I was a competitive basketball player in high school. I started on varsity at a 5A school and I played on a club team that traveled throughout the nation – basketball was my life. I LOVED the sport, everything about it. I loved the competition, the adrenaline that rushed through your body when you first walk onto the court seconds before the tip-off, the team camaraderie that develops when you face opponents with a united front. The thought of my playing days brings back so many great memories, but don’t get me wrong – it was HARD work.
My days were filled with workouts, shooting plans, strength training. I would get out of school at 2:30pm and stay in the gym until 9pm many nights. I had to shoot 300 three-pointers a day, run a couple miles, lift weights to keep my strength up. My diet was adjusted, I fought through sprained ankles, aches, bruises and sore muscles just to stay on top of the game. But even through all of this grueling, hard work – it was WORTH IT. Every last second of it. I LOVED the sport, and I would forget about the tired eyes and sore muscles the second I put on my jersey for game day.
I was reminded of my basketball days as I was reading the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). It’s a familiar story if you grew up in church. I encourage you to read the full story in Genesis 22:1-19, but if you are short on time, here’s the abbreviated version: Abraham and Sarah waited many years to have a child when God finally gave them Isaac when they were very old, past child-bearing years. Then God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as an offering – to kill his son. So Abraham went on a three day journey to take Isaac to the mount where he was told to sacrifice his own son. As he raised his hand to strike Isaac with a knife, God called out to Abraham and ordered him to stop. God then provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead, commending Abraham for not withholding his only son from the Lord.
This is the ultimate test of faith. I do not have children, but I cannot imagine something any more difficult than having to KILL your own child (by the way, this is the only moment in the Bible that God specifically told a person to commit child sacrifice). Abraham demonstrated faith that I cannot comprehend. God told Abraham early in his life that the whole nations would be blessed by his offspring. God said it, and Abraham believed it. He put his “yes” on the table. Hebrews 11:17-19 (NIV) explains the situation further:
“17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”
Abraham loved God so much that he was willing to sacrifice his only son that he faithfully waited YEARS to have. When I played basketball, I loved it so much that I was willing to sacrifice time with friends, sleep, junk food, relaxation – everything that a normal high-school kid loves. But I was okay with that because I loved basketball MORE. Here’s what I realized: The extent to which you love something or someone is the extent to which you are willing to sacrifice.
What am I willing to sacrifice for GOD? More importantly, what am I UNWILLING to sacrifice for God?
We are willing to sacrifice so much for our worldly desires, yet often people are unwilling to sacrifice an extra hour of sleep on Sunday mornings to get to church. I want to love God so much that I am willing to do ANYTHING He asks of me. I want to have enough faith that I know He will provide, and enough love to say “yes” to any task He tells me to do.
I believe that God has asked every single one of us to slay something at the alter for Him. He has asked us to take a leap of faith in some shape or form to grow closer to Him. For some, it may be sharing your faith with someone, for others, it might be moving away from your family.
My husband told me a story the other day about a time he was talking to a girl in his Sunday-school class. She asked him, “Mike, in the story of Abraham and Isaac, God tested Abraham.” “Yes,” Mike replied. “But I thought we weren’t supposed to test people we love?”
She’s right – we aren’t supposed to test those that we love. However, we have to remember that God is all-knowing. God doesn’t test us for HIS benefit; He tests us for OUR benefit. He knew Abraham’s response would be to obey before He even asked. God was testing Abraham for Abraham’s sake. Not His own. God tests us so that our faith will grow stronger in Him, so that when bigger trials come, we will be ready. When we say “yes” to the smaller things and we see God come through, it makes it easier to say “yes” to the bigger things.
I don’t know about you, but God has a tendency of asking me to do the things He knows I’m unwilling to do. It’s during those times of struggle that I grow the most in my faith. It’s during those times that my love for Him grows deeper than before. And it’s during those struggles that I am prepared for the next game day when I will face tougher competition.