Dropping our props: The faith journey
( Bible reading: Genesis 18:1-15, Genesis 21:1-7 )
Opening prayer: Dear heavenly father, as we join corporately in prayer lifting our eyes towards you, we ask that the Holy Spirit would please help us listen and discern your message, internalize them for everyday living and honor you by doing so. In Jesus name we pray – Amen.
Today’s bible reading from Genesis is from a story we all know too well. Usually sermons for this Genesis passage would center on the faith of Abraham and how he got Isaac as his blessing. Following God’s leading on what He wanted to be preached today, I have decided to preach about things that happened between Genesis chapter 18 and chapter 21 of today’s Bible reading. Hence my sermon is titled “Dropping our props: The faith journey”
After God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be blessed, there was a time period where both Abraham and his wife Sarah wondered how things could happen and how this promise can come to pass. Sarah, the problem solver of the family offered Hagar to Abraham. So while entering chapter 18 of our reading today, Abraham is 99 years old and already has a son called Ishmael through Hagar. It is at this juncture that the LORD decides to intervene and come visit him. Abraham is prudent enough to offer the visitors some fine dining after which one of the three visitors, who is later referenced as the LORD reiterates that Sarah will bear a child within the next year and that He would visit them again. Sarah laughs off such a prospect and doubts the feasibility of its occurrence.
Between the 18th and 21st chapters before the promise comes to pass, we see the discussion about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Lord helping Lot’s family escape from that carnage. We also see that there was a physical dislocation of Abraham’s family since he moved into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while Abraham & his family stayed in Gerar, which was ruled by King Abimelek. Fearing for his safety since there is no fear of God in that place, Abraham tries to present Sarah as his sister and God had to intervene and stop anything untoward from happening to her since it is through Sarah’s offspring that God’s plan would come to pass. Once Isaac was born, there was laughter in the household of Abraham. Sarah exclaims in chapter 21 “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”
So how does this story relate to our modern day Christian walk of faith? Well stay tuned - we are about to embark on some invigorating reminders that we all need in our journey of faith and hope. We will examine the props that God had removed from Abraham and how it relates to modern day context.
1. God’s promises are extraordinary in nature and sometimes can be baffling to human intellect and reason. (Prop: Intellectual insight)
- When God promised Sarah that she will give birth to a son at her ripe old age, it baffles human understanding. But Genesis 21:1 says “the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised”. As Christians in the current era, do we try to analyze, interpret and reason out whatever God places in our heart to do? Are we willing to step out in faith and do things when we clearly have no rational understanding of it in terms of next steps?
2. When God promises us something, it is important to remember that it will come to pass in God’s timing, not ours. (Prop: Instant gratification)
- Both Abraham and Sarah did not wait on God’s timing. While Abraham started his journey in faith, we can clearly see through these chapters how he faltered in faith since he had a hard time believing that the impossible was possible. Unlike us, Abraham knew God intimately and yet he had a hard time believing things during his faith journey. When you come across similar circumstances, know that it is OK to fail sometimes, but it important to recalibrate and look unto God for solutions that don’t exist in the natural.
3. When you walk in faith in the journey of hope, don’t try and help God by making your own solutions to the end-point. Our ways are not God’s ways. (Prop: Need for control)
- I don’t know about you, but I am a terrific problem solver. It is my innate nature to do so and hence I can relate to Sarah’s thinking. Please understand Genesis in the middle- eastern context where women can face reproach if they can’t bear children for their husbands. The problem here is that Sarah went to extraordinary means to get someone else to bear a son since she was getting old and wondering what God could possibly do with her. So her faith is at an all-time low when these three visitors from Genesis 18 stopped by their tent and the LORD blessed her. She found it laughable since she confined the limitless God into her limited thinking.
4. When you walk in faith, learn to see, listen and understand what God wants you to do. This is a discipline that comes by practice and obedience to God’s word. (Prop: Careless living)
- Abraham had walked closely with God that he could discern that the LORD has come to meet him. He listens carefully to instructions provided to him and was comfortable talking to God. Between chapters 18 and 21 you can see him bargaining with God in regards to Sodom. Talking to God seemed like an everyday human interaction. Abraham knew the majesty and goodness of God and was always keen to interact with Him. So be careful with how you interact with people that God places in your life as part of your Christian journey. Chances are you may interact with angels and messengers of God.
5. Sometimes in your faith journey, you may come across places where there is no fear of God and your faith is threatened. (Prop: Fear of man)
- We find in the story of Abraham that he had to stay for a while in Gerar, which was a place that had no fear of God. To circumvent his predicament and fearing for his life, Abraham tells Abimelek the king that Sarah was his sister. God had to intervene with Abimilek in order to deal with the unnecessary situation that was created by Abraham. In our Christian journey of faith, we will encounter places that are fearful and unfamiliar. Be sure to trust in the sovereign God, not in your abilities to problem solve due to the fear of men that surround you. The fear of God is much more important than the fear of man in our Christian walk of faith.
6. Sometimes God may ask you to move away from your place of familiarity before you walk into His blessing. (Prop: Stability)
- In Abraham’s story, we find that he moved places and lived in tents. Yet he was affluent enough to offer visitors fine dining at his place of living. He seemed to have a stable living. Before he got his blessing he had moved from stability to unfamiliarity, encountered heart break with relatives (Lot’s family), then moved to the Negev region between Kadesh and Shur. While in transit to these unfamiliar places, he also encountered King Abimelek. In these Genesis passages, Abraham seemed like a willing participant when God asked him to move places and we see clearly some of them were quite threatening to exist. Today as Christians, do we like to offer our services to God only from a place of stability? How accommodative are we when God calls us to unfamiliar terrain to get our blessing? Just ruminate privately and let it sink in.
7. Always remember that God is bigger than every problem that comes your way. He never said we have to walk this journey alone by ourselves. (Prop: Self-pity)
- Both Abraham and Sarah loved to manipulate the outcome and help God with His plan for their lives. While they had a close encounter with God, they still sometimes missed their mark in asking for God’s help to encounter situations that seemed impossible to overcome. They seemed engrossed in their self-pity which invariably led them to do wrong things to solution towards God’s plan. We as Christians of today are sometimes no different than Abraham and Sarah. We try and fit God’s plan within our mini plans because we indulge in self-pity when things don’t go our way and fit within our expectations.
8. Don’t feel comfortable and imagine that worldly things will keep you stable when God calls you to do the extraordinary. (Prop: Self-reliance)
- There is a saying that familiarity breeds contempt. Don’t get too comfortable thinking that you can pre-empt the next step that God would take in your life. When you do that, God will pull the props from under you until you realize that He is in control and not you. Extraordinary promises come to pass through a conscientious understanding that God is in control every step of the way.
While Abraham transitioned from promise to fulfillment of his blessing he had to drop all these props described above. In our Christian journey of faith and hope, what are the props that God has asked every one of us to drop so that we rely on Him unconditionally for the outcome? I know that I had to leave my personal comfort zone just waiting on God for His guidance to write this sermon. Ask Him privately in prayer on props that you need to drop in your Christian walk. May the Holy Spirit guide you in this journey of faith just like He did for Abraham and Sarah. When you do so, you will laugh when you are blessed and the world will laugh with you because they will know that is not you but God who did it.