So I’m sitting out in my music room enjoying the incredible sound emanating from the speakers. After years of refinement I have achieved a level of sound reproduction that few get a chance to hear – my system a sum total, a symbiosis, of the advanced components working together to bring me clarity, detail, depth that are a marvel. When the music makes me smile, I know it’s right.
Sitting there in sonic rapture, I suddenly realize how blessed I am. There is suffering in the world, there is pain, there is lack. There is war and rumor of war, there is disease, there is loss. And I asked God if it was okay to enjoy this beauty – this music – while there are so many who cannot. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “God, is this okay? Can I really do this?”
God: “Give it to me.”
Me: “Okay, I offer it back to you. Now what do I do?”
God: “Enjoy it.”
What just happened?
We are all on a different journey. My wife and I have worked since we were teenagers in the 1970s. We have worked through things, over things, around things, sometimes a struggle, sometimes not. We were determined to take care of our family, do our best to see them grow and go out into the world, be decent humans. Our home is small by American standards, but nice. We put in a swimming pool a couple of years ago, remodeled the exterior, made it our own. I added the pure luxury of a dedicated listening room, filled with expensive (to me) equipment and racks of records and discs.
Now we find ourselves retired, the kids all gone on their own journeys, a lot of time on our hands. We often find ourselves asking:
“Can we do this? Can we just live and enjoy a peaceful life?”
I think of Abraham of the Old Testament. God called him to go out to a place that He would show him. Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going. He was a pilgrim on the planet, following a promise that his seed would be like the sand on the sea, the stars in the heavens. The problem was Abraham and his wife were old, too old to have children. But God kept His word and Sarah became pregnant, at an advanced age, and gave birth to Isaac. The plan was coming together, albeit a bit late.
This is where it gets weird.
God told Abraham to take his son Isaac, by then grown, up a mountain. They carried the wood needed for a sacrifice on an altar. Isaac asked dad: “where’s the sacrifice?” You see, God had asked Abraham to offer his son, the son of promise. And Abraham was prepared to do it. Why?
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” Hebrews 11:17-19
Abraham was so sure that God would do what He said that he was prepared to give away the only thing that mattered to him. Abraham figured that God, who must be true to His word, had a plan to raise Isaac from the dead, if necessary, to fill the world with people of faith, even as the stars in the heavens and the sands on the shore of the sea.
There are many lessons in this story about faith and obedience, but there is also an important lesson about giving, about being prepared to sacrifice it all when God calls. Because it turns out that you cannot:
- Outgive God
- Outrun God
- Outlive God
- Outdo God
Our example, Abraham, knew all that. He knew where the gift came from, and that the gift was irrevocable.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” James 1:17
“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29
What restrains us? Why do we cling to the things we see and have such a challenging time giving away the very thing that we have been blessed with? Is God for us or is He against us? If He could raise up Isaac to fulfill His promise, can God not also replace what you give, can He fill your lack, restore your place?
We are held back by many factors – maybe you recognize yourself in these:
- Lack of faith
- Fear of failing
- Pride of ownership
- Fear of loss
- Deepest darkest Africa
You know exactly what I mean. We are all afraid that God will call us to give up our nice lives and go live in Africa, where we will face all the things that we do not face now – hunger, disease, lack, pain, suffering.
Let me tell you about my friends Clip and Mary. Nicest people you will ever meet. Calm. Normal as the day is long, pleasant, soft spoken. Clip had the dream job at a fair-sized church. They had a child, named (ironically) Isaac, and a lovely home across the street from us. One day they invited my wife and me over and laid out their plan. Seemed they felt a real need to go to Panama and help establish and strengthen churches. They had seen the lack, felt the needs, and knew that they had the faith and education to make a difference. They didn’t speak the language but figured that if they were following God, they could learn. So off they went, leaving behind the perfect American life, giving it all away to follow the call.
God did not need Clip & Mary to save somebody – He has already made that so easy that even their son Isaac can offer His grace through His word. God did need for them to give to Him the good gift of their lifestyle. And He has returned it with a new lifestyle, a new language, a new culture, new friends. After over six years in, they are still fulfilling God’s gift of opportunity.
Deepest darkest suddenly became a bright and shiny new horizon.
Circling back, as they say, to my little music paradise. I was listening to an old rock & roll album from my youth the other day (Uriah Heep/Sweet Freedom). The liner notes were written by Ken Hensley who wrote most of the songs for the band. He became a Christian later and went on to write music from his faith perspective. He wrote this:
“I must go back and listen to this album again, because Seven Stars has taken on a new and much more important meaning to me now (Revelation 2:1).”
God gives us what we have. Every opportunity, every good thing, every dollar, it’s all a gift. He is not asking us to give it back (what can we possibly give God?) – He is giving us the opportunity. A chance to give back, a chance to be obedient, a chance to walk in faith.
There is nothing wrong with living the life you have been given, enjoying your time here on this rock, investing in your family and the people around you. Even enjoying your hobbies – there’s not a thing wrong with fishing for bass, chasing a little white ball around eighteen holes. Or tweaking your stereo to get that last little bit of perfection.
Just remember this important truth that Abraham learned, that Clip and Mary learned, that I – in my own small way – learned:
You can’t really own anything until you can give it away.