For years, I had painstakingly prepared to get into New York University. Now that I had finished my first year of general requirements, my academic advisor called me into her office to discuss the schedule for my second year of classes. Finally, I was free to focus on courses for my major. And here it was: the wide-open door to my childhood dreams of becoming a great filmmaker!
As my advisor described all the amazing film-making classes I could sign up for, I already knew I would not sit in a single one of them. After prayerful consideration, I had already decided to leave NYU and transfer to a Bible school. Meeting Jesus Christ in a living and personal way had changed me; I was a “new creation” in every way. And so I was yielding to the Lord’s leading: to set my film-making ambitions aside, pursue Bible training, and devote my life to serving Him and ministering to others.
For Christians, the idea of giving up something up for the sake of following Jesus is not a foreign one. The Bible is filled with stories of people who sacrificed great things in order to obey God or to follow Christ. From their stories, we see a theme of two different types of sacrifices and one overarching promise that we may experience as we follow Christ today.
A Sacrifice Returned
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me (Gen. 22:11-12).
Abraham was willing to do the unthinkable: to sacrifice his only son. Not only was this child undoubtedly precious to Abraham, but he was also a miracle—the fulfillment of a promise given by God himself. But what a story! Immediately after Abraham’s willingness to obey is revealed, God showed himself willing to return his son to him.
Most of us know someone who has had an ‘Abraham and Isaac’ experience at some point in his or her Christian journey. My own dad loves to tell of the time when, after years of singleness, he decided to let go of his ambition to find a spouse and choose to be content with serving God in singleness for the rest of his life. As the story goes, less than two weeks later he met my mom at church, and they were married within a few months.
Maybe you also have experienced something similar in your walk with Christ. Stories like that of Abraham and Isaac remind us of God’s goodness and His desire to reward and bless those who fear Him. Receiving back what we have sacrificed to the Lord should cause us to rejoice! It is a foretaste of how the Lord will one day fully reward all acts of sacrifice.
A Sacrifice Lost
The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named… So Abraham…gave [Hagar] the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba (Gen. 21:11-12, 14).
While Genesis 22 is an inspiring reminder of God’s goodness and the joy of obedience, the previous chapter tells quite a different tale. As Christians, we may love the story of Abraham and Isaac, but we sometimes forget the story of Abraham and Ishmael. When asked to send away his son, Abraham was distressed. Though Ishmael was the fruit of Abraham’s sinful scheme with Hagar, Abraham loved him and did not want to let him go. Again, God asked Abraham to “sacrifice” one of his sons, but this time he did not get Ishmael back.
Sometimes the Lord instructs us to give up things for His sake that we will not directly receive again in this life. This is sobering. We should not expect God to always return our sacrifices as he returned Isaac to Abraham. However, the Lord may bless us in other ways. For example, Hannah vowed to give her first and only son Samuel for the service of the Lord (1 Sam. 1). While God did not send him back to her, He did bless her with five additional children.
Ultimately, no sacrifice goes unrewarded. The words of our Lord Jesus give us the best encouragement on this matter.
The Promise of Reward
Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.” Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life (Mk. 10:28-30).
Whether or not the Lord chooses to return exactly what we have given up for His sake, Jesus promises to reward us “a hundred times”—an unimaginable profit.
What have you given up in order to obey the Lord? Don’t grow bitter if you have yet to see its pay-off. Trust and take God at His Word; the reward will be far greater than anything you can imagine. Though you may not recognize the reward on this side of heaven, you will fully realize it with eternity’s perspective.
Is God asking you to let go of something or someone important in your life? Whether it is a career, living close to family, an important relationship, a means of income, a hobby, or a place of security, there is no need or desire sacrificed for which the Lord is not able to provide, perhaps in ways you have never thought of before.
Since the day I walked out the door of my dream college, following the Lord has required many more sacrifices. I have said goodbye to my home country that I love and to my wonderful family, cherished friends, and beloved church. But every step of the way, God has blessed me beyond measure. I have never regretted my decision to walk away from my filmmaking ambitions in order to follow Jesus. I joyfully resonate with these words from the old hymn, “Jesus I My Cross Have Taken”:
Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought, or hoped, or known. But how rich is my condition! God and Heaven are still my own.
In the end, no matter what we have sacrificed for Jesus, the cost cannot surpass the benefits of what He has promised “in the age to come” (Mk. 10:30): eternity in His presence, where all of our needs and desires will be fully met in Christ.