I mentioned that we were to know one more final, agonizing test before we left our home on Levie Road. It began the day the Sheriff arrived to tell us we would have to be out in three days, and this test would be brief, but intense. As soon as the Sheriff left I told my family that we would indeed be moving, although we had no idea at that moment where we would go. I then went into my bedroom to seek the face of God. I was troubled in my heart because I had expected God to receive our intercession on behalf of this people and bring them forth to a walk of faith. Instead I had witnessed them taking steps backward as they turned away from God’s will for them to step out in faith regarding certain decisions they were facing. They were also moving back to a closer affiliation with the traditional Mennonite churches from which the Spirit had called them forth. Because of these things I wondered if our intercession could yet be complete.
As I prayed with much anguish in my heart, a terrible thought began to form in my mind. I sensed the Spirit asking me, “What if I asked you to perform one last great act of intercession for this people? What if I asked you to not move out as the Sheriff instructed you to do, and it ended in your being arrested and you being separated from your wife and children, with your children being placed in government custody for a time? Would you be willing to endure even this as an act of intercession for this people?”
Terror filled my heart when these thoughts came into my mind. I wanted to immediately reject these thoughts as being from the enemy. I wanted to believe that he was simply seeking to torment me further, but it was not the first time I had considered that God might eventually ask me to make such a sacrifice. I had been dreading this moment for years.
Several years earlier, right after the Lord revealed that He would strip us from all things we had gained in our years of disobedience, we had stayed with our friends Randy and Barbara Barnes for a short time. While we were at the Barnes’ house, I watched a video that Randy had pointed out to me. It was an older movie called “The Bible,” and it began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and it ended with Abraham taking Isaac to the mountain to sacrifice him.
The end of this movie was very powerfully depicted as it showed Abraham traveling, with the son he loved, to the mount to make the sacrifice. The agony in Abraham’s heart was revealed to be tremendous, yet he went forward obediently. The movie depicted Abraham binding the arms of his son with a sash, and then laying Isaac upon the altar. Isaac may have been the age of my own son Josiah who was now thirteen years old. The movie ended with a profound question coming from Isaac’s lips as he spoke to his father. He said, “Is there nothing that God cannot require us to do?” Abraham responded, “No son, nothing.”
When I watched this movie I was in a time of great testing, and I was carrying a cross that would lead to a financial death. The pain of this cross was great, but I considered what it would be like to be required to give up one’s own child. There was, and is, nothing more precious to me than my children, and I felt that I could empathize with Abraham’s own agony as I watched this movie. What God required of Abraham seemed beyond normal reason to bear. It struck me as cruel, for I knew that there had to be real agony and torment in his heart as he spent three days traveling to the mount with his son.
After watching this movie I was appalled, and I refused to pray to God for several days. God seemed too terrible to me in the things He required of those who would follow Him. Something within me knew that a day would come when I would also be asked to willingly give to God that which was most precious to me, and I could not bear the thought. The question of Isaac in this movie stood before me, “Is there nothing that God cannot require of us?” I knew the answer was that God could, and would, require that we hold nothing back from Him. There could be nothing that we loved more than we loved Him.
After viewing this film I spent several days brooding upon the high cost of discipleship. I wondered whether I actually would be able to give up my children if God should require it of me. I found much weakness within me, and I knew that in my own strength such an act of obedience would be impossible. Now the test was set before me, and I had to confront this matter. I do not know if the things I envisioned happening if I refused to move out would actually occur. I do not know if I would actually be arrested, or my children would be taken from me, but for me at that moment the possibility was very real, and the Spirit allowed it to be a real possibility in my thinking.
I spent hours in my room in agony. I tried to push these thoughts from my mind, but they would not go away. I considered my wife’s response if I told her God had revealed to me that we had to stay and face whatever consequences should come. She had wrestled mightily with the thought of losing her possessions, and had finally accepted this, if it should prove to be the Father’s will. I knew it would be an even more incredible test to ask her to pay this further intercessory price.
