Lay Down Your Isaac
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CBN.com I am beginning to understand that there are times when we as Christians are going to be asked to do hard things. Sometimes God needs to test our loyalty to Him and our trust of Him.
When you are serious about serving the Lord, He will pinpoint those things in your life that are threatening to take that place of worship that should be reserved for God alone. God is jealous for our affections; He will not take second place in our lives.
I want to recount one such personal experience of tested affections with you. Not too long ago, I had been seriously struggling with the whole concept of commitment to marriage.
I was living my life as Laura Bagby, the single woman. (Just in case you are wondering, I am still there now.) I knew exactly who that person was and what that routine was like. I had planned much of my life as a unit of one, dreamed as a unit of one, and worried as a unit of one.
But what would it be like to be the other half of two? Could I give up my need for independence? Would I be able to handle someone else’s faults, needs, and schedule along with my own? And beyond that, how would I even know if I had chosen the right person to be my future husband? How, exactly, do you know that you have found that ONE?
My mind was a whir of activity, seeking clarity in the midst of a mental fog, and mostly ending up tired, confused, and frustrated. My emotions naturally followed - up, down, and all around like a rollercoaster within my heart.
I began earnestly seeking the Lord for understanding and direction. I just wanted the mental/emotional anguish to subside.
And that’s when the Lord spoke to me. No, I didn’t get THE answer, but I did get AN answer. And it came while going up to the altar for prayer one Sunday morning.
At the Altar
Before I had a chance to utter my request, the gentle woman with the beautiful long, red hair who came to pray for me looked me in the eye and said—and I am paraphrasing a bit here because I don’t have this recorded on tape—“I don’t know if this is from the Lord or not, but I think God is trying to say that you need to lay down your Isaac. It’s not a person so much as it is an idea. You have had expectations. You have this idea of what is going to make you happy, but it isn’t. Ask God what it is that you need to let go of. It’s like you are holding on so tightly, but God is waiting for you to give that to Him before He can move.”
Ugh. There was that same concept that I had heard for months now—“letting go.”
You know how hard it is to give up when you are a stubborn, tenacious person? When you are like Jacob wrestling the angel of the Lord, you are used to gripping your life with gusto. Simply giving the reigns over to God when you don’t know what He is going to say or do or if He is going to turn the tables on you is incredibly difficult.
I know that we are supposed to lean not on our own understanding and trust in Him (). But when you have operated under your own understanding in a particular area of life and you have relied on your past experiences to see you through for so long, it seems downright unnatural not to think about it.
Yet the words of this woman of God kept echoing in my mind throughout that day: “Lay down your Isaac. Ask God what that means. Let go.”
I knew that according to the Bible, laying down your Isaac was a very literal idea. It was what God asked Abraham to do in Genesis 22. Abraham was instructed to take his only son whom he loved, Isaac, up to Mount Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering in worship to God.
God didn’t explain why at the time, and interestingly, Abraham didn’t argue with God. I definitely needed to take note of that because I probably would have debated this “logic.” But not Abraham.
He woke up the next morning and got right to doing God’s will. Abraham went through all the proceedings in preparation for this act of worship, even to the point of tying Isaac up with ropes, placing him on the altar, and raising a knife to kill him.
Before we get to what God ultimately did, I have to press pause for a minute.
Here is Abraham, asked to do the thing he least desires and likely most dreads, and still his heart is at peace. I am just astounded at Abraham’s mindset at this point. I mean, here is that which he most cherished, that which would be the solution to the promise of God that he would have future progeny, his son Isaac, and Abraham willingly laid it all down.
Even when Isaac himself sort of started getting the hint and asked what they planned on using as the sacrifice to God, Abraham, in the kind of wisdom and calm that comes from faith said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" ().
I don’t believe Abraham was saying that hoping Isaac would stop badgering him. It wasn’t a way to soothe Isaac’s possible fears. I believe Abraham knew the God whom he served, and God would make a way beyond his own understanding. God would provide a way of escape. I just am amazed at that level of “letting go.”
Well, if you know the story, Abraham found favor that day. At the last moment, the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham from murdering his son. Since it was revealed that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son in order to obey God, the Lord not only provided a ram for the burnt offering to take Isaac’s place on the altar, but He also gave a tremendous word of blessing over Abraham and his descendants. Abraham and Sarah did have many, many children. And it’s because Abraham believed the Lord’s promises.
What we ultimately discover is that this was a test. Not just a test of Abraham’s affection for God, but also a test of whether or not Abraham would continue to trust God for His timing and fulfillment of His promise to Abraham, or whether Abraham would take the situation into his own hands and force his personal will. And we saw the resulting turmoil in the lives of Hagar and Ishmael because Abraham chose to do things his way (see Genesis 16). Would Abraham die to the dream of being a father once again? Oh, how could God ask that of him? It was a sore spot. It was Abraham’s vulnerable place.
I know all about vulnerable places. I felt like I had been socked in my heart too at that altar that day. With the Abraham story in mind, I went home later that evening and had a one-on-one with God.
I had an idea that my Isaac had a lot to do with my own faulty ideas and perceptions concerning marriage and my future husband. It felt like the mode I was operating under was tainted, so I began with repentance for having such difficulty in following the Lord. I was brokenhearted because I knew my heart and mind weren’t in line with His will for me, and that hurt knowing that I wasn’t being obedient.
Quietly and gently, God started speaking to me about my past affections, specifically that I needed to disengage my heart from those past boyfriends or wannabe boyfriends because I was still using them as markers for my present relationships—and some of these guys I hadn’t seen or talked to for five or more years! It was eye-opening to discover that these men still had their tender hooks of influence in my heart. It became very clear that I needed to find every last photo, picture, card, letter, or e-mail from and to each of these guys from my distant past and get rid of them.
So I got off my bed and went straight into my office, my heart pounding. At first, I just collected a bunch of memorabilia that I could quickly lay my hands on and placed it in a sloppy pile on the office chair. I told myself I had done the first big step and I would finish it tomorrow when I wasn’t in such a drastic frame of mind.
I am a sentimental person and I really didn’t want to destroy those memories right then. I wanted to think about it. I didn’t want to do anything “rash” in case I regretted that decision later. After all, some of those photos and cards reminded me of really good times that I had had, and that would be like erasing all of that.
Plus, some of those photos in the pile I had taken myself and were part of my professional photography portfolio. I could be potentially affecting my future career as well, if I ever planned on seriously taking up photography again.
Besides, it was too late to shred stuff. The noise would probably disturb my roommate and I didn’t want to have to explain what I felt God was telling me to do. And burning everything in some big bonfire sounded like a crazy fire hazard waiting to happen.
I was about to close the door and head back to my room when I felt the Spirit of the Lord sternly grip my heart. I was reminded of that verse that says if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out (; ). And I also pictured myself as Lot’s wife, who turned back to look at Sodom and Gomorrah and ended up turning into a pillar of salt ( ). I knew I couldn’t be disobedient by wanting to dabble with my past. No, I couldn’t live there if I wanted to move forward.
Why would I want to keep that which was coming between me and my future blessing anyway? And why did I need the reminders of the former affections of these men from my distant past? They no longer cared. Was I really that needy and insecure? These guys were probably all married and had moved on with their lives. They were free from their past. I needed to be also.
Thus came a renewed effort to find all the scraps of significance. God reminded me of items in the garage I had forgotten about, even some love letters from a guy who liked me in high school and some Easter card from a boy who had a crush on me in Germany back when I was 9. I was ashamed to admit I had kept this stuff for all those years. I ripped up everything that was rip-able with my bare hands, bagged it, and dumped it in the trash.
I went to bed that night feeling like I had accomplished something in the spiritual realm, only to dream a vivid dream about a former college boyfriend. In my dream he was still single, looked the same, and had come to renew a relationship with me. Of course, in my dream my parents were happy with this reunion and he was the epitome of kindness and selflessness, neither of which were true when we were dating in real life. I awoke that Monday morning frustrated that he was still in my head and felt even more determined to finish my discarding duties.
God brought to my attention a whole slew of e-mails that I needed to dump, so I deleted every last e-mail from any man in my distant past who had shown any degree of interest in a relationship with me or I had wanted to have a relationship with. I didn’t reread anything. I just hit “delete.” And then I sighed – partly out of relief and partly out of a sense of not knowing what else God was going to ask me to give up.
Letting Go and Letting God
Was it finally over? Had I completely laid my Isaac down? Well, as it turned out, not entirely.
That was months and months ago. And I am still laying things down as I write this to you. It’s a daily battle. As God shows me that next layer that I need to surrender, I am prayerfully asking for His mercy. I am still trying not to lean on my own understanding, which for me is very difficult because I am very analytical. But that too is an idol and needs to be put at the foot of the Cross.
Countless times have I had to give God back control of my life after my heart, mind, and/or actions have led me down paths of my choosing instead of His. I look back at Daddy and relinquish control. Is it easy? No, not at all. Is it necessary? Yes. So much so that I fear what will happen if I step out of His will.
All I know to do is to say, “God, You do it. You be my Lord. You show me the way. Keep my feet on the right path.” And then I trust He will do what He needs to do and He will enable me to do what I need to do to follow Him.
What about you? Do you need to let go? Do you need to lay down something precious? Ask God what it is in your life. Ask God what it is that is hindering your walk with Him. Ask God where you are having trouble trusting Him to fulfill long-held promises. He will show you.
And I believe that just as with Abraham, God truly does want to fulfill the desires of our hearts. But He wants to do it His way and in His timing. And He expects us to have the proper submitted, worshipful attitude before him.
I hope that you will feel the same way I do about wanting to be counted among the blessed. Let’s continue doing good, stay in a spirit of humility, and look to the God Who Provides.
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psam 37:4).
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