Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11: 8 - By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. Theme: Abraham’s Corporate Plan
The apostle Paul told us in Rom.4:16 that ‘Abraham is the father of us all.’ He also told us in the Galatian letter: Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. In these verses Paul is not speaking of the natural descendents of Abraham – the descendents of Abraham by blood. His reference is not to nationality but to covenant relationship. He is speaking of all those who have been brought into the covenant that God made with Abraham and fulfilled in Christ. That covenant is the covenant of faith.
We know that faith was present in the earth before Abraham but there was a particular sense in which God chose Abraham as the one in whom He would structure and manifest this faith covenant. And of course, the ultimate goal of this covenant would be the coming into the world of Jesus Christ the Messiah. Through, by and in faith regarding the finished work of the Messiah we all are part of that Abrahamic covenant of faith. In that sense it is totally accurate and Biblical to understand ourselves to be the sons and daughters of Abraham, and as such Abraham is the father of us all.
The question I want us to consider is this: What does our first father’s experience of faith teach us about the nature and ways of the faith life? The core or first principles of true faith are entrenched in the experience of the father of faith. They have not changed. By looking at our father Abraham we gain a basic insight into the core defining reality of covenant relationship with God. That reality is faith.
We begin here: At the age of 75 Abraham was buried in the idolatrous culture of the society of Ur of the Chaldeans. With absolutely nothing on Abraham’s part he was intercepted by the Sovereign God; that interception consisted of this: Now the Lord said to Abram…(Gen.12:1) I now know where the journey of faith begins: it begins with a sovereign encounter with God – and more particularly an encounter with the voice of God. You cannot believe what you have not heard.
Paul would express this many years later: ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.’ That Christ in the days of His flesh put it this way: “The words I speak unto you are S/spirit and are life.” Faith is not based upon an intellectual relationship with a physical book called the Bible. It is based upon and is the result of a spirit to Spirit relationship between your spirit and the indwelling Holy Spirit, who speaks, testifies or witnesses to your spirit the mind and will of Christ.
But what I want to get to and leave with you is this: What was it Abraham heard? We need to know because there is a principle here concerning the nature and way of faith. Here’s what our father heard: “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives, And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you...”
My first reaction would have been something like this – “Wow God that really clarifies things. I know exactly what the future is now. I know precisely how to plan for that.”
POINT: Faith is not about knowing the future. It’s about believing and obeying in the present moment and trusting God to reveal the future as we go.
In this first communication of God to our father Abraham there are two defining words regarding the nature and ways of faith: go & show. Abraham’s responsibility was to go; God’s responsibility was to show. Going is a matter of obedience but that obedience is based upon something. What is clear is that it is not based upon knowing but rather upon trust that the God who told us to go is absolutely faithful to show as we go. He has set it up this way to keep us from planning in our flesh what is intended to be responded to in faith and faith alone.
Consider the following presentations of the Hebrews 11 text from a variety of translations:
[Urged on] by faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went forth to a place which he was destined to receive as an inheritance; and he went, although he did not know or trouble his mind about where he was to go. (AMP)
Abraham had faith and obeyed God. He was told to go to the land that God had said would be his, and he left for a country he had never seen. (CEV)
It was by faith Abraham obeyed God’s call to go to another place God promised to give him. He left his own country, not knowing where he was to go. (EXPNT)
By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. (The Message)
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going. (NET)
How did Abraham get to where God was taking him? Was it by knowing all the details of the future and the journey into that future and then putting together an elaborate corporate plan to guarantee success? Did he get there by over planning? I can tell you what over planning got him; it got him an Ishmael. I can tell you what over planning does; it produces something that gets in the way and is hostile to what God is planning.
The 15th.chapter of Genesis consist entirely of a conversation between God and our father Abraham. At last he is given a rather detailed look into the future plan of God. This whole day finally culminates with the invisible God manifesting in some visible form and literally cutting covenant with Abraham. In chapter 16 and at the age of 85 this grand father of the faith has put together a grand master plan to help God out; he’s in bed with a household servant and produces Ishmael.
About 15 years later God engages Abraham once more and announces that the promised son is just one year away. Listen to and be amazed at Abraham’s response to what should have been cause for rejoicing. Again I present this from several translations:
“Why not let Ishmael inherit what you have promised me?”
“Why not let Ishmael be my heir?”
“If only Ishmael were acceptable to You!”
“Please let Ishmael be the son you promised.”
“I wish Ishmael could receive your blessing!”
There is the sad reality of what happens when faith is reduced to a highly structured plan that finally takes the place of faith itself. It produces something (an Ishmael) that becomes the centre of our heart’s affection. But of far greater danger is the fact that it becomes the focus of our faith rather than the promise of God.
When you read the whole story it becomes abundantly clear that the only plan that finally emerged – the only plan that ultimately worked was the obedience of faith. This was not Abraham’s plan – it was God’s plan, and it took about 25 years for Abraham to abandon his planning and yield to God’s plan.
But how can we obey when we don’t know what the plan is – when we (like our father Abraham) don’t know where we are going? The truth is we do know where we are going. (And I can almost smell the smoke as the thought burns holes in your little grey cells: Well for goodness sake, would you please let us know.) Okay then, I shall do just that.
We know only moment by moment, detail by detail, one step at a time, one day at a time. In other words faith is meant to be a journey of profound intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit in which He communes moment by moment to us the next step. And the simple point of trust is that as we go He will be faithful to show. The complication is that we are so busy trying to see the whole plan we lose sight of that part of the plan right in front of us.
Abraham did not get to where God was taking him by refusing to move until he saw the whole plan and understood each and every detailed step involved. He got there by the step by step obedience of faith in response to the immediate daily directives of the Holy Spirit. This core reality of the faith life has not changed.
Do I have a prophetic sense of where God is taking this Fellowship? Absolutely yes! Do I have a plan to get there? Absolutely yes! It’s the same plan father Abraham finally came to: Obey by faith what the Holy Spirit is saying today.
I have had so many people ask me recently – many people who do not attend this Fellowship: “Now that you are one year out from Pastor Dave’s passing what is your plan for the future of the church?” They always seem shocked when I tell them I have but one plan – to obey today the internal directive of the Holy Spirit born out of my intimate relationship and communion with Him. My commitment is to go. My trust is He will show. For this there is no plan; there is only the obedience of faith.