Call Me Ishmael

I need to sacrifice something to God, and I don’t want to.

After months of trying to sell our house, we signed the closing documents a few weeks ago. My wife and I have painstakingly pursued our hunt for a new home. For me, it’s been more of a frantic, obsessive, compulsive quest. We’ve exhaustively examined hundreds of homes, but only one fit our unique criteria for layout and land-use.

Except this house is forty minutes from our community and we wanted a house a mere ten.

That dreamhouse absorbs my mind. I think about it at night. I imagine daily life with family or hosting retreats on hearing God. And I talk about it too much. (Just ask my friends.)

In my obsession with this aspiration, I begin to doubt God’s goodness (or his power), and I think ill-thoughts of my wife (Why can’t she love this dreamhouse as I do?).

I think God wants me to sacrifice something. Because this preoccupation is leading me into evil.

Taking Matters into Our Own Hands

Scripture is filled with people trying to help God do his job:

  • Abraham and Sarah birth Ishmael because God wasn’t moving fast enough. And there has been bloodshed ever since between the generations of those two sons.
  • Moses kills an Egyptian (murder!) when he spots an injustice. And he spends the next forty years in the wilderness.
  • When the priest Samuel is late to a worship service, King Saul performs the service himself. And he loses his kingdom.

Our compulsion to do great things for God creates obstacles to God doing great things for us.

Our desires themselves may not be bad; but compulsions lead to evil deeds of our own at the expense of looking to the deeds of God. (Just ask the thousands of children who turn against Christianity because their parents try too hard to raise perfect kids.)

It Ain’t Easy

To sacrifice begins with a one-time decision; then we must re-make it over and over again. My decision keeps haunting me. I sobbed when I told my wife I need to hold a funeral for that dream. But even in my weeping, I secretly wondered, “What if my sorrow changes her mind!

God save me from myself. (Especially save my wife from my maneuverings!)

Yesterday my daily-psalm reading led me to, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). In a heartbeat, I thought, “If I delight myself in God, he will give me that dreamhouse.”

It’s impossible to delight in God in order to get what we really want, because what we “really want” is the true delight of our heart. That house is my real delight. I’m using God as an means.

This morning I read about Abraham sacrificing Isaac and God giving Isaac back. I thought, “Maybe if I surrender this house to God, then he’ll ….”

Need I elaborate?

Sacrifice

God asked Abraham to make two sacrifices, first the “child of the flesh” Ishmael, and finally the “child of the promise” Isaac. I don’t know which my dreamhouse is: of the flesh or of the promise. But only one son came back to Abraham. Abraham never again saw the other.

I think God is calling me to sacrifice, not my dream but to sacrifice my right to myself, to hold a funeral for all the ways I know what I need. Because I don’t know. My challenge is not to surrender a home, idea, or a hope; but to lay down my “rights” on the altar and say, “Your will be done.”

Call me Ishmael. Or call me Isaac. (Just don’t call me obsessive Captain Ahab.)

Sam

P. S. Despite our obsessive desires, our single greatest need is an intimate relationship with God; and relationship means communication. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.

After all, what did God save us for? To know him personally.

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What do YOU think?

29 thoughts on “Call Me Ishmael

  1. My sister-in-law Marsha just emailed me, reminding me of the beginning of Romans 12:

    1 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. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

    It’s perfect. Thank you Marsha.

    Sam

  2. “I think God is calling me to sacrifice, not my dream but to sacrifice my right to myself, to hold a funeral for all the ways I know what I need. Because I don’t know. My challenge is not to surrender a home, idea, or a hope; but to lay down my “rights” on the altar and say, “Your will be done.””

    Major Changes coming in the ministry because I too have had too come to terms with this truth recently.

    As a friend pointed out, theologically I understand the gospel, and can teach it. Yet actually realizing it and connecting it to my heart, there has been a huge disconnect.

    Good post Hosea – and I shall forevermore be known as Ahab.

    Blessing My Friend

    • Well, from one obsessive Captain Ahab to another,

      It’s always a journey, isn’t it! We move from understanding in our heads to understanding in our hearts. Twelve inches in the body, and a lifetime journey in reality.

      Thanks

  3. Thanks for your message Sam. As always, you’re spot on.

    As a side, Ps 37:4 has recently taken an funny ironic tone for me. In the past, I’ve read it as “If I really truly seek God, He will give me the [insert personal desire] I want. Recently, it seems like God’s humor is showing. Now I read it as “If I really truly learn to only want God, He will give me what I want….Himself.” (Jeremiah 29:13, in other words).

