It’s An Abraham Thing

or — A Tale Of Three Revivals

by Richard W. Webb

Prelude To Silence — Not!

Last November at our church we were visited by evangelist Joe Sneed. At the time of that revival I was already sensing within my spirit that the Lord was trying to get my attention about something. I was already going through a difficult time, feeling discontent regarding my place in our music ministry.

A few weeks later God told me to step down from the music ministry. After praying about this, I finally told our Music Minister that I’d be stepping down. I’d stick with it until January but then I’d be out until God told me to come back. But over the next couple of weeks I started thinking maybe I was wrong; maybe I hadn’t heard from God and was just using that perceived word as an excuse to, well, to indulge my discontent. Perhaps I just needed to change my perspective. Maybe it would all just fix itself.

So I talked myself into staying on.

The Price

I began to feel the effects of disobedience. Pretending there was nothing wrong wasn’t working, and it showed. Don’t get me wrong. God hadn’t abandoned me. I was still annointed to play. God was still working through me, reaching people with my playing. But I wasn’t being reached.

OK, stop right there; I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. It’s not about me; it’s all about Him. That’s true. Very much so. But let me tell you something about physics, and I believe this applies as much in the Spirit world as it does in the physical world. Consider an electric lamp. The purpose of the lamp is to give off light, and in the process it also gives off heat; this is because the light bulb is not 100% efficient. But if you investigate carefully, you’ll also find that the lamp cord also warms up a little. Without getting too technical on you, the cord, whose job it is to conduct electricity from the wall outlet (the source) to the light bulb (the load), actually absorbs some of the electrical energy; this small amount of energy is used by the cord and never reaches the light bulb. As the light bulb was not 100% efficient, neither is the cord.

So it is, I believe, with the spiritual annointing that accompanies our ministry. As musicians, our purpose is to act as a conductor of spiritual power from God (the wall outlet) to those who have gathered to worship Him (the light bulbs). In the process, we ourselves are warmed a little by that flow of power. We are never 100% efficient in conducting the power from the source to the load. But the Lord wrote the laws of physics, and breaks them when He wants to. Somehow I’d become 100% efficient. The power was flowing, but I wasn’t being warmed.

Of course I hadn’t yet realized the cause; I was just whining about the effects. All I knew was that something was wrong, and I needed to find out what it was. I needed a fresh touch from God, a new sense of direction.

Let’s Run Through That One More Time

That brings us to revival number two. Jerry Hall was coming in May, and I was determined that I was going to get an answer. I went with a purpose. I needed a word. I told my wife Wendie what I was expecting, and she prayed in agreement with me.

As a church musician, I sometimes have mixed feelings about revivals. My job, if you will, is to follow our Music Minister, and to play the music that the Spirit leads her to play. And don’t get me wrong; I love this job. But sometimes you need to step down off the platform and go to the altar. If you need to do that badly enough, well, you do it.

I spent far more time at the altar during that revival than I had at any other since I started to play in the praise band. I really needed it. Brother Jerry’s messages were really good, but what I needed was the altar, and a word direct from God’s Spirit to mine. And Wendie was right there at the altar with me.

The Beginning Of Wisdom

So I was at the altar every chance I got. And I was waiting . . . expecting. The last night was Wednesday, and He finally spoke to me. It was not the message I wanted to hear. But it was simple, plain: “Do what I told you to do the last time I talked to you.” So there it was again. Step down. Just in case I was missing something, I stayed longer at the altar. Nothing more. So self decided to speak up: “OK, you got your word. Now quit acting like an idiot and get up on the platform and play your guitar. If you don’t, people are going to think there’s something wrong with you.”

But I was determined this time I was going to be obedient. I rose from the altar and went and sat at a side pew. I realized it was uncomfortably warm, and I still had my tie on, so I took it off. Still warm. Went out to the lobby to get a drink. Ah, good cold water. My head started to clear. The rest of the praise band was playing, so I headed back in and found a seat at the back of the sanctuary. The Lord asked me if I noticed how good the music was sounding — without me.

Act On It

That night I told Wendie what the Lord had told me. She may not have thought I heard right, but she was determined not to interfere. I’m sure she was tempted, but she never tried to talk me into thinking I was mistaken.