I have never known such agony as I did during those hours alone in my room. It became to me my own private Gethsemane as I wrestled with drinking from the cup of suffering I saw placed before me. I was crying out to God to release me, but I would come back to stating, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Thy will be done.” The cross before me seemed unbearably difficult, but after hours of wrestling I finally concluded that I could not shrink back. I had to follow the course God set before me. With a tremendous heaviness in my heart I called my family together that evening and I shared with them what I was sensing from the Spirit. I told them that even if it resulted in our being separated for a brief time, that I knew God would bring us back together, for God had spoken promises to us as a family that had not yet been fulfilled, and He could not lie. I was reminded of the Scripture that spoke of Abraham’s own trial.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type.
Abraham knew that, even if he had to give up his son to death, God would restore him to life, for God had given him promises concerning Isaac, and God could not lie. I too knew that if I had to give up my children for a time, that God would give them back for He had testified, “I have great things in store for your family. Marvelous things which only I can get the credit for.”
When I spoke to my family Tony did not receive my words well, being greatly distressed, but the children bore it better. I asked my family to pray with me for God’s grace and mercy in this matter, and for strength to not fail the test. Tony refused to join us, but Kristin and Josiah sat close by me and we prayed together. I have never been so moved in my life as I was by the prayer of my son. He too was in distress over the thought of being separated from his parents, and his sister held him tightly as he prayed with tears running down his face. He said, “Father, I do not know if I can go through this, but I ask you to strengthen me that I would be able to obey.”
Josiah was sobbing as he uttered this prayer, and I was reminded of Christ’s own impassioned plea to His Father in the Garden. My son did not shrink back, but chose instead to ask the Father for strength, and never have I been more proud of any person in my life than my son as I listened to his words. My heart was moved within me, and I felt that I could barely endure another moment. My heart was so drawn to my son at that moment that I would not have hesitated to do anything possible to assist him in his own trial. I prayed silently to God and I said, “Surely Father, Your heart must also be moved by such a pure cry from the heart of one who wants to be obedient to You. Surely You will show my son grace.”
I realized later as I looked back over these events that the Father had shown me that such a circumstance would occur. On that day when my son was caught outside in a thunderstorm and I had seen him crawling through the yard toward the house calling out for his parents to help him there was foreshadowed this day when I would see my son in distress. His vulnerability moved me to great compassion, and my heart was being turned over within me. I wanted to spare my son from any pain and suffering, but I knew we had to look to God to deliver us all, even as He provided a ram in place of Isaac.
I slept in the bed with my son that night with my arms wrapped around him. He fell asleep quickly, but my heart continued in pain and sorrow. I had confessed to God that I was willing to do even this, if He required it of me. I was willing to be separated from my children if that was the terrible price of intercession He required of me.
After I had shared with my family what the Spirit had spoken to me and had confirmed to them that I could not shrink back, but I had to follow the Lord wherever He would lead me, our friends the Mills called and said that they felt the Lord would have them to offer for us to live with them for a time. I did not immediately recognize this as our ram in the thicket and our release from this test, for I had fully committed to obeying God and to seeing things through to their conclusion. I truly expected God to require us to carry through with this intercession to the end, and I was in agony, but I was willing and had already seen it as an accomplished fact. I was not looking for a way out, but rather a way through, so I did not realize how quickly the Father had responded to our willing obedience by opening up a door of provision. It was probably no longer than an hour, or at the most two hours, after we had prayed to God and asked Him to strengthen us in this trial that the Mills called and said they believed God would have us to stay with them. As the next morning dawned I began hearing the Spirit speak to me and tell me that this was His provision. He had seen our willingness to not shrink back from this great test, and He was satisfied.
In hindsight I now see the significance of all the eights and sevens that we encountered when we moved in, for these two numbers together speak of that which is full and spiritually mature, that which is superabundant and satisfying to God. He had opened up a door for us to remain in this community for a couple more months and to intercede for this people, and having received our intercession He was now moving us on. Our intercession had arisen as a fragrant aroma to His nostrils, and He would now bring us a season of peace and grace, which He signified in many ways.
