For a good part of the month of January, I read the book of Genesis in The Message Translation. Eugene Peterson spent a good portion of his life translating the Bible into The Message so that un-scholarly people like myself who did not want to learn Hebrew or Greek could understand it. In Genesis, we are given the foundation upon which everything in life is built, as we learn about “God’s creative acts, His intervening and gracious judgments, His call to a life of faith, and His everlasting covenant with His people.” These are themes that are personal for us as well.
It is this theme of covenant that I want to write about today. Six generations after Noah, God began His covenant plan with the Patriarch of the Jewish people when He told Abram, at the age of 75, to pack up and move his wife Sarai, nephew Lot, and all their possessions to the promised land of Canaan. “So Abram obeyed.” Long story short, Abram kept obeying, moving, and building altars for prayer everywhere he went. God continued to lay out the promise that his heirs would outnumber the stars even though the couple was old and grey and childless. If you skip several chapters ahead, you finally discover that this 100-year-old man and 90-year-old woman, now renamed Abraham and Sarah, finally had a biological son whom they named Isaac. I can imagine there was quite a celebration!
But then something seems to have gone terribly wrong. Fast forward to chapter 22. Even the Message doesn’t mince words when God instructed Abraham to take his only son on a three-day journey to Mt Moriah and “sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.” In what had to have been an act of pure covenantal obedience, Abraham packed wood, flint, and a knife, and “saddled up his donkey”. Happily, we know the way this part of the story ends: God spared Isaac’s life and confirmed Abraham’s deep trust in Him. Once again Abraham built an altar of prayer and named it, appropriately, “God-sees-to-it.” “God’s covenant is a guarantee that God is working for us and in us to fulfill His promises. And more often than not, in spite of us. In a covenant, nothing is withheld” (Peterson, The Message).
Many of you know that six years ago Mark was diagnosed with a stage two liposarcoma in his leg. Several faulty diagnoses could have spelled disaster if we had followed doctor’s orders prematurely. In the consultation describing the four-hour surgery to remove the tumor, the surgeon warned that there was a possibility he would have to do a more radical surgery if he discovered something more serious during the operation. For someone who loved sports his whole life, the thought of losing a leg was devastating.
I’ll never forget our interaction on the morning of the surgery. Our four kids went into the prep room to give their dad a hug, a recent family photo, and to tell him they loved him. After they left, it was my turn. What should I say? What could I say? I had extraordinarily strong emotions and few words. I had never lacked words over the course of 32 years with this man. I leaned over, kissed him through my tears, and said weakly, “It’s going to be okay.” He looked back through his own tears and replied, “It already is.” You see, Mark had “saddled up his donkey.”
Surgery was successful, but permanent drop foot and yearly scans serve as a reminder that our lives are different now. The month of recuperation on our downstairs futon put him in a faithful posture and served as an altar of sorts as he followed in his mom’s footsteps and began to memorize the Psalms. This surrendered endurance entrenched the Word of God in his heart, and a settled assurance of God’s covenantal love continues to anchor him.
I know that some of you find yourselves in difficult circumstances that require you in faith to “saddle up your donkey;" to put one foot in front of the other as you walk through a difficult valley. You may have had multiple trials that require saying “yes” to God as you walk in daily obedience. And it feels extra hard because of the pandemic and life can feel so isolating in grief and loss.
Remember “God-sees-to-it.” Build an altar of prayer. Remember the covenant you have with God and hear the invitation from Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I love the way Dane Ortlund describes the gentle and humble heart of Jesus: “He doesn’t simply meet us at our place of need; He lives in our place of need. He never tires of sweeping us up into His tender embrace. It is His very heart. It is what gets Him out of bed in the morning” (Gentle and Lowly).
Jesus “saddled up his donkey” when He dropped to his knees in the garden of Gethsemane and pleaded with the Father three times to “remove the cup” of suffering and sorrow he was facing, but he affirmed the depths of his trust by saying “Yet, not as I will, but as You will.” He saddled up his donkey when He went to the cross to show the full extent of His love and mercy. He was under the watchful loving eye of God who sees-to-it. And so it is with you. You are under the watchful, loving eye of God-who-sees-to-it. His covenant with you is forever and He is for you.