From the Pastor’s Desk
LAY IT DOWN
¶ After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
A little over a month ago my world nearly collapsed. I was sitting in the doctor’s surgery hearing him explain to me my immediate peril. I had just been diagnosed with a degenerative spine that could suffer permanent damage if I strained it too much. Not only was tennis out of the question, I was warned that even loading a dish-washer could be irreparably debilitating. I had one more tennis coaching commitment to fulfil which I did quite gingerly and left the court that afternoon thinking that this was my last time hitting a tennis ball on a tennis court. For something that had been a huge part of my life, it was a rather flat moment for me.
So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
From about the age of 11, tennis was my life. Even though I had been a regular church goer all my life I became a follower of Christ at the age of 15. It wasn’t long before I was convicted by the Holy Spirit to lay tennis down on the altar of surrender to God. Initially I didn’t. I played on, travelling around Victoria to the various tournaments on the circuit. But then strange things began to happen on the tennis court as I increasingly sensed God’s call on my life to be a preacher and similarly felt that tennis was an idol in my life. This culminated for me when playing in the Victorian Junior Open. Pat Cash was playing on a court behind me. My new Fischer racquet cracked in my hand mid-game. Fortunately, I had a second racquet. But within moments of this I felt a strange burning in my abdomen followed by sharp pain. I then began coughing blood. This was not a good tournament for me.
¶ “You shall have no other gods before me.”
That was my last elite tournament. I laid tennis down on the altar of full surrender to God.
Sixteen years later we arrived in Tasmania. That was nearly 21 years ago. It would be two years before I walked onto a tennis court after sensing God’s approval. But this time it wasn’t to play but to volunteer to coach children in the community. I have since coached hundreds of children. Some went on to represent Tasmania interstate. And a few weeks I once again laid this aspect of my life down in worshipful surrender of the God Who Knows Best.
Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”
Letting go of things has a certain grieving associated with it.
When God told Abraham to lay down his only son Isaac on the altar of full surrender, he must have experienced at least a small measure of grieving. For some its a lifestyle change where they too must lay down something they love but which the Holy Spirit considers to be an idol. Sport, alcohol, computer games, types of food or an inappropriate relationship, can all be or become idols in our lives. Whatever our sacrifices are, once we lay them down, we can never go back to them. Altar fires make going back to past sources of comfort (idols) impossible. Whatever or whoever you turn to for comfort in times of discomfort reveals what or who you really worship. Our worship reveals our God.
When you lay something down on the altar of surrender to God, you cannot go back to it.
After I left the doctor’s surgery and then finishing up my tennis commitments, I began to feel even more fragile. I was aware that my deteriorated spine could give way any moment and I could collapse in agony and find myself embarrassed to be invalid again. Everything I do now takes a little more time. I cannot sit for as long as I used to. I don’t sleep so well anymore. Yet my worship of God has deepened.
¶ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
One of the greatest blessings in my life has become an even greater blessing throughout this episode. I love my church congregation. I love the way they embrace visitors, new attenders and our new members. I love how they love each other. And I love how they have loved me as their pastor and friend. Several men in my church, starting with Ronny Darby, asked to lay hands on me and pray for my healing. After four weeks of such prayers, I was sent to have an MRI before seeing the Specialist.
Whenever we let go of something in obedience to God, God always fills our lives with something far better!
Throughout this episode of my life I have wondered what God was doing. I have never at any stage though doubted His goodness. In fact, apart from developing a greater compassion for people with chronic pain, several things have become clearer to me. Firstly, our physical well-being has a bearing on our spiritual well-being. Secondly, in times of physical inconvenience it is often required to be even more intentional about certain spiritual disciplines including Scripture reading, prayer, church attendance and personal witnessing. Thirdly, life’s circumstances sometimes, if not often, require of us that we lay down certain pleasures and loves. Abraham discovered this.
And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
What we lay down reveals what we worship. Worship is adoration, devotion, surrender. It engages our heart, our mind, our effort. Abraham had longed for a son. God blessed him with Isaac. But it seems that Isaac might have been more to Abraham than just his son. God wanted to expose Abraham’s heart and called upon him to lay down his son on the altar of worship of God. Abraham did – and God intervened just in time to ensure Isaac was spared. Abraham was the beneficiary though. By submitting to God, even though he didn’t understand why, Abraham was obedient to God (obedience is the evidence of true God-worship). His willingness to sacrifice what he loved in devotion to God demonstrated his trust in God (the ignition of true worship). Because he worshiped God he received the blessing of God.
¶ When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
My visit to Spinal Specialist was curious. He confirmed that my spine was degenerated. But, he said, much of what the CT scan had revealed was no longer evident in the MRI. I regard this as a documented answer to prayer. He also said that my spine will only get worse, but that the best thing I could do in the meantime was to build up my core strength to better support my spine. This would not only enable me to get back on a tennis court, getting back on a tennis court will actually help to strengthen the muscles which support my spine. While I may never be able to play competitively again, I can use whatever skills I have on a tennis court to help young children in our community to be active and hopefully be a light for the One who alone is worthy of worship.
My love for God has meant that I have been willing to lay down whatever was – or could be – an idol in my life. I have never lacked, never suffered loss, never been worse off, when I have obeyed God and laid down anything the Holy Spirit has shed His convicting light on. It is my hope that we can be the type of Christ-followers who worship God in Spirit and in truth and find our comfort in Him in our times of loneliness, distress, pain, or inconvenience so that the world can clearly see the difference that Christ makes in a person’s life.
¶ And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies