I’m writing today reflecting back on the life of Abram as found in the pages of Genesis chapters 12 through 14, where Abram, the father of our faith, was found to have experienced a setback in his spiritual development.
You see, there had been a famine in the land and Abram and his wife traveled to the land of Egypt, which is a type of the world, to buy food necessary for their survival. While in Egypt, it seems Pharaoh took a liking to Abram’s wife Sarai, so Abram lied to the Egyptians about her and said she was his sister. Although Abram lied to Pharaoh about his wife, Pharaoh takes Sarai into his harem, but the Lord plagued Pharaoh, so Pharaoh sent Abram and his wife away.
After this, Abram returns to Bethel, that place where Abram first set up an Altar and experienced God. Abram was disappointed with his spiritual walk and wanted a renewed faith so he returns to that place where he first met with God that he may repent and renew his faith in the Lord. After he returned to Bethel, with renewed faith, Abram then sets out for the Land of Canaan, that land of promise, which God had promised Abram he would inherit.
It wasn’t long before Abram was faced with another challenge, this time in the form of an internal power struggle for range land between his nephew’s herdsman and his own. It is decided that they must split up to avoid strife and contention within their own company and to avoid a range war with the local Canaanite and Perizzite herders. But soon after, Abram learns that the land his nephew has moved to has been overtaken by a united coalition of Kings from the Dead Sea region; they had taken many captive, including Abram’s nephew, and rendered the entire region powerless and by taking control and cutting off all trade routes. What was Abram to do?
What would you do? After all, Abram had moved from his home town, gone to Egypt where he experiences spiritual defeat and now finds himself in this unfamiliar land only to find that all is chaos there as well. This was another disappointment to Abram you can be certain. I’m sure we all have experienced our disappointments and upsets in life; that things don’t always turn out as we hope they will, yet Abram was set with a challenge; a test so to speak. Will he cut and run and go somewhere else, or will he take the promise of God literal and stay and fight for his land and inheritance.
We find in Genesis 14:13-16, that after hearing of the invasion, Abram gathers his men and takes to hot pursuit. Iain Duguid sees the event as a kind of epiphany:
The veil is lifted for a moment, and we see Abram in his true colors, acting as the king of the land that is his by right and that will be inherited by his offspring. This is Abram’s mount of transfiguration, when his glory is clearly—if brightly—revealed to those closest to him.
Abram could easily have elected to do nothing. Abram could have easily said to himself, “self, you can’t afford to go into battle.” “You may be killed, what about all these who are in your care – you have to stick around and take care of all these people and possessions you’ve acquired.”
I reflect back on a conversation recorded in the gospel of Matthew concerning decisions and choices to follow the Lord and when that appropriate time would be.
A certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.
–Matthew 8:18 – 22
Jesus said to this line of thinking, “let the dead bury the dead” In other words, the time is now to follow him. Live in the moment – don’t wait until everything’s hunky – dory, for it never will be. There will always be the demands of family and friends, yet we are to respond to His calling today. Along this line of thought, the apostle Paul would later write, “that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11).
Abram was no longer walking by sight as he once was. Recognizing that this world is not his home and having his sights on something much bigger he rises to the occasion and gathers 318 of those born in his house that were fit for battle and takes to foot. Of this, the writer to the Hebrews writes,
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: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God
–Hebrews 11:9 – 10
Why did Abraham embark on such a venture, such a journey? Because he was looking for a city that had foundations, whose builder and maker was God—all the while knowing that what he was looking for would never be found anywhere on the face of this earth. Abram knew that this Promised Land, the land of Canaan, would never be everything he would want, but he also knew that he was going to believe God, and for this it was accounted as righteousness in the eyes of the Lord.
Why is this so important?
Because if you’re looking for a city on earth to satisfy you, you’ll be paralyzed by fear. You would say, “What if I get there and discover Menifee isn’t it?” But since the longing of my heart is for a city without foundations, I already know that Menifee isn’t it!
“What if I go there, and it doesn’t work out?” you ask.
Don’t worry—it’s not going to work out!
“What if I marry her, and she doesn’t fully satisfy me?” you ask yourself.
Don’t worry—she won’t!
“What if I take that job and it’s not what I hoped?” you speculate.
Don’t worry—it won’t be!
You’ll never be a man or woman of faith if you’re looking for fulfillment here. No matter your ministry, your geographic location, your job, or who you marry—you’ll not find it here. Like Abraham, don’t look for a city that has foundations on earth. Look for eternity, make Jesus your heart’s desire and find your satisfaction in Him and you’ll be blessed in your soul wherever you are.
Had Abraham looked for a city on earth, he would have been stuck in Ur forever. But at some point, God by His grace allowed Abraham to understand that everything on earth is in preparation for heaven.
People wonder why some folks are so spiritual, why others seem particularly blessed, why others are mightily used. It’s not that God is playing favorites. It’s just that those who seem to have a special relationship with God are simply those who chose to keep going. Whether it’s in expression of praise, gifts of the Spirit, or aspects of ministry—however far you want to go in spiritual life, God will never say to you, “You’re going a little too far. You’re getting a little too spiritual.” Never.
How can I become the kind of person the Bible is calling me to be?
The question comes from an aching in the heart that rises from the hope of great joy. The fact is that the truth and beauty and worth of God shine best from the lives of saints who are so satisfied in God they can suffer in the cause of love without murmuring.
But you may say, “That’s not who I am. I don’t have that kind of liberating, love-producing, risk-taking satisfaction in God. I desire comfort and security more than God.”
Many say it with tears and trembling. Some are honest enough to say, “I don’t know if I have ever tasted this kind of desire. Christianity was never presented to me like this. I never knew that the desire for God and delight in God were crucial.
There is evidence all over the Bible that the pursuit of joy in God, and the awakening of all kinds of spiritual affections, are part of the essence of the newborn Christian heart. There is nothing new about Christians taking great pleasure in God at all, but that it is simple, old-fashioned, historic, biblical, radical Christian living.
It is as old as the psalmists who said to God, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps. 51:12) and “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love” (Ps. 90:14).
It’s as old as Jesus, who gave to his people this virtually impossible command for the day of their persecution: “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23).
It’s as old as the early church who “joyfully accepted the plundering of their property,” because they “had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:32 – 34).
It’s as old as Jonathan Edwards, who argued with all his intellectual might in 1729;
Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites.” Rather, they ought to be endeavoring by all possible ways to inflame their desires and to obtain more spiritual pleasures.… Our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness can’t be too great for the value of these things, for they are things of infinite value.… [Therefore] endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement.… There is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no such virtue as temperance in spiritual feasting.2
The point is that the motivation for moving yourself in spiritual development and maturity is discovering that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him; that the more we take pleasure in him and “love Him with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength”, as we’re commanded, we will find that missing piece we’re looking for in life and that will be the catalyst for moving us.
This is what Abram found in life. That “the building, which had foundations, eternal in the heavens whose builder and maker was God” was, in fact, all he needed and nothing else mattered to him.
We need to set our hearts on the Lord and then too, like Abram and like the apostle Paul, we will be able to say, “I count all as loss for the Excellency of knowing Him.”
- Duguid, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality, p. 44.
- Jonathan Edwards, “The Spiritual Blessings of the Gospel Represented by a Feast,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 17, Sermons and Discourses, 1723–1729, ed. Kenneth P. Minkema (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996), 286.