Recently, during a conversation over dinner, I shared with a friend about my struggle to trust the promises God has given me.
She responded with the above title.
We then discussed Abraham’s faith journey in Genesis.
The Struggle was Real for Abraham
In Genesis 12:1-3, God calls Abram to leave his land, home, and family in order to receive God’s promises—a new land (v. 1), a great nation (v. 2), a great name (v. 3).
At this point in the story, I imagine Abram (he becomes Abraham in Genesis 17:5) saying, “Actually Lord, I’m pretty comfortable in Haran. I know you’re doing to give me land and all, but I’m established here. I’ve got family. I’ve got connections. Also, I know you’re promising me descendants, but in case you hadn’t noticed, Sarai is barren, so yeah, I think we’ll just stick it out here and see how it goes.”
Abram says none of the above. Instead, he “went as the Lord had told him” (12:4). He acts in obedience. He responds with faith, anticipating that there will be a land, trusting that his wife will become pregnant, believing that God will stick to his word.
However, this is the beginning of Abram’s story. He doesn’t always respond with this same level of obedience, and rather than implicitly trusting God’s call, he frequently engages in a faith brawl with him.
Shortly after God’s initial command, due to a famine in Canaan (the land God had promised), Abram finds himself in Egypt. Already displaced from the promised land, he acts out of fear, and in trying to secure his own life rather than trust in God’s protection and promise, he pawns Sarai (his wife) off as his sister to avoid being killed by Pharaoh (12:10-15). When God brings a plague on Pharaoh for Abram’s indiscretion, Pharaoh’s so irate that he sends Abram and Sarai packing (12:20).
Abram travels back to, and settles in, Canaan (13:12), only to discover that there are a lot of other kings in the surrounding areas, who have captured Lot, Abram’s nephew (14:14). Abram hasn’t even had a chance to settle in before he goes to battle (14:13-16). He wins, and rescues Lot, but despite God’s reassurance and promised reward (15:1), Abram is shaken and begins to question God’s promise of a child (15:2, 3). God reiterates his promise of an heir (15:4-5) and Abram believes him (15:6).
However, this belief is fleeting.
Abram then questions God about the land he’s going to possess (15:8). Again, God reassures Abram by making a covenant with him, in which he lays out the parameters of the promised land which will be filled with Abram’s offspring (15:18-21).
Again, this reassurance isn’t long lasting.
After Sarai (who’s still barren at this point) attempts to secure the promised offspring by giving Hagar, her slave girl, to Abram (16:3), the Lord appears to Abraham, makes another covenant with him (17:1-14), and reiterates the promise that he will bless Sarah’s womb with a son (17:16).
When Abraham hears this last promise, he falls face down and laughs. Incredulity gets the best of him. He questions God, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (17:17).
Again, God reassures Abraham (17:19-21), and Abraham responds in faith by obeying the covenant of circumcision that was just made (17:23-27).
A year later, God’s promise comes to fruition—God blesses Abraham and Sarah with a son, Isaac (21:1-2). However, Abraham and Sarah’s joy is short lived, as God calls Abraham to sacrifice the very promise he’s just given him (22:1-14).
The call to sacrifice Isaac follows a similar pattern as Abraham’s initial call in chapter 12. Here, God commands Abraham to take his only son, and go to a new land (Moriah), and offer him to God (22:1).
And, much like in chapter 12, Abraham goes. He cuts the wood, he prepares the offering, and when Isaac inquires about the sacrificial lamb, Abraham simply responds, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (22:8).
There’s no objection. There’s no disbelief. Only faith.
As Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son, an angel of the Lord intervenes and stops the almost-slaughter (22:9-12). And, as Abraham predicted, God provides the burnt offering (22:13). He spares Isaac. He reiterates the covenant (22:15-19).
God delivers his promise on the other side of Abraham’s obedience.
The Struggle is Real for Us
While in prayer several weeks ago, God said, “Jess, you know what I’ve promised you, but like Abraham, it will only be delivered on the other side of your obedience.”
My response: “Actually Lord, I’m kind of really struggling with obedience right now, I’m not really convinced of your promises, and I’m not 100% sure that your promises are better than what I can secure for myself. And, despite how much I lament and preach to my students the ills of our instant gratification culture, I’m not sure I’m willing to wait 25 years like Abraham and Sarah for one of your promises to be delivered.”
My behavior has been akin to Abraham’s laughing in God’s face. Actually, it’s been on par with Veruca Salt.
When I relayed this to my friend, she reminded me that Abraham’s life followed a recurring sequence: God’s promise→Abraham’s objection→God’s reassurance. She then commented that in many ways, our lives mirror a similar sequence.
I didn’t object as this has proven true for me.
However, what I’ve learned is that this isn’t something we should lament. Like Abraham, our faith is forged in the struggle. Our obedience is refined in the brawl.
Our faith journeys may begin with gusto, but inevitably, we’ll be met with opposition, circumstances that don’t add up, and timing that seems anything but impeccable. It’s in these moments when trusting God’s promises, and obeying his commands, seems ludicrous. When we’re in the struggle, getting to a place of obedience seems like a monumental task.
What we need to remember though, is that God remains faithful despite our struggle. Abraham’s disbelief, distrust, and attempts to secure the blessings for himself, don’t deter God from holding to his end of the bargain. He works in and through Abraham’s hesitation, protests, and doubt.
The reality is, God’s faithfulness isn’t contingent upon Abraham’s (or our) ability to stay faithful.
Rather, it’s the other way around.
We’re only able to remain faithful, and to act faithfully, because of God’s faithfulness to us.
Abraham had witnessed God’s faithfulness throughout his life, throughout the 25 years from leaving Haran to sacrificing his son. It is this faithfulness that leads him to a place of obedience.
So too, should it lead us to a place of obedience.