Genesis 22:3, "And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him."
This morning, laziness abounds and gets worse by the day. When looking at many of the problems that plague and afflict countries, families, churches, and individuals, laziness is at least part of the root source of the problem. Many economic woes in this great land stem from the invading influence of laziness in getting "something for nothing." Spiritual decline can many times spring from laziness as all worthwhile spiritual activity takes earnest effort. Marriages crumble oftentimes due to one or both spouse’s lack of desire to put forth the necessary labor to try to save their union. However, in the subject matter of worship, many of us display one of the ugliest forms of laziness in failure to honour God in a way befitting of His dear children.
Our study verse lies within perhaps my favorite of all Old Testament passages. The story of Abraham and Isaac on the mountain reverberates with rich displays of application to Christ's sacrifice and God's satisfaction. In the temporal realm, the story is further enlightened by Paul in Hebrews 11 as one of the rare times when we get insight into the mind of a Biblical character. Notice briefly the tense of the language in Hebrews 11:17-19. The language is past tense, though we understand from a cursory reading of Genesis 22 that Abraham did not actually take Isaac's life. However, Paul speaks of Abraham actually killing him, and this shows the magnificent faith that Abraham had. In his mind, Isaac was already dead, but just as surely as he intended to kill him was just as surely as Abraham saw God raising him from the dead. What remarkable faith!
One of the most stirring things about this passage that shows Abraham's noble character is the language of the verse above. In the previous verse, God had commanded him to get up and head to the mountain that He would tell him of to offer Isaac as a burnt offering to the Lord. What would you do if posed with such a command from God? How willing would you even be to do it? When my son was born into this world, passages like this took on a much more personal reflection for me. Now that I have a son, I can only ponder what my faith would look like in the light of such a plain command from the Almighty.
Many people today like to play the game of procrastination. When I was in college, the behavior was always on brilliant display. Why do something today when it is not due tomorrow? When is that test? Then why study for it now? As a side note, I have noticed a disturbing trend among some ministers to utilize this mindset when thinking about and preparing to preach to God's sheep. This mentality should be foreign and alien to any child of God, and certainly it should not rear its head in the lives of those that should be ensamples to the flock. Procrastination is a form of laziness, and what would this verse have looked like if Abraham procrastinated? Instead of him rising early in the morning to accomplish what God commanded, he would have slept in, dawdled around, and thought, "If I wait long enough, maybe God will change His mind."
Instead, Abraham was instant and ready to fulfill God's command. Doubtless, this command is harder and more penetrating than any command we have from God today. Nothing that God has commanded me even comes close to the heart-stopping injunction that was handed down here. Still, Abraham was instant. What type of command was this? By offering a burnt offering, God commanded Abraham to "worship" in this manner. Now, we see the mercy of God on rich display when He spared the knife from plunging into Isaac's breast, though He did not spare the sword of Divine Justice from piercing the very soul of His only Begotten Son Jesus Christ. But, God commanded worship on this occasion.
Today, God has commanded us to worship Him. The prescription is spirit and truth. (John 4:24) Nothing about God's command has changed in 2000 years. Since the first advent of Jesus Christ, the church has been set up, given the prescription of worship, and commanded to perpetually follow that prescription until His second advent to carry us home to heaven. Our prescription is not severe like Abraham's seemed to be. John tells us that God's commands are not grievous (I John 5:3), and nothing about the church's worship should ever be considered imposing upon us.
Consider how far we have come! I have read stories of our forefathers in the faith worshipping God in caves during dark days of persecution. Oftentimes these bands of believers would be put to death if their worship was discovered, and some sang praises to God as the flames of their tormentors took their natural lives. As little as 100-200 years ago, it was not uncommon for people to walk miles to be at worship. Ministers would sometimes ford frozen streams to make their preaching appointments. Meetinghouses were uncomfortable by today's standards with natural heat in the summer and natural cooling in the winter. And yet, to all accounts of centuries and decades ago, spiritual welfare and health among the churches and members was higher and stronger than it is – by and large – today.
Today we have greater ease to get to the meetinghouse, and the meetinghouse is more comfortable than at any other time. Religious liberty has existed as long as I have been alive in this great land, and I have never known being in mortal jeopardy for living my faith. Yet, laziness pervades every avenue of our lives: worship included. People seem to find reason after reason not to attend. Others cannot seem to find a reason to be there on time. Others cannot find the energy to engage during the service. None of these things can be attributed to harsh circumstances or for harsh worship. Rather, laziness invades and takes hold.
Many years ago, I was preaching a meeting at a church, and due to the circumstances, their pastor was away for both of my appointments there that weekend. After supper before the first appointment, one of the deacons came up to me and said, "Brother Conley, we don't do anything here. You'll have to do all the singing, praying, and preaching." The statement floored me. I had never run across such honest laziness! The words "we don't do anything here" were those that I never expected to hear spoken though I had seen some live those very words.
Abraham cared enough about his service of worship to be instant and hearty in the fulfilling of it. He shows this by his early attention to it. Just recently, I was asked, "Why do people look at being late to church as so terrible?" Again, I was floored. My reply was a simple question, "Why is it considered so terrible to be tardy to work or an appointment?" The reason is the same in both cases: lack of punctuality displays a poor attitude towards the one we appear for. In the case of employment, we display a poor attitude of reflection upon the one paying us for a day's work. In the case of worship, we display a poor attitude of reflection upon the One that has done so much for us and more than we could ever repay.
While Abraham went further than I have ever been called to go in his service and devotion to God, Christ obviously went further than anyone. Abraham's example is a noble one that I should emulate more than I do, but worship times are afforded for us to adore Christ for that great work that He has done for us. My worship of Him should have laziness weeded and rooted out completely. (Colossians 3:23) In these days that we have before us for whatever time we have left, may our worship of God be early. May it be constant and perpetual (rather than haphazardly). Finally, may it be energized and fervent. Since our duties are light compared to Abraham's and far lighter compared to Christ, we really have little – if anything – to complain about. As I often remind myself from a sermon I heard as a little boy, "If you knew this service was to be your last, how differently would you act? Wouldn't you want your last one to be your best one?" Indeed. Indeed I would. May we treat each opportunity as possibly our last (one day it will be) and work for that to be the best time we ever had worshipping our Great God and Master.