No, there’s no game show in the Bible. But God does stoop down to speak in terms we humans understand, and what human doesn’t understand a deal? Especially a great deal? How about trading nothing for something?
Here’s the offer: Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. (Isaiah 55:1)
Let’s put it another way – God has the most spectacular restaurant around, a buffet of the healthiest and richest food and drink, and the price of admission is…nothing. Just come.
Now, this deal involves a choice, of course – putting aside all the fast-food restaurants that charge you for grossly inferior food that will never satisfy you (Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? – Isaiah 55:2).
The analogy, of course, is clear-cut – a life without God’s nearness is empty and unsatisfying, leading only to death. But a life in fellowship with Him is truly life indeed (Incline your ear and come to Me; listen, that you may live – Isaiah 55:3).
So – we can stay on a path of sin and selfishness, trying to suck whatever goodness out of a world while ignoring its Creator; or we can, without cost, return to Him and find life. Abundant life, freely given. That’s the deal.
However, most people won’t choose life. Because it means admitting that we were, and are, wrong. It means getting off one very broad road, with a lot of familiar company, and choosing a narrow road heading in the opposite direction. It means putting aside lesser things that don’t satisfy, and believing in the living God who is so generous that our minds recoil at the idea of such immense grace.
It means repentance. And faith. Which no-one will take hold of God’s amazing “deal” unless they are desperate, convinced that the scraps of sin and a fallen world do not and cannot satisfy. It means abandoning our ideas as supreme, and instead embracing God’s thoughts.
Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
and let him return to the Lord,
and He will have compassion on him;
and to our God,
for He will abundantly pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways,
and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6-9)
Many years ago, I found that life without my Creator was empty. The deal I was making left me with nothing but dust. I still marvel that I could trade in my emptiness for fulness – without money, without good works, without perfect performance, without cost. Who makes deals like that?
Right now, out on my deck, a grill sits idle – cold, covered, cooking nothing. I like my grill regardless, but its best moments are when it is fired up, aflame with life and making magic with a nice steak.
It could be doing that right now. All I’d have to do is twist the knob to release the propane, and light up the burners. Let the fuel flow. Until then, it’s all potential, not kinetic.
As am I, when I leave the valve in the “Off” position. When I buy into the idea that I have nothing to offer. That God is so limited even He can’t give others life through me.
Is anything too difficult for the Lord? Clearly, the answer is no. Am I here to, however imperfectly, let His life flow out to others? Surely. To put it another way, is the propane full and the match at the ready? Then why do I hesitate to open the valve? What am I trying to preserve?
Isn’t there great joy in pulling the meat out of the freezer, firing up the smoker and the grill, and letting all that potential energy flow into great food and fellowship? It’s not there to be preserved, but to be prepared and presented.
Today: Flow. The Lord has unlimited resources. Opening the valve is releasing the potential – unleashing power. That’s where the blessing will be found. God is looking for open heart valves, not perfect performance.
A favorite line from a favorite movie (The Princess Bride), when Inigo, at the top of Cliffs of Insanity, waits for the man in black to reach the summit so he can try to defeat him in a sword fight.
I can relate. I’m all for action – but I hate waiting.
God, on the other hand, is quite content to put a lag time between promise and fulfillment. He has an entirely different view of time and eternity. And He is determined that we learn faith and patience, especially in a posture of – waiting.
I hate waiting.
Reading in recent days about the story of Abraham and Sarah as they wait to have a son named Isaac (Genesis chapters 12-21), I am reminded about how long we, at times, must wait for the fulfillment. Abe and his wife were old; she was barren and long past the years of even being able to conceive. God promised that Abraham would have as many descendants as the countless stars in the skies, yet the years kept stretching on. Human impossibility awoke each morning to another day of unfulfilled promise. Where was this Isaac, to be (miraculously) born to aged Sarah??
Finally, in chapter 18, when Abraham was 99 years old, God appeared to him and got specific about the promise. “I will return to you at this time next year, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” The years of waiting would come to an end. And so it occurred, exactly on the timetable God had in mind.
I have, deep within, various huge life-mission desires that have brewed in my soul for decades. I can picture them, and can almost fast-forward to a time of joy and meaning in fulfilling some things that I have (seemingly forever) felt that I was meant to do. And while I’m taking steps to arrive at those destinations – I hate waiting. “We are men of action,” said Westley in the above-referenced movie. And life is a curious mix of action and initiative, curiously joined to waiting patiently for the right time and the right door to open.
I hate waiting. And in this always-on, instant fulfillment digital generation, I believe that patient waiting will become even more of a lost art. The last thing we are used to enduring is a time lag.
God, however, doesn’t change. The time between promise and fulfillment is of His design, and no application of Google and broadband and mobile devices will hasten it.
Maybe someday, I’ll love waiting. Or, at least, not hate it. Abraham had the long-promised son when he was 100. Maybe I still have a few years to wait.
While reading through the book of Genesis, I once again came across the story of Hagar, Sarai’s maid (chapter 16), who bore a son to Abram when it seemed hopeless that Sarai would ever conceive on her own.
And there I found some of the most powerful perspectives on prayer ever.
At one point, before the child’s birth, Hagar runs away from the household after being harshly treated by the (now jealous) Sarai. There, in the wilderness, God met her, and made rich promises about her soon-to-be-born son. While the child of the promise would yet be conceived directly via the (now barren) womb of Sarai, Hagar’s child was not to be neglected.
It turns out that God was not off on some celestial errand during this family drama, and unaware of the circumstances, but as He always is, God was intimately involved in every detail – past, present, and future.
She was to name the boy Ishmael, which in Hebrew, means God hears. She called God Elroi, which means God sees. And, she marveled that God would appear to her and she would remain alive. You might call that, in much bigger words, God graciously condescends.
Amazingly, God not only saw the present, but he also told Hagar about Ishmael’s future. Because, you know, He’s God. He sees past, present, and future without our mortal and finite limits. Our NOW is this moment, today. God’s NOW is eternal.
Often, when we pray, we feel a nagging sense of uncertainty. Does God know what I’m going through? Does He even care? Will He intervene? Do the dark mists of the future contain awful and unexpected surprises that will derail everything?
There are great mysteries in the immensity of God, and intimidating aspects to a future we cannot control ourselves. Yet, like Hagar, we need to act in faith.
God hears. God sees. God cares. And He’s going to do what is best, including dispensing blessing to the undeserving.
Ishmael. Elroi. That’s enough.