By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Chapter Three: Down into Egypt
When Lot left, Jehovah said...
I hope we are not going too slowly for you. It has taken us 3 months to cover 2 chapters, however, I see this is assisting our goal rather than hindering it. One of the greatest dangers of the age in which we live is its ‘instant news-bite' mood. 'Cut to the chase' they say, 'what is your bottom line?' 'Get on with it, stop beating around the bush'. Did you know that Finney advocated that preachers ‘beat around the bush'. 'Beat around every bush' he said 'leave the sinner nowhere to hide'. The church has become infested with programme management; visions, mission statements, early-wins, mile-stones, deliverables. 'if you can't measure it you're not controlling it, if you're not controlling it you're not managing it' has become the great slogan. So our preaching and teaching has become progressively ‘project-orientated'. Let me nail my colours to the mast; God is person-orientated, not project-orientated. It is not good resource management to leave 99 in the wilderness, but it is the way God works. It is not good recruitment and retention policy to hand-train James for three years for a key role, and then allow him to be martyred. This inefficiency has a simple cause; God is not a chief-executive, He is a Father. He is not primarily concerned with goals but with the journey. He is not producing a million on an assembly-line; He is hand-crafting a unique character to glorify His Son.
This is the great advantage of meditating on the life story of a man like Abraham. Theologically, the instinct is to make him fit into the stages of our evangelical project, but God is not managing a project, He is ‘fathering' this man's soul and He will take as long as He needs. Reading the story slowly gives it its proper rhythm. Let me make my point in a provocative way. For conservative evangelicals the great starting point is ‘saving faith'; the moment of ‘decision', the altar call, the sinner's prayer. In the biography of Abraham we are still a chapter and a half away from this event. In terms of our evangelical mile-stones the ‘project' hasn't even started. He was 75 years old when he left Haran; we do not know how long he tarried in Haran, nor how long the journey from Ur to Haran might have taken, nor how long the sojourn in Egypt... I would estimate the first two chapters of his life cover about 10 years, and we have a couple of years more still to go before he is ‘justified by faith' in Gen 15:6. How is all this fitting into your theology? I once read that Andrew Murray refused to write his testimony; 'it would be too confusing' was his reason. If we read the scriptures aright we shall find principles rather than methods, and examples rather than blueprints.
What principle can we discover in this next ‘step' of Abraham's faith? According to the narrative of Genesis, the revelation is developing progressively in the life of Abraham. His initial direction had been to leave Ur and journey 'unto a land that I will shew thee' (Gen 12:1). The initial promise was of guidance rather than inheritance. When he arrived in Shechem God fulfilled his promise; ‘a land' became ‘this land'. He had arrived. The promise was enlarged to include not only guidance but the promise of inheritance; not to Abraham but to his ‘seed'. (Gen 12:7) Have you noticed that the land has not been promised to Abraham yet? Each step of his obedience brings more revelation with the prospect of a new cycle; revelation, obedience, revelation.
Abraham's initial instruction had been to 'Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house...' (Gen 12:1) When he buried his father in Haran and moved on the revelation unfolded more, but there was one part of this command that Abraham had not yet implemented. The command was to separate from ‘father's house' and ‘kindred'. His nephew Lot had followed Abraham from Ur to Haran, from Haran to Shechem, from Shechem to Bethel, from Bethel to Egypt, from Egypt to Bethel. His following of Abraham had brought Lot great riches but had added nothing spiritually. The conflict between their herdsmen came to a head and Abraham allows Lot to choose his future and Abraham will have what it is left. Lot makes his choice 'and they separated themselves the one from the other.' (Gen 13:12) The interesting thing is that this event becomes a date-stamp in Abraham pilgrimage; The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, "Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you." (Gen 13:14-17 NASB) After Lot has left God says ‘now'. It is a key truth to observe in our Christian walk; the way that one event unlocks the next.
I wonder how long God had waited to reveal these things to Abraham? What wonders God has in store for those who will trust Him wholly. In the northern hills of England you will find ‘cairns', small heaps of stones that travellers would add to as they passed by. Originally when you stood by a ‘cairn' you would be able to see two other ‘cairns' at least. In the featureless moorlands you could journey safely by walking from one ‘cairn' to the next. God's guidance often comes like this. We are anxious to know the final destination, and we would prefer to see the whole journey mapped out with its mile-stones but often all we can see is the next ‘cairn'. Just walk on in faith; the second step will be revealed when you have obeyed the first. Sometimes we spend far too much energy in seeking guidance; just keep your eye on that ‘cairn' and take the next step. As a teenager I used to walk across some of those northern moors. The ore deposits could set your compass spinning and the years of decayed moss and rain had cut the peat into a 10 foot deep maze. The only safe way across was to pocket the compass, ignore all ‘senses' of direction and head for the next ‘cairn'. Perhaps what you are needing is not ‘more guidance' but simpler obedience. Just do the last thing He told you to do. It may be the trigger that opens the next seal of your personal destiny.
'Now' at the point of this fuller obedience, for the first time, God promises the land to Abraham and commands him to 'walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.' (Gen 13:17) He has been instructed first to ‘look' now he must ‘walk'. This is always the test; can we ‘earth' the vision. Can the pattern that we have seen in the mount be built on earth? Can the eye-witnesses of His majesty in the mountain carry his saving power to the demoniac in the valley? It's not just walking the talk, but walking the vision. How often we have returned to this theme of walking in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham. We are touching a fundamental Bible image here, walking. It's not spectacular, walking... but it is the ultimate test. Listen to the building climax of this familiar passage; 'He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. ' (Isa 40:29-31 KJV) Did you know that it takes more grace to walk than to soar? Some years ago I was reading the application form of a young African. His English spelling was idiosyncratic, and his testimony was fascinating; it had constant references to the ‘Holy Spurt'. It was amusing and we all knew that he was referring to the Spirit, but it was provoking too; how many have a testimony that is full of ‘Holy Spurts'! We hear a challenging sermon or testimony and experience the spiritual equivalent of the adrenalin spurt, but after the spurt comes that dip of deep spiritual weariness. It takes more grace to walk than to run.
God had another word for his people some centuries later. 'Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.' (Jos 1:3 KJV) The ‘sole' of your foot; that means you are walking. Not running, leaping, or even flying... just walking. And again we are touching that profound mystery of the omnipotence of God and the necessary obedience of man. We find it in Paul's closing words to the saints in Rome; 'And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.' (Rom 16:20 KJV) Certainly we need the grace of God, but the wonder is that God needs our feet!
We leave this chapter with Abraham in classic posture; he has his vision and his commission and now he pauses to build another altar. He stands and his eyes follow the rising smoke of his sacrifice. He is giving himself to God, again. How often have we seen him standing like this? Here is a vital lesson for those who would learn to be My Friends... 'They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.' I love this verse. Not the preachers nor the prophets, not the leaders nor the theologians, not the experts...but those that wait upon the LORD.