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The Price of Spiritual Passion

Today, as we look at the price that must be paid in the pursuit of spiritual passion, there are four principles I want us to grab and absorb. The first Principle today is this:

God will test our hunger for Him, by what we are willing to sacrifice.

You see loved ones, it’s one thing to say you are hungry for God…it is quite another to be willing to demonstrate it through sacrifice. And the only way to discover our willingness to sacrifice is by a test.  So if you are pursuing a deep and meaningful relationship with God, you will be tested. Why? The reason is simply this: it must be demonstrated clearly that the passion of our lives is for God and not merely what God can provide.

The text that demonstrates this powerfully is the account of Abraham and Isaac. So please open your Bibles please to Genesis 22.

GENISES 22:1a  Now that’s a phrase that when you are studying the Bible, should cause you to stop and ask a question – what things?  Well this episode in Abraham’s life comes after a period of blessing: 21:1-2  IOWs, Abraham is having a wonderful time, things could not be better when all of a sudden chapter 22 shows up.  Now, isn’t it amazing how God always seems to give a test at the wrong time?  I’m almost scared to have a good day, know what I mean?

22:1-2 You talk about a major exam.  God says, “Go to Mt. Moriah, just as you have done before, but this time, I want you to sacrifice your son…your only son…and let Me make it clear Abraham…it’s the one whom you love.” Now, many of us wouldn’t mind God testing us, as long as the test didn’t include a one-of-a-kind request. IOWs, “God, test me over my left-overs.”  Is anybody listening?  In other words, test me over stuff I’m not using anyway.  That’s why in the area of giving God says, “Return to Me the first 10% not what you have left over.

So God asks Abraham to give Him the most precious thing in his life. Why—because only when we are tested in an area of affection do we see who we really love. And so the question of this series, the one you’ve heard before and will hear again: Which do you love more? God or His gifts?

God wants to know loved ones, are we going to put Him first. But doesn’t God know already? Of course God knows what you’re going to do, but you don’t. That’s why Jesus said this in LUKE 14:26 (LB) (sermon notes).  In other words, everything else must be second.

Abraham was asked to sacrifice something very precious in his life.  So let me ask you, what is the Isaac in your life?  Let me give you a definition: an Isaac is that which you count precious, because it involves your affections.  Perhaps it’s a relationship that is clearly not what God would have you be involved in…perhaps it’s a situation God would not have us in, perhaps it’s a thing we have that God wants us to let go of, I don’t know what the Isaac is in your life, but we will be tested.

But here’s the good news… Whenever God test you regarding your Isaac, it means God is about to move you to a greater level of responsibility in the kingdom.

Let me say it again, whenever God brings you to this kind of test that is going to require of you all the spiritual reserve you have, it’s because God is ready to move you to a greater level of responsibility and relationship in the Kingdom.

There’s a second principle that comes out of this passage: 

In testing our Hunger, God is trying our faith.

God says, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, and offer him as a burnt offering.”  Now the problem with that is, it just doesn’t make sense.  Why – because God has promised the establishment of a nation with descendents through Isaac too numerous to count.  So how is this promise going to be fulfilled if Isaac becomes the sacrifice? 

Sometimes the tests of God just don’t make sense. LIKE…Why would God give me this job and now everything is falling apart?  Why would God lead me to this place, and now I can’t even make ends meet?  Why would God bring this person in my life and then take them away?  Because it’s a test.  And the question is always the same:  Do you love God more, than anything else?

And indeed, when we are in a test we may not be able to figure out what in the world God is doing.  And He may not answer us even if we ask, because what God is trying…is our faith. So how does Abraham do?

V3a   I don’t know about you, but I would have been saying, “Woe is me.  How could God ask this, how could God demand this?  I am depressed.”  Not Abraham, when Abraham was tested, Abraham was quick to respond.  IOWs, he does not understand God’s word at this point, but neither does he argue with it.  There was an immediate response.

Now, let me explain something, when God has us in this kind of test that we can’t understand, He may also put us in a place where we can’t even explain it to anybody else.  Anybody ever been in a situation like that?  You don’t even know how to explain the place in which you find yourself, so that you could ask for help…even if help were available!  In fact, to try and explain it…would have made you look like more of a fool. 

V5: Did you catch that?  Abraham said, “We will worship” (that meant killing his son) and then, “WE will return” (that meant coming back with the son he just killed.)  Now that’s a statement of faith.