    He desperately, jealously wants to *be* with us and He wants us to value just *being* with Him. As for me, unfortunately, I value a whole bunch of other worldly stuff. We are His works in progress, brother!

    Thanks again!

  4. Just not up to us to make it happen, is it? We wait for God to put the vision together or we mess it up. 😂😂😂 May as well laugh at ourselves, while we still our hearts before him. 😀

    • Hi Karen,

      I think God is speaking to me about “actively” waiting on him. While it IS passive in one sense, it isn’t resignation (which is our normal hopeless response). Waiting on him means an active Hope that really believes he is good, he is powerful, and he has our best interests in mind.

      But saying is easier than doing 🙂

      Sam

      • Yes, stilling our hearts means resting in his goodness, his timing, and doing what he is asking us to do, not what we compulsively want to do. Blessings on your process of actively waiting and hoping. I look forward to hearing of his solutions.

  5. Thanks Sam, feeling some similar issues in myself. This is a killer quote: “I think God is calling me to sacrifice, not my dream but to sacrifice my right to myself, to hold a funeral for all the ways I know what I need.” Think it relates to me because God’s been teaching me that I can’t truly be me until I realize that God can reveal who I am through bringing me into relationships where I may have to sacrifice what I think “being me” really means…how’s that for a trippy thought!

  6. Thank you, Sam for sharing your honest struggle with us! You are speaking the secrets of each maneuvering heart!! God help us!

  7. I can so relate – not to your particular circumstances, but over and over again in our journey with the Lord we are brought back to this very point – that of complete surrender of our will in favour of his. It seems that we are often ignorant of our own willfulness and self-sufficiency until we come to the very realization you reached – that a sacrifice is required. He will really only settle for our absolute surrender and our absolute obedience. Thank you for your transparency. It always helps to know others have been brought to this same point. Same God – same requirements.

    • “It seems that we are often ignorant of our own willfulness and self-sufficiency until we come to the very realization you reached – that a sacrifice is required. He will really only settle for our absolute surrender and our absolute obedience.”

      Well said. Depending on my circumstances, I’m painfully aware or blissfully ignorant of my own willfulness and self-sufficiency. The wake-up call usually happens after what I’ve done goes up in flames. I had the best of Christian intentions (in my feeble mind), but I was working independently of God outside His will for my life at the moment.

      Lesson learned. Thank God for mercy, grace and forgiveness.

  8. Thank you Sam,
    Just what I need …
    Been praying, beging and pleading for help …. …. and you are right I need to give all to him.
    Jim

    • Hi Jim,

      I want to give it all to him, and then I keep taking it away.

      I don’t think the first sin was eating the apple (or whatever it was); the first sin was doubting the goodness of God. And I keep committing that sin over and over again.

      But God, in his goodness, keeps drawing us back to him.

  9. Taking matters into our own hands. We do that when we’ve run out of patience waiting for God to act. Recently while reading and praying I made a connection between trust and patience. As in, it’s impossible for me to have patience, to be patient if I don’t trust God. Proverbs 3:5 again and again, I must trust in the LORD with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. Don’t lean on my own understanding. Acknowledge him, yield to him. Wait on him. Trust him.

    Sounds simple, never easy.

    • Hi Robin,

      As I read your thoughts (which are just what I need!), I realized: Jesus alone really leaned into God and trusted in him.

      And then Jesus gives us his reward and takes our punishment. He really is worthy of our worship.

      Sam

  10. Timely. That first line is true for me too. I need to sacrifice something to God and I don’t want to. But I’ve known for a while and I’ve also known that I will. There is no choice. Not really. To turn away from Him is unthinkable but sometimes what He asks is so hard! But truthfully, all I have to do it give in to Him. To love Him first and He even changes my desires.

    • Hi Karen,

      I love your line, “To turn away from Him is unthinkable but sometimes what He asks is so hard! But truthfully, all I have to do it give in to Him.”

      Sometimes we make it more difficult that it really is.

      Thanks for your honesty.

      Sam

  11. I sure do appreciate this post Sam. I can relate. (As my wife can likely relate to yours as well!) Keep writing and sharing with all of us what Love births from the pangs…