Thursday I made a phone call to our Music Minister. It was a tough call to make. Then I called our pastor; another tough one. Saturday I got in touch with our sound man. I had confided in him on Tuesday that I was at the revival for a reason, and he sensed Wednesday that I’d gotten my word. So I let him know what to expect come Sunday.

I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that Sunday morning was for me. In the world of literature there are some famous first lines. One of them is the opening to Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” That pretty much sums it up. It was good — no, it was great — knowing that I was walking in obedience. But Lord . . . there’s nothing in this world that makes me feel more alive than to worship You, and You know as well as I do that I do it best with a guitar in my hands.

What’s It All About?

I have a confession to make: I’m an engineer (well, I don’t have a degree but I do the work). As an engineer, I know how to make a plan. So here I was, being obedient. Yeah, but Lord, why is this going on? Must be something You want me to learn.

So out comes the pad of paper and the pencil. Let’s see. Draw a line down the middle. Put a heading on the left side: ME. And a heading on the right side: OTHERS. The left column is going to be a list of the things I might be intended to learn from all this. Of course, maybe all this is for someone else, so let’s just make this column on the right so I can list the things that other people might be intended to learn. I think about this for a bit, then decide the right column is more a place to list good things that might come out of this for other people. The left column remains a list of lessons for DW.

OK, let’s start with pride. That’s always a rough spot for me. Next, maybe the idea is that this makes me more available to Jesus for something else besides music. Next, along similar lines, perhaps it’s just a chance to get closer to Him. Or perhaps this makes me more readily available to take advantage of some other ministry opportunity that’s waiting for me.

Let me pause for a minute and clarify that last item. I truly believe that I have been called to a ministry in music. I knew when I was four years old that I’d be a guitar player. I didn’t even own a guitar until I was fifteen but that doesn’t change what I knew when I was four. I also truly believe that my calling is to a ministry that will go beyond the walls of my local church. And by that I do not intend in any way to minimize the value of ministry within the local church. It is only in the local church that believers can find out what being Christian is all about. But I know that I know that I know that I have a calling beyond the local church.

So back to the list. Perhaps a time of preparation? I could certainly stand to get better at what I do. I could learn new techniques, new styles. I could become a better singer (much better). Or maybe the Lord is through with me as far as music is concerned. Or maybe I need to question my expectations? Or my motives? Or — hold on and sit down! — maybe I was just wrong after all. Wrong the first time and wrong again. Maybe I wasn’t hearing from God.

I won’t bore you with a list of the items in column two. Trust me — it’s better this way.

Into The Word

So my little engineering brain has had a chance to exercise itself. Enough speculation! Enough planning! Time to dive into the Word.

I’ve always been drawn to the story of Abraham and his offering of Isaac. A cautionary word here: I know the dangers of trying to stretch an analogy too far. I see some similarities between my life and the life of Abraham. But they go to a point, and no further. Hopefully you won’t go away thinking I’m some wacko who thinks he’s Abraham. Or even some wacko who thinks he’s special. Hopefully I haven’t stretched my analogy too far.

Abraham left the Ur of the Chaldees for a land he knew not. A few years ago I moved my family from Liverpool, New York, to New Bern, North Carolina. Although I knew the land I was going to, what I didn’t know was where we would end up spiritually. We had grown quite comfortable in our church back home, and we didn’t know where we’d end up going to church here.

To the extent that any of us can identify with Abraham, we will certainly have an Isaac. Mine is the music ministry. And we can’t forget Ishmael: my earlier days as the guy who could never play in front of more than a couple of people without being high on something illegal can certainly qualify as my Ishmael. And once I identify my music ministry with Isaac, the obvious conclusion is that stepping down from the ministry is like putting Isaac on the altar.

And if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to take a short side trip and point out a couple of parallels I found between Isaac and Jesus. First, even though Abraham had a son Ishmael, the Word refers at least twice in Genesis and once in Hebrews to Isaac as Abraham’s only son. And many Bible scholars believe that the hill of Abraham’s offering up of Isaac is the same hill where Jesus was crucified. And both Isaac and Jesus carried the wood of their sacrifice; Jesus carried the cross to Golgotha and Isaac carried the wood for the burnt offering up the hill, too.

How Could He?

I’m sure I’m not the only father who ever struggled to understand how Abraham could possibly be willing to sacrifice his son on an altar.