IOWs, Abraham said, “God told me that He was going to make of my son a great nation, but God also told me to sacrifice my son – now that’s a contradiction, you can’t make a great nation out of a dead man – so, I don’t know what’s going to happen up there.  All I know is, I’m going to church like God told me and I’m going to let God worry about it.  All I know is… we will be back.” 

In fact, even Isaac has a question:  V7  “Daddy, every other time we’ve come up here we’ve had the stuff for the sacrifice: the wood for the fire and the rope and the lamb, today I see everything but the lamb, and I don’t understand, daddy.”

Now, Abraham could have said, “You it, boy.”  I would have said that.  But look at Abraham’s response: V8 That is, God knows best how to take care of Himself.  In other words, “I’m putting this one on God,” Abraham said, “Because this one is beyond me.”

In fact, some of the stuff you face goes beyond counseling.  Some of it goes beyond talking to our friends.  Some of it goes beyond reading books or   going to conferences and seminars, because some of this stuff is what God is doing uniquely with you.  And so God is going to have to be your sole Provider.

It’s interesting, Hebrews 11, give us a little more information about this story. Now how could this be? Well recall if you will, after the Resurrection, it says in Luke 24:44, Jesus taught His disciples and open their minds to the Scriptures. I believe Hebrews 11 is one of the results of this moment, because verses 17 to 19 give us insight as to what Abraham was thinking: VV 17-19 (MSG)(sermon notes) Now that helps us understand what Abraham meant when he said, “The boy and I will return.”  Abraham thought he had a resurrection on his hands.

His thinking was probably something like this, “Surely God is going to change His mind before I get up there, but in case He makes me do this weird thing, God is able to raise Isaac from the dead.”  In other words, Abraham believed in the power of God!

Now let me tell you something, if God asks of you something strange, and you are sure it’s from God, understand, there is an answer out there somewhere.  Have you ever been there?  Have you ever taken a test and come across a question and said, “What?  Where did the teacher get this one?  We didn’t cover this material.”  And later you go up to the teacher and challenge her and she gives you the answer, and you say, “Oh, I guess I did know that.” The same is true of God…

God never gives tests for which there is no an answer, but He does give tests where you sure enough do not have the answer in advance, and you have to simply believe that God is able.  Abraham believed God is able.

Okay, here’s principle 3…if you miss everything else, don’t miss this one:  God will address our spiritual hunger only in the context of sacrificial worship.

Look at V9a...“an altar”…an altar is a place of sacrificial worship, V9b.

Listen to me…is there something God wants you to put on the altar?  In the Bible anybody who did not bring a sacrifice to the altar, was not considered to be worshipping, even if they were right in front of the altar.  In other words, you aren’t worshipping just because you show up.

What is more…if like Abraham, you believe God is your only answer, worship will have your highest priority, and you will worship even though you don’t understand what’s happening to you. IOWs, you will worship even though you can’t figure it out, and you will take it all the way: V10

Now can you imagine what’s in his mind, “Okay, God, I obeyed You.  I got up…got up early. And now I’ve walked up here, where are you God?  You were supposed to come before now, because I know you don’t mean kill him, just are you willing to kill him…” and heaven is silent. Why – because the command was not “wake up”…the command was not “Walk up the hill”… the command was “slay him.”  Go all the way.  And it was all in the context of worship.  And it was not until it was in the context of worship that it hurt, because remember, he loved his son. So we are to worship even when it hurts. That ought to sting a little. I mean there are some folk won’t even worship when it rains.

So if you’re hurting today, because God has you in a test, that’s the time to come the altar. Why—because you ought not be happy every time you come to church.  You ought not be happy every time you pray – You ought not be happy every time you praise…because sometimes you have to worship in pain.  Sometimes you have to drag yourself to the altar because of the test you’re facing.  But it’s okay, because spiritually impassioned worship involves sacrifice.

VV 11-12    Now there’s a little problem here I can’t just gloss over.  I hope we all agree, God knows everything actual and potential.  That is, God knows what was…what is…and also will be, and so, God also knows what could have been. 

So God, since You are omniscient and know everything, why do I have to go through this?” Come on now, somebody here connects with this.  Come on!  There’s got to be somebody here whose gotten ticked off with God.  You may have been scared to tell Him, but you felt it!  Don’t hand me that stuff.

I’m ticked off with you, God.  You already know what I’m going to do, You know I’m going to get up and go, You know I’m going to pick up the knife, so why take me through all of this!!!”

