When He Takes Away the God-thing

“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great . . . Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them . . .  So shall your offspring be.” And {Abraham} believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness . . . {after Abraham helped God along with his promises by having a child with Hagar . . .} “I will bless {Sarah} and I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?” . . . The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” and he said “Here I am.” 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.”

Passages from Genesis 15-22

your only son

What is your “God-thing”? I’m not sure that I entirely like the use of that phrase yet, but there are some things which really need to be explained that way. When you, like Abraham, have prayed and longed for a child, and despite all discouragement from the medical field and genetics, God blesses you with a bundle of joy. When you had given up hope of finding ‘true love’ and then God, in His grace, brings you to a man or woman after His own heart. When your heart’s desire was to serve Him in a certain capacity, but the funds were no where in sight, and then in the final hour, His provision came through. Can we see these as things other than God’s hand working mightily in our lives?

Even the human things in life, a house, a car, a friendship, a trip you needed to take . . . my own example itself may seem trivial, but the question remains: what do you do when He takes the God-thing away? The thing you had chalked up to His working, His grace . . . the thing that drew you to His heart and made you want to know Him more, what do you do when He, He the giver of it, takes it back away?

For me, it was a building. We are in Kurdistan hoping to open a center to provide education and community for hurting men, women, and children to offer hope and live Jesus before them. We drove around one night, looking for a place to host our programs – knowing we were on a tight budget, and also knowing that I want to be very involved with the center while still raising {soon-to-be} two littles. It {embarrassingly} took me a good while before I thought to pray about God directing us to the right place, and it was honestly less than 5 minutes after I did that we came up to a brand new building with two guys hanging outside. We went in and saw the building by iPhone light {there was no electricity yet} and it seemed like it could work pretty well for our purposes.

We found out that there was a second apartment upstairs, and renting both of them would be less than what we had originally budgeted. That would give us private office space, as well as living quarters upstairs, and a great open space for programs downstairs. The catch was that there were others interested in the upstairs space, so we waited for what seemed like forever to hear from the landlord as to whether or not we could get the second apartment as well.

Finally, after many prayers from us and our supporters, we got the answer! We could have both apartments!! I had remained very tentative and skeptical until that point {and afterwards for a while} because I didn’t want to get my heart set on something. We went back to see the upstairs, and in the light, I was blown away. The building was beautiful {with a little work still to be done}, it had an amazing roof-top space with a jaw-dropping view of the sunset. The landlord agreed to put in an American toilet, and I was placing all of the furniture in it’s proper place in my head. A few days later we got the keys on a morning date and walked around talking and dreaming about how God was going to use this space.

The next week, when my husband went to sign the official contract, we found out that the contract wasn’t actually official. The landlord was getting nervous about working with foreigners and extra costs we might accrue for him. He decided to raise the price and change the conditions of the contract that we had verbally agreed on. We got nervous about working with someone who might not hold up their end of the deal. And with many tears, we handed back the keys.

But, I couldn’t understand. I had asked God to show us the right place, and He took us there! He worked out the details we didn’t think could be worked out! He added in so many of the extra little things, as He often does, to {in my mind} put His seal of love on it! We wanted to use that space for Him. It had been a God thing! I couldn’t have built a better building on my own.

Why did He take it away?

Why does He take away things like unborn babies? Spouses? Health? Homes? What does the mother say when her thirteen-day old dies of a heart problem? What does the teenager do when she finds out she has an incurable disease that will effect the rest of her life? What does the pastor’s wife do when she finds out her husband was on Ashley Madison’s list? How does the family respond when their home is bombed by ISIS and they are forced to flee with only the clothes on their back?

It’s easy to ask these questions, as Job did, with the general blessings God gives in life. We feel vindicated in asking, we realize that eventually, we’ll get around to seeing that God had something better in store, or that He was teaching us a valuable lesson.

