The theme is that we all desire to manage our lives. We know what we want, and in many cases we believe we know how to pursue what we want. So we set out to achieve our goals and get what we want.
At the same time we also know that God is in control and we readily admit that we need to follow Him and do what is right. God has made abundantly clear who we are and how we are to live. All of Scripture is given to us to tell us the truth we are to believe and what we are to do. We often find a dilemma when we focus on both obedience to God’s revealed will and managing our lives to satisfy our desires. Abraham found himself in this place when God told him that He would bring Abraham’s descendants through Isaac, but also told him to offer Isaac on Mt. Zion. If Abraham obeyed God, Isaac would die. If Abraham did not obey Isaac, he would usurp control and lose his integrity before God.
This was not the first time Abraham was in a place to obey or to protect his own interests at the cost of disobedience. He protected himself in Pharaoh’s palace by giving Sarah to Pharaoh as wife. He also did this with Abimelech. Abraham decided he had to take care of himself or die because these kings would take Sarah as wife even if it meant Abraham had to die. In these cases Abraham managed his circumstances and refused to obey God and trust Him for the outcome. In both cases God protected Abraham, Sarah, and the kings.
Abraham learned that he could trust God and obey by the time God commanded him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham did what I believe we need to do. He lived with obedience and integrity and did not try to control the outcome of his obedience. In Hebrews 11:17-19 we read that Abraham offered Isaac because he believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead and that He would raise up offspring through Isaac, no matter what else happened. God had taught Abraham to live with integrity and faith instead of focusing on managing his life himself.
We get ourselves into serious trouble when we decide to manage our lives instead of focusing on following God’s calling. The husband who tries to win his wife back by proving to her that he has changed may seem like a troubled man now doing a good thing. The daughter who wants to earn her father’s approval by changing and becoming compliant and obedient may sound wonderful to those struggling with a rebellious child. There are so many different situations where we see the obedience and growth we have prayed for and rejoice. However….
We need to think seriously about the outcome we are looking for. The husband who is about to lose his wife because of his sin patterns should long for change and a restored marriage. But that is not an ultimate goal. It is a secondary goal. The parents of a rebellious child should pray and seek their child’s repentance and obedience. These are good, secondary goals. The ultimate goal is God’s glory and building His kingdom.
We can easily tell what our ultimate goal is. If our ultimate goal is to restore our marriage, when our efforts appear to be fruitless we will stop. The husband who is repenting and changing in order to win his wife back will constantly gauge whether or not his efforts are bearing fruit. When his wife responds positively to his change, he will redouble his efforts and change all the more. When she rebuffs his efforts and remains distant, he will feel the urge to give up. If, on the other hand, his goal is to be the husband Jesus calls him to be when his wife rebuffs him, he will stand firm in his work of change. His wife’s response matters, but it does not rule him. He is not changing in order to get her back. He is changing because he knows Jesus is calling him to change. That call stands firm. God does not promise that our obedience will result in getting what we want. Our obedience accomplishes something much bigger-God’s glory, God’s pleasure, and building God’s kingdom. It may also lead to a restored marriage or an obedient child. We can rejoice in all that God does through our obedience, but we must keep in focus that the ultimate goals of our growth are God’s glory and building His kingdom.