the way that has become a non-negotiable in your ministry?
God expects you to value Him above His gifts. God’s non-negotiable is that the promise He gave you belongs to Him, not you.
Don’t miss the demand and challenge of these two sacrifices.
*I was listening to a podcast from Renovatus church with guest speaker, Dr. Chris Green. The point Dr.Green is making is that when we approach the Lord’s table, we should not be concerned with whether we feel something special or not, because God is doing a work of transformation that transcends our emotions. That is, just as Abraham sacrificed Isaac (God’s gift), we must sacrifice our expectation of special feelings (also God’s gift).
Obviously, I am making an entirely different application.
Renovatus is in a series based on Jonathan Martin’s book, Prototype. I am reading it and recommend it heartily.
**Bishop J. H. King was a leader in the pentecostal movement in the early 1900s, specifically pentecostal holiness and the IPHC Church.