Genesis chapter 22 contains a fascinating piece of biblical history. In it, God submits Abraham, the man he has chosen as the ancestor of his chosen people, to a test.
At this point, Abraham has walked with God for more than 30 years. He has followed God across the Fertile Crescent to a land that God has promised to give him, and has received a son from God, a miracle that happened when he was around 100 years old. By any measure, Abraham could probably be assumed to be faithful and sincere in his relationship with God.
But God decided to put Abraham to one final test. So he calls to Abraham out of heaven, and Abraham responds, "Here I am." Three very small words in English, and only one in the original Hebrew. But they contain a whole universe of meaning.
When God called Abraham's name that day, I can almost see him in my mind's eye snapping to attention, every sense on high alert for what the Lord wanted him to do, totally receptive to any message that the Lord might have for him.
In this case, the message was challenging beyond anything that he could ever imagine: He was to take Isaac, the son of the promise, far away and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. But even though this command seemed strange to Abraham, kind of out of character for the God he had come to know, he didn't argue. Instead, his "Here I am" proved to be not just availability to hear, but willingness to obey. Verse 3 shows Abraham rising early in order to obey this very strange command of the God whom he served.
Three days later, just as Abraham was lifting the knife to kill Isaac as he lay bound and helpless on the altar, God again called out Abraham's name. And, once again, Abraham's answer was "Here I am." This time the command was more reassuring: Abraham had passed the test with flying colors, and had not withheld his son from the claims of the Lord. God was releasing Abraham from the previous command because of his steadfast obedience to it.
Throughout history the great heroes of the faith (whether well-known or not!) have answered God's call with "Here I am." Jacob (Genesis 46:2), Moses (Exodus 3:4), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8), and even Ananias of Damascus (Acts 9:10). All of these responded to God's call with alertness and with hearts prepared to obey.
I believe that today, in 21st century America, God still wants people who wait eagerly for him to call their name, who look consistently for him to direct their actions, and who will be instantly obedient, no matter what he commands.
It reminds me of Psalm 123:1-2 (New International Version): "I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy."
The eyes of a servant watch his master's hand and the eyes of a servant girl watch her mistress's hand intently, so that they can instantly respond to the slightest gesture. When they have finished one task, their eyes revert to the master's or mistress's hand for the next command.
That is the same way in which we are to serve the Lord: constantly watching and listening, looking for the slightest gesture, the smallest indicator of his next assignment for us, and ever ready to respond, "Here I am!"