Sometimes we go for the easy answers. I remember once telling my pastor back in New York that when Jesus said from the cross “My God, why have You forsaken me?” He was quoting the 22nd Psalm, and so we can look at the last half of that Psalm, which is very positive, and know that Jesus was looking ahead to the victory. But Pastor Jack was quick to let me know that there wasn’t anything Jesus could forsee that made what He was going through that easy to take. My Savior, Pastor Jack would say, was saying what He said because, at that moment, He felt forsaken, and, in fact, was forsaken! Don’t ever think that what He said has anything to do with some sense of future victory that would make easier what He was going through at that moment.

In a similar fashion, I think it’s too easy to pass over Abraham’s love for his son by focusing on the assurances he had that all would work out for the best. Yes, he was a man of extreme faith. He trusted God like few have trusted God before or since. As Hebrews points out, Abraham could see that God could raise Isaac from the grave if need be, so he had no reason to fear. He would receive the promise with or without Isaac.

But as we mature in our faith, we see that Jesus was not only wholly God, but also wholly man. And if Jesus was wholly man, how much more so was Abraham, who was zero percent God? And, as a 100% human, how could he possibly be willing to place his son on that altar, lift the knife, and be ready and willing to bring it down upon his beloved son?

At the risk of going overboard with this idea, consider the conversation that must have taken place as father and son proceeded up the hill. “Dad?” “Yes, son?” “Uh, Dad. We’ve got the wood for the sacrifice, and I see you’re carrying the fire, and I see you’ve got that sharp knife, but I was wondering, Dad. Uh, aren’t we supposed to have, like, a lamb or something?” I’m guessing Isaac was old enough to understand that there was something mighty different about this day, and I seriously doubt that he let the conversation end there. Knowing what he was prepared to do, how could Abraham talk with Isaac at all?

A Ram In The Thicket

The Bible narrative says that Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket. So the Lord did indeed provide. So I got it in my mind that I just needed to look up and see my ram in the thicket, and then I’d be able to get back to my music ministry. So there I was, looking, waiting, expecting. I’m embarrased to say that I entertained this thought for several days before I realized that Jesus is the ram. And He’s not to be expected; He’s already been. (I’m speaking, of course, about His perfect sacrifice, not His return.)

So I was looking in the wrong place for an end to my exile. I was focusing on the wrong thing.

Along Came Jimmy

So here comes the third revival. Jimmy was just there for one day: two services on Sunday, but it was enough.

I need to tell you a little about his message that morning, even though it doesn’t relate directly to my predicament. What it does show is how God works in ways we’d never predict. Wendie and I had been praying a lot lately over a concern we had with our younger son, Andrew. Wendie had written down a prayer that we could say together in agreement over the outcome of this situation and had placed the prayer in her Bible. That morning, as we waited for choir practice to start (Wendie being in the choir) we said the prayer together. After choir practice we sat together in Sunday school until Wendie had to leave to robe up for the morning service. Since I was “on the bench” I just continued to sit where I was through the rest of Sunday school and on into the service. When Jimmy announced the text for his morning message, I opened the Bible to search for the text. I naturally opened to the place where Wendie had put the prayer sheet. The prayer for our son was facing me on the right, and there on the left was the morning text. Only God could have arranged for Wendie to put that prayer in her Bible to mark the place that would later be revealed as the text for Jimmy’s message. When I later told Wendie about this she finally began to have a peace about Andrew’s situation and to know that God was going to work it out.

And that was good for me, too. I couldn’t see where God was taking me with my removal from music ministry, but I could certainly see Him working in other areas of my life, and that gave me hope.

Jimmy’s evening message had to do with Cain and Able. Jimmy pointed out that the only one God talked to in this passage was Cain. He was the one who needed talking to. God had recently spoken to me. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Mine, Mine, Mine

Since the ram in the thicket was a red herring (sorry about that) I needed to find the right place to focus. I kept coming back to the same thing: how could he? How could Abraham do that?

My best hope for a quiet time comes first thing in the morning. I lay in a tub full of hot water with the lights out and the exhaust fan running. It works for me. Monday morning, after Jimmy’s day, I came to a conclusion. Abraham could never have sacrificed his son, Isaac. But he could have sacrificed God’s son Isaac. Or, to put it in a slightly different fashion, he could do whatever God required him to do in the matter of God’s son Isaac, since Isaac was, in fact, from God, and belonged to God. To paraphrase my pastor, that’s Webb’s Theology. I can’t prove it, but I believe it’s accurate.

