I’ll give the thesis to all this first:
When God asks us if we are willing to give something up, it does not NECESSARILY follow that God wants you to actually give that thing up. I know, I know. Let me explain . . .
As is typical of most truths God lays on my heart, this truth in the hand of immature or false believers can be very very dangerous. So I encourage anyone as they pray through this to be very critical of their own applications of this principle as it could be very self-serving. Anyway, we turn to where all things started and must start, the Word of God:
“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ 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.’ . . . 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 am I.’ 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. . . 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, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.’”
— Genesis 22:1-2, 9-12, 16-18 (emphasis added)
I really want to make this short and sweet, so here goes. Two interesting things to point out in the story: (1) though God asks Abraham to give up Isaac, he doesn’t ever have to actually “give up” Isaac in the complete temporal sense we think. (2) Though Abraham, in the natural, doesn’t actually complete the “offering” of Isaac, notice that God tells him that he didn’t withhold his son, and that Abraham has done this (in the Hebrew a completed action referring to the original command of God in v. 2). God tells Abraham he fully accomplished what God ordered him to do in the very beginning. God didn’t “change plans” or lie to Abraham. Abe did exactly as God ordered him to do and completed “offered his son there as a burnt offering.” This means in God’s eyes, “giving up” something may mean something much more meaningful than just giving up on it. Just because God asks of you’re willing to give something up, does not mean, it is his desire that we do that in the typical temporal way we usually think.
In American Christianity we suffer so much from Platonic Dualism and Gnosticism. Our first response to things is to cast off the material for the sake of some spiritual ideal. Especially charismatics, who desire so much for the spiritual realm to “break through” into the material world with great signs and wonders, who build this dichotomy between spiritual and material and put such a distance between the two. So when God asks, “will you give this up?” The first inclination people jump to is that God must be telling them to give this thing up for the sake of the spiritual ideal hidden within the question. Perhaps this may not be the case.
Oh Saint. Oh Christian. Oh Beloved. We serve not a God that commands us to not love things in this world. He most certainly calls us to not love things of this world, but those are two very different things. He does not call us to remove ourselves from all things in this world we enjoy that bring us fulfillment, joy, and pleasure; rather he calls us to redeem those things in the world to reflect the spiritual Reality He is and find our joy fully in those things as they reflect Him. This how it can be completely acceptable and worshipful to God for a pastor to enjoy, love, and cherish his people, for a parent to do the same for their child, and for a husband to do that for his wife. It is because those things are designed to reflect the spiritual in their very nature.
My point is this: If God were to ask a husband, “are you willing to give up your wife?” It would not mean in any way, shape, or form, that He were insisting that man actually do so. Many times the point of the question is merely to test where your heart is in the matter, whether you are loving this thing for its own sake, or for how it reflects God. If you have been loving it for its own sake, or have been treating it in some other inappropriate way, God’s answer in this (from what I can see Biblically) is not even most of the time to give that thing up. Rather, His answer is to call you to redeem it so he can be reflected.
So, reader, what is your Isaac? Many of us have relationships, jobs, projects, callings, plans, and dreams God may have whispered in our ear “are you willing to give this up?” Know now that God many times has instilled all these things in your heart not to take them away, but to be glorified in them. What is your thing you have been called to “offer up” but maybe not necessarily give up? If I may encourage anyone out there, let it be in this: What I see in this story with Abraham and Isaac is God’s dedication to purify our love for things he has put in our heart, not necessarily to take them away (key word: necessarily).
So, Beloved, open your eyes and realize that many of the things that God asks if you are willing to give up are the very things that he plans and intends to use to fulfill promises and blessings made since eternity past for your own life and for the blessing and joy of all those around you, after you have responded appropriately to his question, not by taking the easy route of casting off that which God has called forth now for redemption, but by fighting for the reflection of Christ in your Isaac, who was “offered up” not by being “given up”, but by being lifted up for God to show his Son in for your joy and the joy of all peoples.
p.s. – also, though God may not be calling you to actually give up in the temporal your “Isaac”, keep your eyes open for any “Rams in the thicket” God may be intending for you to sacrifice in your “Isaac’s” stead. These are things that must be sacrificed so that your “offering” of your “Isaac” can be complete and God’s blessing of it can follow. These “Rams” may be anything from insecurities, desires, lack of desires, current projects, jobs that have nothing to do with the desire God has placed in your heart, classes and majors that have nothing to do with the calling God has for you, certain ministry involvements that prevent the growth God wants in you, certain positions of leadership (or fears of being in those positions), or anything else that may be intended for the temporal altar other than your “Isaac,” which may belong purely on your spiritual altar so it can stay living and active in the temporal to bless you and those around you.
I hope you followed the metaphor enough to make sense of all that.