I would be less than honest if I told you that I have not had many doubts about all of the things we walked through during that time. I wondered whether it was actually God who led me to count the cost of making such a sacrifice, or whether it was the voice of the enemy seeking to torment me. I wondered whether I was right to subject my wife to such a test, for the Scriptures say nothing of Abraham speaking anything to Sarah about what God had commanded him to do. He did not even tell his servants who traveled with him what his intent was, and Isaac also did not know until the last moment. Tony had done well to come to a place where she was willing to have all her possessions cast out by the road if it should be God’s will, and this was a tremendous thing. It is understandable that she should be greatly disturbed at the thought of being separated from her children.
I do not know whether I erred in my handling of this matter, but I know that my heart was focused upon obeying God and not shrinking back even when faced with the greatest sorrow I could imagine. I also know that God taught me some things about His own heart toward His Son by allowing me to walk through this experience. What a great and terrible love the Father has for His creation, that He would be willing to freely give His Son up for us. I can see that the Father, far from being a dispassionate force, was moved beyond measure in His own heart as He observed His Son’s willingness to drink from the cup of suffering set before Him. I also learned of the depths of compassion that can be elicited from the heart of a father when he sees a son struggling with great issues while choosing to not shrink back, but instead asking for strength to continue.
More than any other description, Yahweh is called a Father. He has created man in His image, and man too has been given the privilege of being a father. As we delight in our children we learn of the great delight Yahweh has for His Son, and of His yearning to have many sons and daughters. As we experience pain in our dealings with our children, we can also know the pain of our heavenly Father toward His children.
I am now able to look at the experience of the Father as His Son was beaten, scourged, spat upon, mocked, and crucified with just a little more understanding of what it cost Him. I felt a tremendous ache in my heart toward my son for a brief time as I considered giving him up, and it was almost beyond bearing. I have never known a sorrow so deep, or a pain so acute. By experiencing this I feel I have touched in a small measure the pain that was in the Father’s heart as He turned His Son over to the suffering of the cross that others might know life. Many people are speaking of being called as intercessors in this hour, but I wonder if most of them truly know what the high cost of intercession is. Intercession is more than merely saying a prayer for another person. It is being willing to lay down one’s own life on behalf of another.
The people at the fellowship in Montezuma do not know of the things we were called to do in intercession for them. They saw only the outer circumstances of our lives, our moving twice, our inability to pay our rent, our being evicted, and they have imagined us to be suffering for our own errors. I have not sought to correct this image in their minds. It is the good will of God that we should be so misunderstood. His Son was also judged wrongly by those who viewed His suffering.
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
The church today has almost no understanding of God’s will for them to follow in the footsteps of His firstborn Son. Being conformed to the image of Christ includes being conformed to the same life of sacrifice and intercession that He demonstrated. As the apostle John stated, “As He is, so are we in this world” (I John 4:17). We should not think it strange then when God calls us to acts of intercession for others, for such selfless giving of oneself for others is the heart of God. Even as Christ laid down His life for those who reviled and rejected Him, so too will the elect of God be called to make intercession for those who have cast them out and rejected them.
I mentioned previously that the name on the air conditioner at this home on Levie Road was Payne. The owners had replaced the unit with another one from a different manufacturer, yet the repairman had left the old unit sitting in the yard next to the house. I thought of the significance of this, for as long as the old unit sat there we continued to endure pain in our trials. I wanted so badly for someone to come and take that air conditioner away.
On the day we were moving out the owner’s son brought a tractor over and picked up the air conditioner and took it away. Our friends the Barnes were helping us move, and I had told Randy about the significance of the name on the unit. He saw the owner’s son taking it away, and he commented to me on the timing of this event. The next months were to be a time of recovery for us, and the pain we had been enduring would not be present.
This excerpt from the book Evidence of Things Unseen: