Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 9. The Start of a Story
Heb 11:8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
Every story has a beginning; this was the beginning of Abram’s story. One day he became conscious that he was hearing God. I still find it sad that for many modern Christians they can accept these words about Abram but deny they are possible for themselves. When did God stop being a God of communication? The whole Bible testifies to this. Perhaps the bigger issue for many modern Christians is not so much the “I can’t hear God” but “I don’t want to hear God because that might put a demand on me that I don’t want.”
Perhaps the truth of this – for such people are Christians and so they did hear God when they were genuinely saved and they do hear God and respond to Him through sermons and such like – is that they are not sufficiently secure in their faith to be able to claim they heard God – even though they did! If that is you, claiming that God spoke to you doesn’t make you a super-saint above everyone else, just that you are an ordinary Christian – by New Testament standards at least. God can speak to us through sermons, through prophecy, through reading the Bible, thoughts while we are praying, words from other Christians, through circumstances and not doubt other ways as well.
The fear that some of us have is that we are unsure about God and therefore we would rather make excuses about not hearing than trust ourselves to a God we think is hard and might ask hard things of us. It’s more likely to be our uncertainty of God’s absolute love for us than about anything else. When we were first saved the conviction we first felt was probably more about our failures than about God’s wonder, the wonder comes second and depending on the sort of church we belong to and the sort of teaching we get, we either hear about that wonder, or we don’t.
The amazing thing about Abram (as he was before his name was changed to Abraham) was that he was a pagan living out in the area of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), the area from which the wise men or Magi came seeking Jesus. It was always an area that was known for its seers and so we don’t know how Abram heard God but one way or another he heard sufficiently clearly for the ‘message’ to be written down: “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1) Note the tense of Genesis 12:1 – “had said”. It looks back.
The story is intriguing and starts in the previous chapter: “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.” (Gen 11:31) Terah, Abram’s father appears to be the one who led the family from Ur with the intent of going to Canaan (the eventual ‘Promised Land’) but settled in Haran, a city on the way, which is why, when we get into chapter 12 we read, “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and….Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran…. and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.” (Gen 12:4,5) Now whether the originating word came to Abram back in Ur and he was the one who got his father to lead the family out, or whether Terah caught the sense of God’s intents and set out but gave up at Haran, we don’t know. All we do know is that God spoke to Abram – in Ur or Haran – and Abram heard and responded.
The enormity of this act of faith is noted by the writer to the Hebrews when he says, “even though he did not know where he was going.” The message had been “go to the land I will show you.” That ‘will’ indicates a future thing. You start going Abram and I will show you the land. Clearly they must have had some sense of direction and whether the reference to Canaan back in chapter 11 was in retrospect or they heard that as their destination to start with is not certain. The big issue is that, “Abraham, when called to go …. obeyed and went.”
That sums up faith really – God says and we do it. That is faith. It starts with God speaking and is followed by us acting and then there is an outcome which is yet in the future and is in God’s hands. The outcome for Abram was that he would have a new land to live in. As the days went on God made it more and more clear that this land would be his land and the land of his descendants, and of course it has been a land that the enemy has sought to challenge ever since.
So to summarise, dare we ‘hear’ God? Are we sufficiently secure in His love that we can trust that whatever we hear will be for our good and a blessing to us? I have often commented in these meditations (and see the prior brief series on Jeremiah for this) that whenever I have the privilege of bringing a prophetic word from God to someone, so often the response in them is, “Who me? Surely not.” It happened only yesterday when we were praying for healing for a lady who we know from a distance and as we prayed the Lord gave me a lovely word for her. Afterwards she thanked us and I saw that same look of uncertainty in her eyes as she went that said, “Surely that can’t be true? That was too good to be true.” And that takes us back to what I said earlier. Maybe the crucial issue that is before some of us as we go through these thoughts about faith, is whether I dare believe and trust God. Faith is responding to God. You can trust Him. We’ll say some more about this as we follow Abram’s story through. This was just the beginning of it.