Exploring Community Part Three: Hierarchy and Leadership

community

Where does hierarchy fit in with authentic Christian community? What role, if any, does leadership have to play? These are questions many of us are struggling with as God continues to lead us out of ‘playing church’ into the day to day reality of Kingdom life. I offer the following two suggestions for consideration in the hope they will positively contribute to our search for genuine Christian community:

1.The absence of hierarchy does not have to mean absence of order;  and

2. The presence of leadership does not have to mean hierarchy, domination or control;

When believers consider the Three in One nature of God there is often a vague assumption that the Father is in charge and the Son and the Spirit are second and third respectively. I believe, however, the scripture is clear that there is no hierarchy within Elohyim. (For the sake of brevity I won’t go into my reasons for that belief here but I have written elsewhere about it in Hierarchy, Headship and All That Stuff which is easily accessible on this blogsite.)

The Father, Son and Spirit belong to one another willingly and without reservation in community, yet without the concept of exclusive ownership that we often subconsciously attach to the word ‘belong’. None of the three divine Members of Elohyim seek to rule over the other two Members, yet within this non-hierarchical environment there is perfect order.

Some who have witnessed abusive leadership within organised Christianity subsequently reject any place for human leadership at all within the Body of Christ. But the New Testament speaks both of a gift of leadership, and functional leadership gifts given by Christ to His church¹. Furthermore, Jesus did not rebuke His disciples for seeking to exercise leadership skills; He rebuked them rather for the carnal manner in which they sought to exercise that leadership through the hierarchical model they saw displayed in the world around them². He told them they would need to learn a new and revolutionary form of leadership that they had never witnessed before.

Just as there is authentic and non-authentic community, (see Part Two), so too is there authentic and non-authentic spiritual leadership. Genuine, God-endorsed leadership grows out of a desire to follow God, not a desire to gain followers.   We speak frequently about “servant leadership’, but one cannot be a servant of God’s people if one is not first and foremost a surrendered servant of God. True servant style leadership is essentially an act of service and worship, focused God-ward, not man-ward. Hierarchy, on the other hand, is the structure carnal authority builds around itself to maintain some semblance of perceived order and strengthen its power base.

Authentic, God-endorsed leadership doesn’t need the hierarchy on which organised religion is built because genuine spiritual authority does not require a man-made structure in which to operate. That doesn’t mean there are not examples of genuine leadership gifts within organised Christianity, but genuine spiritual authority will be evident regardless of whether or not it has the approval and recognition of an organisation. And often, too often, authentic gifts of leadership are hindered, stifled, and controlled by those who have found a comfortable niche within a hierarchical environment.

Jesus demonstrated a non-hierarchical leadership model that was radical and confronting both to His disciples and the religious leadership of His day.  At all times His leadership was evidenced by a genuine spiritual authority that was recognizable to those around Him³. He did not impose His will on people by emphasising that authority, or as we might say today, “throwing His weight around.” Those who recognised His authority He invited to join Him. Some did, some didn’t, but He didn’t rant against those who rejected His authority, labelling them as heretics and rebels.

Jesus never sought to prove His authority, even when faced with death⁴. He knew the level of spiritual authority He walked in and trusted the Father to confirm it. His leadership was an offering, God directed, not man directed. This is the authentic servant leadership He modelled for us.

Within the community of Three in One Elohyim none is less and none is more. Each Member is fully valued, fully functional, fully united in purpose and will, yet different in expression. Each delights in the Others’ fullness. We, in our fallen state, have yet to learn how we are to walk together in this kind of community if we are to be a Bride who reflects Christ on this earth.

There can be no true, fully functioning spiritual community where hierarchy exists. Hierarchical leadership is always dependent on the continual submission of someone other than the ‘perceived’ leader. Mutual submission one to another as we recognise Christ in each other is entirely Biblical. Requiring other individuals or groups to submit to us without reciprocity on an ongoing basis based purely on gender, race, title, position, or seminary training is not.

In Part Two I said the first result of the Fall was broken fellowship between Elohyim and humanity. The second result of the Fall was broken fellowship within the first human community, male and female. This male/female fracture is the oldest human division that exists, older even than racial division. It is entirely possible for us as God’s people to receive and embrace one another free of racial, social, economic and other divisions, yet still be clinging to hierarchy when it comes to gender relationships.

Christian community, to be complete and authentic, must be an inclusive atmosphere where both genders are free to exercise all their potential spiritual giftings and give and receive from one another without restriction, as it was in the beginning. This freedom to function as equals between male and female is foundational to true community, including in marriage, which was the first human community. Until hierarchy, i.e. the need to rule, is no longer an issue in either the home or the church, we will not experience spiritual community as God initiated it and desires it among us, for the broken fellowship between the genders will remain unhealed. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is addressing this injustice within the Body of Christ and many are having their eyes open on this issue.

We have built a religious system in which we have mistakenly equated hierarchy with order, and in doing so we have controlled, quenched and excluded the Holy Spirit who was the only One charged with organising us⁵.  We have failed to discern true spiritual authority from false and have too willingly handed leadership to those whose authority is carnal. We have thought to do community by our meetings, our programs, our conferences, our agendas, our doctrines, our law keeping, our endless activities; but we have failed to learn to simply be the living, vibrant extended community of Elohyim to one another.

But God is not finished with us. From the beginning it has been covenant that has been at the heart of true community. Our covenant is first with Christ, and through Christ it is then with every other genuine Christ follower. It is only as we immerse ourselves ever more deeply into covenant relationship with Christ that we will increasingly participate in the community of Elohyim and discover that same mysterious Community present and vibrant among ourselves.

¹Romans 12:8, Eph. 4:8-12

²Matthew 20:25-28

³ Matt. 8:5-10; Mark 1:22, 27; Luke 4:32,36;

⁴ Matt. 26:53

⁵ John 14:16, 26

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Related Articles:

Exploring Community Part One

Exploring Community Part Two

Exploring Community Part Two: True and False Community

community

We have seen how the very essence of authentic community lies within the mystery of Three in One Elohyim: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwelling eternally as vibrant, living, loving community among Themselves. We have seen how humanity is incapable of creating community, for it is not created, it is imparted. Apart from ongoing connection to its source, Elohyim, humanity is unable to maintain authentic community. (See Part One)

Here it becomes important to distinguish between authentic community and unauthentic community. We live in a world where we are constantly being told we are now members of a ‘global community’. Any apparent evidence of a ‘community spirit’ being demonstrated in our neighbourhoods, our towns or our nations is automatically considered a good thing. But is this the same as being members of one another¹ as the New Testament describes Christian community?  Is it the ‘koinonia’ fellowship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit that Christ-followers are called to²?

There is a sense of community available in the world that is rooted in a common crisis (e.g. a natural disaster), a common cause (e.g. ideology, sport) or a common experience (e.g. war, injustice, trauma). Nationalism, for instance, is an example of this kind of community spirit on a grand scale. We rally around the common experience of what it is be (in my case) an Australian, an Italian, a Scot or an American, or whatever the case may be. To be sustained this sort of community spirit needs to be continuously stirred and reinforced, for once the crisis passes, the cause is resolved or the common experience forgotten, it fades.

Christ, however, is not a crisis, a cause or an experience. He is Life. We, as Christ followers, have been called back into the vibrant, thriving, pulsating community of Life that exists in Elohyim, through fellowship with the Son by the ministry of the Spirit. This Christ-fellowship is a mystery, unbound by earthly entrapments of race, gender or class, administered from Heaven and flowing through to those who are Christ’s in order to bind them together as a spiritual community or family³.

How then, we ask, will we know when this true spiritual community is present and functioning among believers? I believe we may have been asking the wrong question. The first step is to cease trying to BE community and to receive by faith that we, as believers, ARE community. The difficulty is not in becoming community, for in Christ that is already being accomplished for us⁴. Our difficulty lies in allowing the Divine Community to manifest through us to one another.

From the beginning humanity was welcomed and embraced by the Divine Community of Father, Son and Spirit. Elohyim anticipated us, creating us in His very own image so that He could invite us into the heart of the unique community He enjoyed in His Three in Oneness.

The first result of the Fall was broken fellowship with Elohyim. When, through deception and sin, humanity fell out of community, Elohyim in His all surpassing Love immediately sought to bring back the one who had gone missing. There was no need for discussion or debate within the Three in One, in the same way as there would be no need for discussion or debate if a precious loved one of our own went missing. We would do whatever it might take to search, rescue and deliver that one back into our embrace. So much more was there perfect unity of will, purpose and action within the Three in One over missing humanity. Before humanity departed from the Garden Elohyim was already prophesying His plan for restoration⁵.

Within the Divine Community of Elohyim, perfect Love is constantly flowing, not as something Elohyim does, but as Who He is. Perfect Love is the means through which the perfect Life that is Elohyim expresses Himself.

In seeking to live our lives within an atmosphere of authentic Christian community, we seek to find our way back to the freedom of Perfect Love fellowship we knew in the beginning. Freedom is simply the absence of fear, and Perfect Love always casts out fear⁶.

We seek both to give and receive a Love that expresses life, not death; faith, not fear; freedom, not bondage. We seek an environment where Utterance, Breath and Life are present as the senior Members of our community. Utterance, the Word, will be honoured, not as law but as Life. Life will be flowing abundantly, spilling over from one member to the next. Breath will always be evident, manifesting Himself without hindrance, for where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. And over all Love will provide the measure and the balance in all things.

I will be the first to admit I have yet to find an ongoing expression of this Divine Community flowing deeply, widely and continuously in the Body of Christ on earth. Like many others, I have glimpsed it briefly, tasted it momentarily, and yearned for its manifestation in fullness. But I believe passionately it is within reach as we learn to yield, abandoning ourselves without reservation to the Spirit of God, who is the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. As we have found Life in the Spirit, so will the Spirit lead us, if we are willing to walk with Him, until we emerge as the expression of Divine Community on earth⁷.

What are your thoughts on ‘Christian community’?  Please join the discussion!

Part Three of Exploring Community to follow soon.

¹Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:25

²Phl. 2:1; 1 John 1:3

³Eph. 3:1-19; Gal. 3:26-29

⁴John 17:22,23

⁵Gen. 3:15

⁶1 John 4:18, Col. 3:14

⁷Gal. 5:25

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Exploring Community Part One: In the Beginning

community

In the beginning Elohyim¹, the One God who is True and who Lives, the God who is Three in One, the God besides whom there is no other god².

And this true, living God who is perfect Oneness is also a community of three divine personalities: the Father, divine Lifegiver; the Son, divine Utterance; and the Spirit, divine Breath. In the eternal community of Elohyim each Member is covenantally connected to the other two Members. Disunity, desire for dominion and conflict are unknown. Within this community of absolute love working through absolute authority, unbroken Oneness flows continuously between the Members in perfect fluidity of purpose, intention and will.

Somewhere in the boundless realms of everlasting, Elohyim God, the Three who are One, chose to express His great, unlimited love through the act of creation. Breath brooded in travailing devotion willing forth all that was in Elohyim’s mind; Utterance gave voice to Elohyim’s intention declaring “Let there be…..”, calling forth light from darkness, order from disorder, shape and form from nothingness; and Lifegiver sealed Elohyim’s purpose, which is always abundant Life, pouring Himself into all that was being created.

But even though Elohyim God saw all that was brought forth was good³, still He desired something more: a further expression of Himself beyond that which had been already created, a vessel with which to share His perfect community of Oneness.

So Elohyim, the Three who are One, chose to create humanity: “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness ……”⁴. From the dust of the earth Utterance called forth form into the body of  a new being, Breath entered to create a place for Elohyim to dwell, and Lifegiver poured in vibrant, endless Life. The first human being was created containing all that was needed to reproduce life, breath and utterance after his own kind. And in this created human did Utterance, Breath and Lifegiver ordain that His own Image of Three-in-Oneness should be reflected, in the form of body, soul and spirit⁵. And into this being He also poured His likeness, which is His goodness.

No other created life form expressed the divine Three in One community in such perfection. Though other creation had received a measure of Life and Breath⁶, no other had been endowed with a holy, spiritual sanctuary for Elohyim’s co-habitation, and on no other had the creative power of Utterance been bestowed. To this being alone did Three in One Elohyim reveal Himself in fullness.

Even so, Elohyim God was not yet entirely satisfied, for it was not good ‘for the man to be alone.’⁷ The created human had been ushered into Divine Community, yet had no means of expressing or growing community with his own kind. So in the counsel of His own perfect wisdom Elohyim removed a part of the human, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and formed another being with which he might experience oneness.

When Elohyim brought the two together, the first human community was born: the community of one male and one female. The same in essence but different in expression, they were perfect counterparts, equal to one another in value and authority, each bearing the image of Elohyim God. Each belonged to Elohyim and to the other freely and unconditionally in perfect covenantal community, devoid of desire for dominion or conflict of will, reflecting the Divine Community that was their life source. And it was Elohyim’s clear desire for the membership of this initial expression of perfect human community to increase, for He blessed them and said: “Be fruitful and multiply.”⁸

It was only then that Elohyim looked on all He had done and was deeply satisfied, declaring that His workmanship was abundantly, exceedingly good⁹.

But when humanity fell from perfection to corruption through sin, we lost our perfect communion with Elohyim and with one another. The unbroken community of oneness between male and female was shattered. Rather than reproducing offspring in the image of God, future generations would bear the fallen image of Adam¹⁰. Human communities went on to experience ever increasing division through jealousies, greed, contentions, murder and all manner of catastrophic disputes. Families separated into clans, which then became tribes, which then became nations. War and tyranny became normal human experience and so it goes.

The Fall robbed humanity of any ability to maintain community. Even with the best and noblest intentions, man simply cannot create true and authentic community, for community did not originate with man but in the Three-in-Oneness of Elohyim. All true community must flow forth from that divine source, for it is from that long ago knowledge of Oneness humanity still remembers and yearns for the sense of belonging we commonly call ‘community’.

Part Two of Exploring Community coming soon.

¹Genesis 1:1

²Deuteronomy 4:39

³Genesis 1:25

⁴Genesis 1:26a

⁵Genesis 2:7

⁶Acts 17:25 NASB

⁷Genesis 2:18

⁸Genesis 1:28

⁹Genesis 1:31

¹⁰Genesis 5:1-3

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

What are your thoughts on Christian community? Please join the discussion!

Featured Poem for July: Creation

Creation

 

Creation is groaning

Laden with weariness

Like a prisoner confined to shadows

Aching with indefinable loss

Haunted by elusive memories

Of a distant day of brightness

When nothing hungered

And Adam’s touch

Was free of fear

 

Creation is listening

Straining to hear again

The laughter of innocence

Echoing like a melodic song

Summoning every creature

Into its irresistible chorus

Of unfettered worship

Man and creature bowing together

Before Creator’s throne

 

Creation is praying

For futility to cease

For an end of fear in the night

For hope restored

For all to be as it once was

When God and man

Spoke as one

And the air was fragrant

With their mutual delight

 

Creation holds its breath

In pregnant yearning

Labouring with every new dawn

For one more day

Not to succumb

To hopelessness

 

Creation remembers

And remembering, trembles,

For deliverance

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:19-23)

 

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012, 2013, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission

The Longsuffering of the Lamb

IF

Some years ago I had a powerful dream in which, wearied after a long climb, I arrived at a hilltop house. Entering through the front door I found, to my amazement, Jesus was waiting for me inside. On seeing one another we started running toward the other until we met in a spontaneous embrace, somewhat like very close friends who have been unwillingly separated for many years might do. (This was not an indication of our actual relationship at the time which was close and intimate).

In the dream we held one another closely for a very long time, sharing the deepest joy I have ever known, after which I politely went to release my hold and pull back slightly in order that we could talk. To my great surprise, I found the Lord swiftly pulled me back into the tight, reassuring grip of His arms and would not let me go even slightly.

In the years since then I have thought often about that dream and even more so in recent times. It has been a source of deep comfort during difficult seasons. One of the most beautiful aspects of the dream, for me, is the realization that the Lord had chosen to wait patiently for me to arrive when I wasn’t even aware He was doing so. I would compare this revelation to something like being presented with a multi-course gourmet meal when you’ve expected nothing more than a piece of toast. I can’t count the number of sermons I‘ve heard, or the many scriptures I’ve read, about the importance of waiting on God. I don’t ever remember anyone telling me how long, how patiently and how longingly He may have been waiting for me however!

The longsuffering, or patient endurance, of the Lord is not exactly a hot topic at the moment. I can’t recall seeing it included on a conference flyer, or highlighted on a church billboard as next Sunday’s sermon topic. Call me cynical, but if the choice is between “Forty Ways to Grow Your Church” or “How Long Will God Bear With Us?” I think I have a pretty good idea which one’s going to pull the crowds.

The idea that the Lord actually suffers want in His relationship with us, and suffers it willingly, is often beyond the range of our spiritual radars.

And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you…” wrote Isaiah (Is. 30:18a). Why should the Creator and Lord of the entire universe wait for anything or anyone? Yet, of His own will, He does often wait for those He calls His own. The old fashioned Bible word for this is ‘longsuffering’, which pretty much means what it sounds like: suffering long. Longsuffering is even included, along with goodness, truth, mercy and grace, in the revelation of Himself God gave to Moses (Ex. 34:6 KJV).

On the evening before His crucifixion Jesus told the twelve “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you…..” (Luke 22:15 NKJV). We tend to “pass over” (pun intended) those particular words expressing Jesus’ heart as if they are of little importance. Jesus was using a typical Hebrew form of expression here: “with desire I have desired.” It means ‘earnestly have I longed for”, or ‘with the greatest desire have I desired this”. In other words, Jesus was extraordinarily passionate about sharing these final few hours with His intended Bride and had waited with great eagerness for this occasion.

Jesus had shared other Passovers with His apostles, but this one was to be different. With greatest desire He had wanted to share THIS Passover with them. Why this Passover in particular? We understand that it was to be His last meal with them. but there is more here. This Passover was not about the end of something, it was about the beginning of something even better.

This intimate meal together in an upper room away from the crowds and the controversies had been so eagerly anticipated by Jesus because it was this occasion He had chosen as His betrothal ceremony. (For a fuller discussion on this please read my article: The Bride: Her Betrothal.)

With much longsuffering and patient endurance He had watched and waited while His disciples strove to understand His parables, jostled with one another for importance, and struggled to comprehend a coming Kingdom that was completely foreign to their natural understanding. He would wait even longer for them as one would soon deny Him and others would flee in fear.

Jesus knew their weaknesses and the failures that were to come, yet still He had earnestly longed for and anticipated this special time with them. He knew they did not understand they were the first fruits of the Bride His Father had promised Him; He knew they would not initially perceive the reasons for His impending death; He knew in the days immediately to follow they would suffer confusion and despair and wonder why He had abandoned them; He knew also that centuries in human time would pass before He would eat and drink again with His Betrothed at the great Marriage Feast. And knowing all these things, He was prepared to wait, and still waits.

Such is the longsuffering of the Lamb.

There is an Old Testament passage that paints a poignant prophetic picture of Christ earnestly anticipating the first glimpse of His long awaited Bride in Genesis 24:63-67.    Isaac, an Old Testament type of Christ, is found out in a field, surrounded by his vast inherited domain, meditating (sometimes translated as praying, or lamenting). On what is he meditating? Could it be the bride he knows his father’s trusted steward has been sent to find for him? It is evening, the end of a long day, and looking up from his meditation he sees a caravan approaching, carrying the bride he has so long pictured, planned for and desired. How will she respond? Will she willingly leave behind every trace of the life she has known to embrace the new life he longs to give her? Or does she come to him halfheartedly, looking back over her shoulder, wondering if he will be worth the long and difficult journey she has endured?

As a young Christian in my mid-teens I remember becoming deeply aware the Lord was placing a call to ministry on my life, but I was reluctant. I wanted desperately to be a wife and mother, to build a life centred around a secure and warm family environment that was lacking in my own life at that time. I pleaded to be allowed to do those things first, and the Lord allowed me what I asked for.

Many years later, in middle age with children grown and any thought of ministry long forgotten, to my great shock, He suddenly asked me to go on a teaching trip to Africa. At that time I had never even travelled outside my own country of Australia. His very clear message to me was: “I granted you the things you asked of Me, and I have waited for you all these years. Now it’s My turn.”

Do I regret marriage and children? Of course not. Does the Lord regret His choice to give them to me? Again, of course not. He did not waste those years, teaching me many precious lessons and granting me four greatly treasured children through the path He allowed me to take. The Lord often has more than one route to the same destination. But He chose to wait for me because He somehow considered me worth waiting for, and I did not even know it until the day He told me He had done so.

On that day I learned something about Christ I had not previously understood: that He is longsuffering and His longsuffering is intrinsically linked to His grace.

And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted…”

When such immense grace has been revealed to us, the last thing we will ever want to do is take advantage of it by giving Christ anything less than His rightful place of pre-eminence in all things.

And yes, He is more than worth the journey, no matter what course it takes.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Featured Poem, June 2014: Watch This Space

 

WATCH THIS SPACE 

“Foolishness” mumbled the soldier

Casting lots for the rabbi’s garment

“An utter waste of a good man’s life” 

 

 

“Serves him right” spat the Pharisee

Nodding to himself self righteously

Stroking his beard with smug delight

 

 

“It cannot be!” uttered the disciple

Tears streaming from bloodshot eyes

“It wasn’t meant to end this way!”

 

 

“Unbearable!” sobbed the women

Holding tight to one another

“We never thought we’d see this day”

 

 

“How will I bear it?” wept the mother

Recalling a long ago prophecy:

“A sword will also pierce your heart”

 

 

“Remember me!” gasped the dying thief

“Though I don’t deserve mercy

I know You are Who You say You are!”

 

 

“Have we won?” speculated the demons

Confused and unsettled

At the apparent ease of victory

 

 

“Holy!” whispered creation

Silently waiting and watching

Bowing before bleeding divinity

 

 

“Mystery!” shouted the angels

Trembling at the impossible scene

Unfolding before their puzzled eyes

 

 

It is FINISHED!” cried the crucified One

Offering His sinless humanity

Once, for all, the perfect sacrifice

 

 

Nooooo!” screamed Death

Power already slipping from his grip

With horrible realisation

 

 

“OH YES!” the Father thundered

Echoing through earth and Heaven

Violently shaking hell’s foundations

 

 

“Now for Act Two”

Heralded the Spirit

Dancing deftly through time

Unfazed

Alighting triumphantly on a garden tomb

Formidable

Unstoppable

WATCH THIS SPACE!” 

 

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Coming to Moriah

Abraham

When Abraham laid his son Isaac on a sacrificial altar no witness was present but God. The Bible is silent on whether Abraham wept as he bound the boy to the firewood. The scriptures do not tell us whether he averted his eyes from Isaac’s frightened gaze. If we have ever loved someone dearly, however, we can imagine the turmoil raging in Abraham’s soul.

‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them’, God had promised Abram many years before, ‘so shall your descendants be’ (Gen. 15:5). And Abram had looked to the heavens and believed Him. At that moment of faith a vision was planted within the childless Abram, a vision of descendants whose numbers he could not count. ‘You shall be the father of many nations’ he had heard God say on another occasion when His name was changed from Abram to “Abraham, Father of a Multitude”. ‘I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you’ (Gen. 17:6). And again Abraham believed.