If I could take you, through the magic of imagination, to our sanctuary, I could walk over to a certain area of the platform, point to the floor, and say “This is my spot. This is where I set up my equipment. My amp goes there, my pedals go there. There’s where my guitar stand goes. And over here on the railing is where I set my wind controller (the flute thing).”

“And over here is where I sit when the pastor or evangelist is giving his message. This chair right here; it’s my chair. And see here, right in front of my chair, that’s where I stand when I need to stand because the message is just too exciting or too close to home or too whatever to allow me to keep sitting. Yep, that’s my place to stand. And when the message gets to the point where I know I’m not going to be able to sit for the rest of the service, well, just look over here, I’ve got this other place where I stand where I’ve got a little more room to move. And then when it’s time for the music to start up it’s just a few steps from there to my spot where my equipment is. Yep, my spot.”

So Who’s Ministry Is It, Anyway?

Don’t you just hate it when God has to show you something again? I sure do. Guess it didn’t take the last time. Lord, could it be that simple? I guess I had that down on my list. That, or something like it. Are you sure? Can you verify that for me?

A week or so into this Abraham thing Wendie and I started reading the Rick Warren book The Purpose Driven Life together. Somehow, early on, I managed to get a chapter ahead. On this particular Monday, after drying off, I read my daily chapter. Things were going pretty smoothly until I read Rick’s statement about how Jesus never promised to grow my ministry, but only promised to grow His church. Ouch!

Before leaving for work I discovered that Wendie had picked this very morning to read an extra chapter so she could catch up to me. I called her later that day and asked her if anything in particular had struck her from that chapter. She grabbed the book and read a paragraph to me about the importance of the local church and our ministry within it. The paragraph ended like this: Jesus never promised to grow your ministry. He only promised to grow His church. Ouch again!

Act On It (Refrain)

So I emailed our Music Minister: When can I come back? Her reply was a single word: Yesterday!

All This And More!

OK, so I learned a very important lesson. Again! But was that all? Not hardly.

At the start of all this I realized that this would be a good opportunity to get closer to Jesus. I knew I needed that. So once again, being the engineering type, I formulated a goal. I wanted to be this much closer to Him when this was all over. What does the Word say about exceedingly and abundantly beyond what you could ever hope for? Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. There’s nothing special about me. There’s nothing I’ve done to deserve any good thing from Him. I’m not more spiritual than you are. But I need to tell you that what I set as my goal is nothing compared to what He’s given me in these few weeks. I don’t say that to brag on me. If I’m bragging at all I’m bragging on Jesus. Just don’t let me slip back to where I was, Lord. Hold on to me!

This experience has also given me the opportunity to witness to a few people who need Jesus more than they realize. I pray they’ve seen enough of Him in what’s happened to me to want to see more of Him in their own lives.

Andrew’s situation has gotten a lot better, in ways he didn’t expect, and in ways Wendie and I could never have predicted. [Update: since I first wrote this piece, Andrew has accepted Jesus and has even begun playing in the Praise Band at his church! Hallelujah!]

One more thing, and I’ll close. Mel Gibson’s movie has a lot of people talking about the Passion of Christ. I totally understand that the movie purposely focuses on those last twelve hours. But you need to see that Christ’s true passion did not see its first light in those hours. Christ’s was a life of passion. A few summers back here in Eastern North Carolina we had forty day tent revivals in as many cities. One of the preachers who came to New Bern revealed his goal, which I personalize here. I want to have the passion that Christ had to do the Father’s will, and I want to have the passion that the Father has for His children.

I’ve begun to make that my prayer for my local church.

Be blessed!

Copyright © 2004, 2005 by Richard W. Webb
Published by SoaringSpiderSongs
All Rights Reserved



Genesis 22:6-8 — [6] And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. [7] And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? [8] And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

Genesis 22:15-18 — [15] And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, [16] And said, By myself I have sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: [17] That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; [18] And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

Hebrews 11:8-10 — [8] By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. [9] By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; [10] For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Hebrews 11:17-19 — [17] By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, [18] Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: [19] Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.