Romans 8:28 (NASB), “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
This is true. Theologically, we believe it. It’s in the daily nitty-gritty that we get lost. We don’t see the future. The road is obscured. As we set out on the unmarked path, we wonder: “What is God’s will? What does he want me to do?” We have God’s written word to guide us. Focusing on obeying God’s revealed will gives us plenty to keep us busy.
But for specific decisions, we hope for the kind of instruction Abraham received from God, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NIV). This was followed by a list of guarantees.
We want a clear directive. Do exactly this, and this will occur. We believe we would then follow our marching orders, head down the road, and reap the blessings. However, the carrying out of Abraham’s obedience was messy. Faith is a lifetime lesson.
At first, Abraham obeyed partially as he attempted to follow this God he had just met. He left Ur; but he took along family members, in spite of God’s directions to leave them. This was culturally correct; he went with the norm. He stopped in Haran; then he set out again, but (whoops!) he took along his deceased brother’s son Lot. This caused problems later.
Are we more affected by our culture than by our faith? Do we neglect God’s leading if it seems culturally odd? Do we obey the entire directive, or only part?
He arrived in the promised land. God appeared to him and said, “To your Seed I will give this land” (Gen. 12:7). God told Abraham (then named Abram) that he had arrived exactly where he was supposed to be. X marks the spot. We want this type of guidance.
But then came the test. Abraham failed.
There was a drought. So, without God’s instruction, Abraham left the place God had said he was supposed to be. He went to Egypt. There he put Sarah in a vulnerable position, probably hoping to go unnoticed; but Pharaoh took her. Abraham made this decision out of fear, as if the God who had just made this promise couldn’t keep him safe and couldn’t fulfill what he had said he would do.
How often do we do this? How often do our fears keep us from following God’s direction? How often do they drive us toward the wrong decision?
God saved the day! He protected Sarah, and Abraham got her back. He returned to the promised land, separated from Lot (finally), but later had to go and rescue him when Lot chose to live in a dangerous place. Abraham’s separation from Lot and his handling of the victory showed faith:
- He trusted God to give him the land he had promised, even if Lot chose the most fertile place (no fear, resting in God’s word).
- He didn’t ally himself with evil men in any way or receive any benefit from them, even though they outnumbered him (no fear).
- He offered a tenth of what he had won in battle to the priest of God Most High (loving God first).
Right after each of these decisions, God met with him, again promising him the land, a son, and plentiful descendants. Abraham believed God, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6; Romans 4:1-3). This was when the deal was made in Abraham’s heart. God had been “all in” since before time began.
What did Abraham’s faith look like: “He believed the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…without weakening in his faith…He did not waver in unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:17b,18a, 19a, 20-21 NIV).
God initiated a covenant with him, showed him the stars, and said his offspring would be that numerous. We want this to be when Isaac was conceived; but it wasn’t. Faith is a moment-by-moment challenge. If I act in faith one moment, it does not necessarily mean I will act in faith the next. Often, we see most clearly in hindsight.
Immediately after this life-changing event, at Sarah’s suggestion, Abraham fathered a child with Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden (obtained during that trip he shouldn’t have taken down to Egypt). He didn’t trust God to give him a child through Sarah. This decision is still causing problems today.
Once more, he took the culturally accepted route. He believed God would give him a child, but he aimed the wrong direction, taking matters into his own hands. A thirteen-year period of silence between God and Abraham followed this misstep.
Do we take matters into our own hands instead of waiting and trusting? Aren’t we just like this?
God keeps his promises. When the Lord next appeared to Abraham, he responded by falling on his face. (I would have, too.) God reminded him of the promised covenant, gave him a physical reminder (circumcision), and spoke precisely: “I will bless Sarah and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations” (Gen. 17:16 NIV).
Abraham’s slow growth and God’s patience encourage me. I am just this dense.
To make certain Abraham understood, three angels (one probably a pre-incarnate Jesus in angelic form) came to tell him Sarah would have a child within a year. That should do it, right? No! Immediately afterward, Abraham put Sarah in the same vulnerable position again, not remembering the previous lesson. This time, Abimelech took her. God protected her again. Abraham got her back, and FINALLY Isaac was conceived, because Abraham believed God to be faithful (Hebrews 11:8-12).
This all took at least 25 years. Sadly, my own faith walk looks almost exactly like this. Does yours? Do you forget previous lessons and have to learn them again?
Faith is messy. God will orchestrate everything to accomplish his purpose in our lives, for our good—our errors in judgment, our culturally misguided decisions, our awkward and foolish attempts to “help him out,” and our habitual sins. God is faithful to us, even when we blow it and fall flat on our faces, even when we must repent and get back on track repeatedly. He knows we’re just dust. God keeps his promises. He has promised to work all things together for our good. And he will.