Together We Follow: Genesis 12:10

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Into the unknown, Abram followed God. Not knowing where the road would lead, he set off into the future. He believed the promise of blessing. He believed the promise of a homeland. He believed the promise of family and purpose. He believed God – so, with Sarai at his side, he left behind what was familiar…he chose the uncertain path, staking his life in the One who would go before him.

They entered into Canaan. They traveled through parts of the land, getting to know this new place. They made altars. They made camps. They began to settle in, with worship in their hearts.

And then?

Genesis 12:10:  At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan, forcing Abram to go down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner.

Famine.

How could this be?

In this place of promise, there was need. In this place where God had led them, there was barrenness. Where they expected blessing, hardship showed up.

Abram had another choice to make — would he keep Canaan as his goal? Would he hold onto what had been promised or  would he give up hope? Would he still accept what God had given, even when the gift held such a difficult season?

I don’t know about you – but if I’d been there with Abram and Sarai, I’m quite certain this turn of events would have unraveled my confidence in our decisions. I might have tried to turn back for the familiar home I’d left behind.

But Abram didn’t do that. Instead, he went into Egypt. And Genesis doesn’t say that Abram abandoned Canaan, finding a new home in that neighboring nation…no, he lived as a foreigner there. He wasn’t settling there, but only staying for a while.

Did they wonder why God allowed famine to come to Canaan at this time? I don’t know if Abram questioned it, but I do wonder at the timing. Knowing that God is good and His purpose was to reveal Himself to Abram and all of his descendants, I wonder what this famine was used to accomplish in the heart of Abram.

Perhaps He knew the time had come to show Abram that it wasn’t the blessing that was most important, but the Giver of the gifts. Perhaps God wanted Abram to learn that no matter the circumstances, He would remain with him.Perhaps He wanted to teach Abram that each step – when taken in obedience  – leads us closer to His full purpose. Situations may not look like what we imagined they would…but He uses each circumstance to strengthen, discipline, and deepen us.

This is how Abram kept his course – by looking to the One who had laid out the road before him. In times like these, we have to keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of our faith.

The enemy could have used this famine as a tactic to distract, discourage, and deter Abram from his relationship with God…I feel it’s pretty likely that he would have been working, all the while, to undermine Abram’s trust in God. I can almost hear his voice, whispering – go back. Go home. It’s safer there. It’s easier there. He brought you this far and for what? For famine? For failure? 

And they could have gone back…but they had set their hearts on the promises of God. They were no longer looking for what had been, but for what would be. A life fashioned from their own hands was no longer enough to satisfy their hearts — now that they had seen Him, now that they had heard His voice – they were looking for a home built by God.

Nothing else would satisfy.

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Have you ever been in a spot like this? Have you obeyed God, walked in His way, and found obstacles in your path? Have you listened and planted, worked and waited – only to have a field barren of harvest?

When He is silent…when the answers aren’t immediate…when the answers are not what we would have chosen…do we still trust Him?

What if we never see the reality of God’s promise or the harvest of our labor in this life-time?

Can we trust that His eternal vision sees the outcome we cannot? Can we trust that He is using our lives in ways we cannot yet understand, for this present time and the age to come? Can we hold onto what is yet unseen, trusting the reality of our eternal home that we will one day call our own?

Can we trust in His faithfulness, even when it feels like we have taken a detour that makes no sense, a circumstance that feels like setback, a fall that feels like failure?

I think we have to re-define our definition of success when it comes to our lives. Merriam Webster’s first explanation is this:  the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.

But what if success is actually, simply, the delight of our Father?

What if success is being content in all circumstances because of His presence?

What if success is laying ourselves down and picking up a cross, following Him?

What if success is seeking first the Kingdom of God, putting His name above our own?

What if success is finding joy and beauty in even the smallest moments of our lives?

What if success is being transformed more and more into His image?

What if success is the overflow of His love into the people He has placed on our path?

What if success is giving all – whole-hearted, whole-soul, whole-life to Him, with only the aim of pleasing Him?

What if success is walking with Him, not for what we will gain, but because we love Him?

What if success is developing faith that believes Him, chooses Him, reveals Him through our lives?

What if success is one day hearing ‘well done, good and faithful servant’, as we enter into the City of God?

Isn’t this the kind of success in which a heart can still sing in the midnight, in the storm, or in the famine?  Isn’t this the kind of success that brings real life?

I believe, with all my heart, that this is the only kind of success that satisfies our souls in every season of our lives.

We won’t understand every road we take, every turn or stop…but it isn’t our role to control the outcome of all that we do – that is the work of God and only He can do it in a way that will be both for our good and for His glory. It’s our role to keep trusting, to keep following, to keep obeying the One who loves us.

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If this is where we are right now — earnestly seeking to follow God and finding ourselves, still, in famine or fire, storm or desert, disaster or silence – I hope that we will remember that the One who called us to this place hasn’t gone anywhere. God is still here with us, even when it feels like we are walking away from what we thought would be our future…in the waiting and in the wandering, He is here.

So let’s learn this from Abram: don’t give up and don’t go back.

Don’t let the enemy dissuade or deter you. Don’t let anything talk you into going back to the way things were before…set your eyes on the One who will complete the work He has begun in you. No matter what – His promises are sure. He will do what He says He will do.

Hold onto tightly to your hope. Hang on, with all your heart, to your faith. Famine or plenty, Egypt or promised land, calm or storm, darkness or day – He remains. He stays the same…and He is the satisfaction of our souls.

