Call Me Ishmael

Call Me Ishmael

By Sam Williamson

need to sacrifice something to God, and I don’t want to.

After months of trying to sell our house, we signed the closing documents a few weeks ago. My wife and I have painstakingly pursued our hunt for a new home. For me, it’s been more of a frantic, obsessive, compulsive quest. We’ve exhaustively examined hundreds of homes, but only one fit our unique criteria for layout and land-use.

Except this house is forty minutes from our community and we wanted a house a mere ten.

That dreamhouse absorbs my mind. I think about it at night. I imagine daily life with family or hosting retreats on hearing God. And I talk about it too much. (Just ask my friends.)

In my obsession with this aspiration, I begin to doubt God’s goodness (or his power), and I think ill-thoughts of my wife (Why can’t she love this dreamhouse as I do?).

I think God wants me to sacrifice something. Because this preoccupation is leading me into evil.

Taking Matters into Our Own Hands

Scripture is filled with people trying to help God do his job:

  • Abraham and Sarah birth Ishmael because God wasn’t moving fast enough. And there has been bloodshed ever since between the generations of those two sons.
  • Moses kills an Egyptian (murder!) when he spots an injustice. And he spends the next forty years in the wilderness.
  • When the priest Samuel is late to a worship service, King Saul performs the service himself. And he loses his kingdom.

Our compulsion to do great things for God creates obstacles to God doing great things for us.

Our desires themselves may not be bad; but compulsions lead to evil deeds of our own at the expense of looking to the deeds of God. (Just ask the thousands of children who turn against Christianity because their parents try too hard to raise perfect kids.)

It Ain’t Easy

To sacrifice begins with a one-time decision; then we must re-make it over and over again. My decision keeps haunting me. I sobbed when I told my wife I need to hold a funeral for that dream. But even in my weeping, I secretly wondered, “What if my sorrow changes her mind!

God save me from myself. (Especially save my wife from my maneuverings!)

Yesterday my daily-psalm reading led me to, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). In a heartbeat, I thought, “If I delight myself in God, he will give me that dreamhouse.”

It’s impossible to delight in God in order to get what we really want, because what we “really want” is the true delight of our heart. That house is my real delight. I’m using God as an means.

This morning I read about Abraham sacrificing Isaac and God giving Isaac back. I thought, “Maybe if I surrender this house to God, then he’ll ….”

Need I elaborate?


God asked Abraham to make two sacrifices, first the “child of the flesh” Ishmael, and finally the “child of the promise” Isaac. I don’t know which my dreamhouse is: of the flesh or of the promise. But only one son came back to Abraham. Abraham never again saw the other.

I think God is calling me to sacrifice, not my dream but to sacrifice my right to myself, to hold a funeral for all the ways I know what I need. Because I don’t know. My challenge is not to surrender a home, idea, or a hope; but to lay down my “rights” on the altar and say, “Your will be done.”

Call me Ishmael. Or call me Isaac. (Just don’t call me obsessive Captain Ahab.)


P. S. Despite our obsessive desires, our single greatest need is an intimate relationship with God; and relationship means communication. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.

After all, what did God save us for? To know him personally.


I am an orthodox believer. At least I long to be. I believe that our cultural moments cloud our beliefs, so we must continually examine our current, fashionable beliefs—which are often unquestioned—in light of scriptural truth.

My father was born in China to Pentecostal missionaries. My mother was born in a farming family in Kalispell, Montana.

I went to University of Michigan and studied Reformation/Enlightenment Intellectual History, philosophy, and Hebrew (and a bit of Greek). I did mission work overseas for three years and felt God say “not now.” So I moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan and got a job at a software company. (There weren’t many jobs in European Intellectual history.) With two partners, I bought the software company and worked there about 25 years.

In 2007 I heard God call me to writing, speaking, and men’s ministry. I left the business world and began Beliefs of the Heart.

I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan with my wife. I have four grown children and an increasing number of grandchildren.

Be sure to check out Beliefs of the Heart and Sams book – Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?

Facebook Twitter Google+