By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Chapter Three: Entering the land
Passing through, going on still...
Abraham is on the move. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem. [Gen 12:6] he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent. [Gen 12:8] And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south. [Gen 12:9] The pattern is established; we are following the steps of the faith of our father Abraham. [Rom 4:12] Faith is often pictured as big leap into the unknown, more often it is just another step. And then another, and then another. This is the pattern observed in Hebrews 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: [Heb 11:9] Abraham is on the move; it is an integral part of his story that he never settled for what he had experienced. For many faith is a crisis-event, and many a movement with a vision becomes a monument with an epitaph.
A man once had a blessed experience. He determined to hold on to it and wrote it out so as not to lose any precious part. He kept the document in his desk draw and when he was low in spirit he would re-read his ‘blessed experience'; it was a comfort to him. On occasion he read his ‘blessed experience' to friends who were also comforted. When friends in need came to his home his instinct was to open the draw, pull out his ‘blessed experience' and read it to his visitor. He developed quite a ministry with his ‘blessed experience'. One day he opened the drawer and pulled out a handful of confetti; his ‘blessed experience' had been eaten by mice. It is all too easy to end up with a ‘mouse-eaten blessed experience'. The greater the experience the greater the danger; the brass serpent became a snare to Israel and they worshipped it. When I was a very young Christian friends would say ‘Have you got your Baptism yet?' This is dangerous theology. Have you arrived? Can you tick the box? Have you had your Shechem, your Bethel? Good, now get up and press on; there's more. There's always more.
This is one of the dangers of denominationalism. They secure a blessing at great cost to the first generation; the second generation comes along and builds a wall around it to keep it safe. Over time the preoccupation is more and more elaborate defence of the ‘blessing'. People are then excluded who will not man the defences to safeguard the ‘blessing'. God's men and women are not settlers, they are frontiersmen. And this is no ‘five year mission to boldly go' this is a lifetime commitment to follow where He leads. One old puritan used to pray ‘Lord, if you see me in danger of nesting, put a thorn in my nest'. Ah, you say, but aren't there times when we need to consolidate. No, we never need to consolidate; only people who are intending to stay somewhere need to consolidate. Only people with a strategy need time to consolidate; pilgrims don't have a strategy. People who plan for the future need time to consolidate; sojourners are one-day-at-a-time people.
This is a wonderful description of David in the Acts; For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: [Acts 13:36] We only have one generation to serve; this one. We can only serve this generation by doing the will of God; nothing else will serve them. We have all the time we need to do all that we are supposed to do. When it is done, leave it alone, go to sleep! Leave it; it's no longer your responsibility. Isn't this ir-responsibility? No, this is His-responsibility. Listen to Paul, his life's work is about to fall apart, as men would judge it; For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. [2 Timothy 1:12] We do well to note the emphasis here; I know whom I have believed... and he is able to guard that. My responsibility is to believe Him, the person, His responsibility is to guard that, the thing that I have done and committed to Him.
Paul's earlier advice to Timothy touches the same theme. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. [1 Tim 4:14-16].
Paul draws Timothy's attention to the need for progress rather than achievement; thy profiting/progress. Men are fatally results orientated; God is progress orientated. He is not interested in how many boxes we can tick, but in how many steps we have taken. The word profiting/progress in the original language is prokopE; it is an interesting word with at least two derivations. The prefix pro as in prototype means before, or forwards. koptO is to strike a blow.
One derivation is of a metal-smith beating a piece of metal to extend its length, the other is pioneers beating a path in front of the army. Both are powerful images. Blow by blow the master craftsman shapes the metal to his design and the watcher sees the increasing conformity of the metal to the will of the craftsman. So you who would be ‘leaders', let the progress of the work under the master's hand be seen. The greatest gift you can give to those who follow is for them to see the ongoing work of God in your life. We are His workmanship. [Eph 2:10] In you the heavenly Bezaleel [Ex 31:1-5] is creating His masterpiece; let men see His work and marvel.
The second derivation is of a pioneer beating (koptO) a way before (pro) an army, and so furthering its advance. Step by step and blow by blow they make a way for others to follow. This links with the admonition of Hebrews ‘whose faith follow'. Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. [Hebrews 13:7,8] It is not their exploits which are set before our eyes but their faith. The ‘end' or ‘goal' of their lives was ever increasing likeness to Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and forever. It is safe to follow such men. We are not to try to replicate their deeds, but we are to repeat their steps of faith.
Some years ago I visited Lincoln College in Oxford, John Wesley was a tutor there and they have recreated an impression of his study. A stable door enables a visitor to lean over and be ‘in' the study without damaging the floor boards and furniture. There is a visitors' book too where you can list your name and add a comment. I thought for a moment and in the comments column I wrote 'do it again, Lord'. I had no sooner written the words when in my spirit I heard the Lord say 'I am the Origin and all my works are original, I never repeat myself'. His works will change; His character, never.
How shall we behave as Abraham's children? How shall we show the family likeness? It is not outward conformity to Abraham that the master-craftsman is creating but a inward likeness of disposition. Abraham is learning to ‘pass through'. His goal is not a geographical or spiritual map reference-point; his goal is that city whose architect and builder is God. My old preacher-friend once told me 'if you can just live long enough, you will see everything... twice!' He was referring to ‘trends' and ‘fads' in Christianity; shepherding theology, manifested sons, end times scenarios. They come and go and come again and go again. These ‘current phases' of Christianity can be useful in drawing our attention to long forgotten truths, but 'blessed is the man or woman who learns to ‘pass through'' and doesn't get stuck in some theme or emphasis. For the children of Abraham, balance is not found in a carefully held position but in continuing movement.
As we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so let us walk in him... [Colossians 2:6] Being ready always in heart for the next step, raise your Ebenezer, and then ...walk on. There is more, always more...