What kind of God was this who promised a man such things? But promise begets vision. The God- given vision planted in Abram’s spirit took root, becoming embedded, becoming inseparable from him. He would be a father; his posterity would fill the earth and reign over peoples. God had promised, Abram believed, and so he took the natural steps to ensure God’s promise would prevail. With Sarai his wife unable to conceive, Abram did what any other man in his time and culture would do: he implanted his seed in Sarai’s maid Hagah and waited for God to do the rest. A son, Ishmael was born, and Abram rejoiced that the first part of God’s promise had been fulfilled. The vision received on that starry night many years before was well on its way.

Or was it?

Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.’ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ Then God said: ‘No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him’ (Gen. 17:15-17).

At that precise moment Abraham found himself suddenly confronted with a reality each of us will face sooner or later. God did not desire Abraham’s assistance to fulfil the vision He Himself had planted. Rather shockingly, God would actually prefer it if Abraham hadn’t interfered at all. Ishmael is not the evidence of Abraham’s faith. Ishmael is the evidence of Abraham’s independence.

Oh that Ishmael might live before You!’ Abraham bursts forth. ‘God, I already have a son. Here he is, Ishmael! Can’t you just fulfil Your promise to me through him? After all, he is already here with me. It may not be the perfect situation we had envisaged, but why waste it? Surely we don’t have to start from the beginning?’

The answer, as we know, was ‘no’. Ishmael is a child of the flesh, Isaac will be a child of the Spirit. And Spirit and flesh can never mix (John 3:6).

Everyone who has ever conceived a vision from God must be brought to this moment of truth. No matter how ‘worthy’ the vision that drives us, be it related to ministry, family, church planting, a life of worship and service, healing the sick, or any number of other possibilities, our efforts to walk in it through our own willpower will only serve to complicate and delay its fulfilment.

God-given vision is intrinsic to our spiritual growth. It exercises and strengthens our faith and assists us in learning who we are in Christ. But vision must not define us. If we are finding our identity in anything other than Christ, even in a God-given vision, we have not yet done with the flesh.

There are going to be times in our journey when God calls us to lay on the altar the very vision He has planted into us. For those who have never experienced being broken by God, such a suggestion will not make sense. We may spend weeks, months or years anguishing over where we went wrong. Did we not hear God properly? Did we disobey Him? Has He forsaken us? At such times we will entertain any possibility other than the one we do not want to deal with: that God simply asks us to lay down our vision, let go, and trust Him with the outcome.

Often the vision we carry has not come about simply because we have yet to learn the most basic lesson: all God-given vision is an expression of Christ.  Christ is life and every spiritual vision truly given by God is but a tiny seed of that Christ-Life.  Furthermore, we are not the originators of the vision, God is. He plants, we carry. When our God-given vision becomes mixed with the strength of our flesh, when our focus becomes centred on how we can bring the vision about, God must deal with us. If it is to survive, our vision must be purified and our focus must be brought back to Christ.

Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’ (Gen. 22:2).

There was no distressed pleading from Abraham at Moriah. ‘Oh that Isaac might live before You!’ was not heard echoing down the mountainsides. The hand that held the knife ready to slay his son was the hand of a man dying to his own strength, will and understanding, yet alive to God through faith.

Abraham no longer had a plan B. Ishmael, the son of the flesh, now banished, would not be his backstop. The vision of descendants numbering more than the sand of the sea was entirely dependent on Isaac, son of the Spirit, living and reproducing. Abraham’s readiness to relinquish Isaac into God’s hands was not fatalism, but faith, for he believed God could and would raise his son even from death (Heb. 11:19).

And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’ (Gen. 22:12).

You have not withheld your only son! On Mount Moriah God speaks of Isaac as the ‘only son’ (Gen. 22:2, 12). And so it was.  For Abraham, the flesh had been crucified, the God-given vision would come to pass: born of the Spirit, sustained by the Spirit, and fulfilled through the Spirit, without the touch of man’s flesh.

All God-given vision is an expression of Christ. When we begin to understand this truth, God can trust us as vision bearers.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.