But this moment is much deeper, because it says “NOW I know,” as if the knowledge just came to God.  I mean, if God doesn’t already know, how can God be omniscient?  So there’s some theology in this verse.  So hang with me for a moment because we have to answer a question here.

Why does God send us through experiences, where His omniscience, already knows the outcome?  Now I hesitated sharing this because the last time I did, it freaked some people out, but here it goes:

God sends us through test even though He already knows, for two reasons.

#1 Those tests reveal to us where we stand.  That is, those tests let us know if we love God as much as we said so in church last week. But then comes the one that freaks…

#2 Although God knows everything factually, God does not know all things experientially, until He experiences them. In other words, there is no new information you could ever give God. God knows it all, BUT God has also determined to experience things in the same manner as His creatures.

Now don’t get nervous, like a computer God knows all things factual.  God has and knows every piece of data in the universe.  There is nothing that God needs to discover, factually, but there are things God desires to experience.

For example God could have crushed and destroyed Satan from heaven.  But because it was a man who failed the test of the garden, God became a man to experience things as a human being and bring about satan’s defeat that way. In fact, this is basis for HEBREWS 4:14-16: (sermon notes). In other words, by experience, God in the person of His Son, faced all things but without sin…and because of that, He can intercede for us not only on a factual level, but also on an experiential level.

God knows everything, but God not only wants to know, God wants to feel, God wants to enter into the experience.  For example God loves the praises of His people.  Now, does God need the praises of His people?  No, He was doing just fine before we got here.

In fact, if we don’t praise God, God will praise Himself…and when God praises Himself that is perfect praise.  The reason why God wants us to praise Him, is because God enjoys it. IOWs, God loves the experience of being first, not just the vocabulary of being told He is first.  God loves it so much that He puts us in scenarios so we can make God first, so He can get that feeling of being first, while at the same time letting us know whether or not He really is first in our life.  “Now I Know,” says God.

IOWs, God wants to experience you…God doesn’t just want facts…God wants the experience of those facts.  That’s why He gives us the Holy Spirit.  In fact, one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to take the facts of the Bible and turn them into the experience of your life.  That’s what the Holy Spirit does, our relationship with God’s Word is not suppose to be based on facts alone.

One last principle: God will reward your passion for Him in a way that is greater than your sacrifice.

Now according to Hebrews 11, Abraham thought God was going to raise Isaac from the dead, but he was wrong.  You see, Abraham was expecting a resurrection, but instead, got an intervention. That is, Abraham was looking over here and God came over there.  IOWs, if you are needing a breakthrough in a situation you are facing, I don’t know how it’s going to come, all I know is, if you enter into sacrificial worship and you come into God’s presence and give Him the experience of your passion, and the experience of your love, what God does in response will be greater than what you think you gave up.  Because the text goes on: V 13a 

Now, how long had that ram been in the thicket?  I don’t know how it happened but God had the ram right there at the moment of need. To put it another way, when God gets ready to move, your answer is right there and may have been in front of you the whole time, just waiting until you passed the test: v13b-18. Abraham not only passed the test, he passed it with flying colors.

Now I know your question—How is God going to provide for me?  I don’t have the slightest idea.  When is God going to provide?  I wish I could help you, but God has not consulted me.  So if you come to me, I may have absolutely no answers for your trial.  But one thing I will ask you, “Have you been to the alter with sacrifice?

Sooner or later all of us, if we are going to pursue God, we are going to have to take a knife to something.  It could be financial, maybe you’ve been robbing God financially.  It could be relational, I don’t know, but God is going to ask, “Do you love me enough to plunge the knife and destroy what keeps Me out of first place?”

And loved ones listen to me…every great relationship in the Bible demonstrates it:

-         Ask Job.  Job had a test.  He lost everything he had, but the Bible says he built an altar.  And with pain and sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, with his whole life upside down and inside out, it says he worshipped, and God showed up. 

-         Ask Paul and Silas at the midnight hour. When Paul and Silas were in the jail house and all hell broke lose, the Bible says instead of fussing, and instead of cussing, they went in and sang to the Lord and the Bible says the earth shook, and God threw open the jail house doors and instead of a death sentence, it became an evangelistic revival.

What I’m saying to you today loved ones is don’t run from your test, stay and pass your test so you can experience God…and God can experience you at every level. Because dear ones, in the end God’s blessing is greater than your test.  GOD’S BLESSING IS GREATER THAN MY TEST. Say it with me…

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