Friday, February 10, 2006

Sacrifice and Daily Bread

For the past few weeks in BSF we have been discussing Abraham and his faith in God. This week we looked at the famous incident in which God tested Abraham’s faith by telling Abraham to offer his son on the altar as a sacrifice. Abraham, in his faith, obeyed God, and God stopped Abraham before he was able to take the knife to his son. God then provided a ram for Abraham to offer on the altar in the place of his son. Abraham was overjoyed by the turn of events and gave God a new name, Jehovah-Jireh, God who provides.

God had made a promise to Abraham to make him the founder of a great nation, to make him famous, and to bless him so that Abraham would be a blessing to others. He had also promised to fulfill this promise through Abraham’s own offspring. Abraham had great confidence in God’s willingness to follow through on this promise even in the prospect of the death of his son, and he was willing to give up the only visible means of the fulfillment of the promise because God had proven himself faithful to Abraham before.

Jesus teaches us that we also can depend upon God to follow through with his promises for us. In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, he teaches his listeners about kingdom behavior and what it means to be a citizen of God’s kingdom. To Jesus, to obey God’s laws means more than a simple adherence to a set of statutes; it means more than simply not doing wrong to others; rather, it means cultivating a desire to go beyond treating others with civility to developing a real concern for the needs of others. It means showing a genuine love to all regardless of who they are. Jesus promises his listeners that those who obey these laws of God will find themselves to be great in God’s kingdom. In addition to this, to those who adhere to this teaching, Jesus promises rest from their weary and burdensome life. He tells us that we no longer need to worry about matters of everyday living such as where our next meal will come from or what we will wear. Jesus says that if we seek to be righteous by following God’s precepts, if we make God’s kingdom the main concern of our hearts and minds, God will meet these daily needs.

Most of us would readily admit that we do not have the type or intensity of faith that Abraham exhibited. Indeed, most of us have not cultivated the faith to take Jesus at his word about this promise from God. Sure we have faith that we will enjoy a better life when Jesus returns, but we don’t take Jesus at his word that we don’t have to have any worries about our future during this lifetime. Jesus said plainly that if we have God’s kingdom as our primary concern—if we go about practicing kingdom behavior now in this lifetime—we will have no need to worry about tomorrow. What does that really mean? I think it’s safe to say that as we go about our daily lives doing our regular work, if we make it our additional job each day to make the concerns of other people higher than our own concerns and if we take concrete steps to bring comfort to others (as the good Samaritan man did), God will see to it that we will have our daily needs met.

When God’s people wandered in the desert after fleeing slavery in Egypt, God provided bread for them daily, and he wouldn’t allow them to store more than what they needed for each day. God’s people learned to have faith that the bread would come every morning. Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” not “Give us enough bread to last a year.” Don’t worry about tomorrow, Jesus says, because we have enough to be concerned about just dealing with today’s problems. God knows what you need, and if you practice kingdom behavior now, God will take care of those needs; you don’t need to worry about it.

Most of us are extremely concerned about our futures. If we were really honest, we would admit that providing for our own future security, and our children’s security, is the main factor that governs how we live our lives each day. As an example, we work extremely hard to ensure financial security for our future, making sure that our children’s college fund is fully established and fully funding our 401k’s. We call this being prudent, and certainly, the bible advocates the need to make preparations for future hardships such as storing up food from the harvest for the winter (taking a lesson from the ants: Proverbs 6.6-8) or as when Joseph stockpiled grain to get his people through the upcoming famine. We certainly should exercise the common sense that God gave us and prepare for the needs of the immediate future. And certainly, God doesn’t frown upon our saving for retirement. However, like Abraham, we should be prepared to offer as a sacrifice the visible means of our future comfort and security when we see that others are in need.

If we believe that God will provide for our needs, then it shouldn’t alarm us to give up the security that we sought to provide for ourselves. To sacrifice his son meant to Abraham that the future God had promised was in jeopardy, but he trusted God enough that he went ahead and made the sacrifice and believed that somehow God would replace what was lost. In the same manner, we should have enough faith to believe that God will replace what we sacrifice in an effort to bring aid and comfort to others. God will give us what we need for today, and he’ll give us what we need for tomorrow when tomorrow gets here.


jettybetty said...

I really wish I had that kind of faith--it just amazes me! I know God is faithful--I don't know why I struggle so much?

Tony Arnold said...

Trust, trust, trust. Another mantra I need to pray daily. Shouldn't be hard because God has never let me down in hindsight. However it is still hard. However, I do have more patience and trust now than I did in the past, so there is hope.