When I was in kindergarten, my teacher, Mrs. Flatt, asked me an important question: “Do you button the buttons before you put on your coat or after?”
I mulled that question over in my mind and then, confidently gave my answer: “Before.”
“Carol, go and get your coat off the hook,” she told me.
I obediently walked and got my fluffy, brown winter coat off the rack. As soon as I took it down, I realized I was wrong. I returned to the class, coat in hand.
“OK, button the buttons and put on your coat.”
My shame knew no bounds, but I never forgot the lesson. In case you didn’t get the point, you always put on your coat and then button the buttons.
Even though I learned the lesson about getting dressed, I continued in life often missing the sequence of things. The proverbial cart before the horse kept tripping me up. I learned, however, it’s not something new to my life. No, it’s been happening for a very long time.
Our own Father Abraham, had to learn this lesson in a hard way. He’d messed up. Though God told him he was going to become a father of a great nation, he decided to take things into his own hands (with some help from his wife), and allowed nature to take its course with his Egyptian servant, Hagar. He had a son alright, Ishmael, but it wasn’t the one God was talking about. The son of the promise would come later…many years later, and his name was Isaac, born through an old woman who was not supposed to be able to give birth and even laughed at the prospect. Yet, he did come, just as God had said.
God wanted to do great things through Abraham, but the sin of self had gotten in the way. It didn’t mean the promise was gone, but self had to be sacrificed first. As Oswald Chambers says it, “Sin made it necessary for the natural to be sacrificed.”* After Isaac was born, Hagar and Ishmael had to be sent away. Abraham had to sacrifice the natural first, before he could be ready to face an even greater spiritual test.
Only when Abraham had obeyed in sending Ishmael away, did God know he was ready for offering a spiritual sacrifice — Isaac, the son of the promise. If he sacrificed Isaac, there was no way Sarah would be able to deliver another child. He alone was the gateway to the great nation of the covenant.
We know the story — Abraham passed the test.
I know God has plans for me to go deeper in my walk with him, deeper in my obedience, but sometimes I feel as if sin is keeping that next stage from happening. I need to detox — confess the sin of self and putting my plans, my desires before his. I need to lay the natural at the feet of Jesus and be cleansed. Until I get my slate clean — my heart clean before God, I cannot expect to pass the test of the spiritual sacrifice, because that’s a test that can only be passed by a person who trusts God to bring the dead back to life.
Until I can say I have been crucified with Christ, and it’s really no longer I who live, but Christ, then I’m not there yet. Without the cleansing, the sacrifice of self, we will live with a continual internal struggle for dominance, and our witness for God will suffer.
He cannot be glorified by a vessel that hasn’t been emptied for him to fill.
Do you have the sequence down? Confess sin first and then, let God have his way.
Grace and Peace
*Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. 1935. December 10th devotion.