But how do we process when God takes away something that we saw as a direct answer to prayer? Something that we fully credited Him with doing for a purpose that He was working?

It was a building, I know. But, I kept finding the story of Abraham and Isaac popping up in my mind. God told Abraham that He would give him nations, as many offspring as the stars, through Isaac. Through Isaac, not through Ishmael. God obviously cared for Ishmael, but in the story He was writing, Ishmael was not the answer, Isaac was. Isaac was going to perpetuate the line of Christ. God even excludes Ishmael from the picture when he says, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac.” This had been God’s answer, His promise keeping part of the covenant He had made with Abraham.

Abraham had been rebuked for not trusting God to provide a son in His way and in His time, and Isaac was that very answer! And now God was not just taking him away, but he was asking Abraham to physically sacrifice him. Isaac, who he had waited for. Isaac, the one who had stretched his faith. Isaac, the one he loved. God wasn’t just taking. Abraham wasn’t expected to just say, as Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) He was asked to hand back what he had expectantly waited for. He was asked to choose to return the gift.

How was this supposed to affect his view of God? Was God simply a dictator, reveling in His power to make people do what He wanted? The gift that had proven to Abraham that he mattered to God, that he was part of the story that God was writing, the thing he held onto to remember that God chose him – in a few days’ time, would be gone. Would his sacrificing Isaac also sacrifice the lessons he had learned about God?

When God took the building away, was I then going to believe that he hadn’t actually led us there? That He hadn’t actually worked in a lot of mysterious ways to line everything up? That He didn’t actually want us to serve Him in this way? Did His removing the building remove the threads that had been tied from my heart to His by learning that He cared deeply about my wants and needs?

It’s a possibility. It’s a possibility in the moment when a “God-thing” is taken away to at the same time sever the ties that were made through the struggle. To give up believing that God was good in the first place, that He was orchestrating things according to some bigger plan or some bigger story.

But it shouldn’t be that way – that is not God’s intention. Sometimes, God takes away the God-thing because He wants us to have more of Him. We often need less God-things and more God. We need to remember that He is higher, wiser, and owns a much better perspective on the trajectory of time and events than we will ever fathom. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

How gracious of God to give us such clear answers to prayer: the positive pregnancy tests, the buildings, the spouses, the parking spot, the on-sale jeans. But God isn’t a vending machine, and these things are not owed to us in the least. God gives us these things, because He wants to tether our hearts and draw our eyes to Himself. He wants us to know Him better, to fall ever more in love with Him. And sometimes we get stuck falling in love with the God-thing, or the idea of God rather than really seeing Him as the Actor, the Benefactor, the Creator, the Giver, the Lover of our souls.

So, how do we respond when He takes away the God-things? How do we view Him, what does it say about His character to our hearts in those hard days when tears flow and questions seem unending?

We stand with Abraham, and we say, “God will provide.” (Genesis 22:8) Even when we don’t know how. When we don’t know if His provision will be our baby’s life or death. When we don’t know if His provision will be a fractured marriage. When we don’t know if His provision will be a second-class building. But we are confident in the fact that He will provide. More of Himself, more of His grace.

We stand with Abraham and we “consider God” (Hebrews 11:19). We dwell on God, we trust that God is going to still be God and He is still sovereign, and He is still able to write His story even when we don’t get the plot line. We “consider that God {is} able even to raise him from the dead . . .”

We remember that God does not needlessly play with life. He is not in the business of making us miserable, He is in the business of making us His. He is for us! “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) Not only is He for us, He has also experienced the pains of loss, but not so that He could draw near to Himself, but He suffered loss so that we could be drawn near to Him. He doesn’t do this one-sidedly. Our suffering is to bring us to Him, and His suffering made it possible for us to come.

We rest in these truths when He takes away the God things. We lift our eyes and we look at Him. We consider Him, we trust Him, and we let those tethers that bound our heart to His draw even tighter and hold even stronger.

God-things

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