 

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.-1 Peter 1:6

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.-Hebrews 11: 13-16

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies…

…That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.-2 Corinthians 3:8-10, 16-18


 

Let it be Jesus {Music Monday}

No other can be our ‘song in the storm’, our shield, our sure salvation, our freedom, our righteousness, our hope…

So, yes, let it be His name – the only name by which we are saved – that defines our purpose, the story of our lives now and forever.

Yes, let this be: for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  (Phil. 1:21)

Let it be, let it be Jesus. 

Prayer for the Brave

Help us to be brave, Lord.

Because You know us. The deep-down-real us. You know how Your grace has already brought us far from where we used to be. You know how Your love picked us up when it felt like nothing could help us, when every hope proved false and every answer fell through. You know how Your grace brought us into Your presence, how Your mercy forgave what we could not overcome alone.

And so You know how we want to follow You – wholly, without hesitation, with everything. We long, maybe in the quiet moments or maybe in every moment- to give over all of our lives for Your purpose. We wonder what it would be like to follow in the way the disciples followed. Theirs was a minute-by-minute journey. You moved and they followed. You spoke and they listened. You led the way, and without any guarantee of what might happen or where they’d end up, they walked with You.

But, Lord, You also know how fear tries to grow rampant in our lives. We are so often like Peter, eagerly running towards You…but knowing how the waves around us are wild and unpredictable, we change our minds. We want to retreat, to run backwards, to hide in the steady security of the boat we know so well.

What we forget is how You stretched out Your hand, immediately, and caught him when he faltered. Even though his faith failed, You didn’t. You picked him up and set him on course again. Even knowing that he would sink again, You pursued his heart.

Because You also knew that, one day, he would be inundated by Your Spirit. You knew that, in the fullness of Your presence, Peter would become the man You created him to be: a shepherd for Your people, a voice and a testimony to turn the world upside-down in Your name and power.

Here’s what I know: this is Your promise for us, too. “We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” As we follow You, we change to become more like You. We become the men and women You created us to be…which is what we yearn for – to have every part of our lives redeemed, not one piece of us separated from You.

And yet we hesitate. We know the transformative, ever-creative, bigger-than-us ways of Your Spirit. Sometimes, we fear letting go of what-has-been. Sometimes, we are afraid to let go of who we think we are supposed to be. Sometimes, we forget that when You lead our lives into the Unknown, our only guarantee is You…and that certainty of You is enough.

So when we feel You call…but there is no road-map or itinerary in sight…Lord, we pray like a father prayed long ago – “we believe; help our unbelief!”

We don’t know what the next step looks like. We don’t know what this new season or place or mission will look like…but we know that Your thoughts toward us are good, to give us a hope and a future. We know that You promised to never leave us or forsake us. We know that You told us our needs would be met, our lives safe in Your hands.

Let our knowledge become our action and our reality, the deep-down roots of Your unshakable Kingdom in our hearts.

Let us live Your truth, let us speak and sing and sink into Your Word, soaking in Your living water until the only seeds that grow are of faith and bold belief in Your promises and provision.

We know it won’t be easy. We know there is a cost and a cross we all will carry.

But You carried it all first…and Your arms steady ours as we build Your kingdom.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Thought outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Yes, You are our one guarantee – our Life, our Love, our Peace, the desire of our hearts – help us to be brave enough to believe this, Lord, to take You at Your Word and to find that You are true. Help us to understand in our very bones, in every bit of our being – You are faithful. If we never leave our known places, if we never yield to Your Spirit, if we never move to follow – we will never know how present and how trust-worthy You are. Help us to take those first steps and to find You there, Your strength filling the void of our weakness, Your power lighting up what we have been given until it shines brighter than we ever could have hoped for…for Your glory, for Your honor, for Your praise.

Lord, we want to wear Your name. Not ours. For only by Your name can people in this world of ours be set free…be healed…be rescued from their sin. Only in Your name is there Hope.

Help us to press forward, to leave behind the old habits and securities, the knowing-what-to-expect in favor of expecting You as we obey. It is life-shaking to give up our control. But it is also life-giving – for “the old is gone” but “the new is here!”

You are the better-than-we-can-dream, the strength of our hearts, the portion we have been freely given, the hand that reaches out to catch us when we fail.

Lord, help us to be brave as we put our trust in You…help us, as we follow, to steady our vision…to look only at You.

“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” –Hebrews 12:1-2

A Hope-full Challenge

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together…but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” ~Hebrews 10:23-25

Our hope is not meant to be stock-piled in our hearts, held close out of fear or uncertainty. It is meant to be shared. Proclaimed. Given away over and over again.

So this is the challenge: prayerfully consider the people in your life. Maybe you’ll think of someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Maybe it’ll be someone you exchange a few words with every week at church. Maybe it’ll be your mom. Maybe it’ll be your husband or wife. Maybe it’ll be a friend. Maybe it’ll be your kid’s t-ball coach.

Choose someone. Actually, choose as many people as you want…but at least choose one. 🙂 And then send that someone a note of encouragement. You could even pick up the phone and call them. How you communicate is your choice, but remember to let them know that you are thankful for who they are in your life. Remember to let them know that they are loved by a Savior and, whatever is going on in their life, He is there. Your words don’t have to be eloquent. The point is to simply let another person know that you care, to shine a little light into someone else’s day.

And I’ll leave you with a little reminder of our Father’s heart for you…encouragement