Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Process of Faith

In the time since I posted my last post I have thought of Abraham.  We consider him the “Father of Faith.”  I wonder how many sermons have been preached on faith using Abraham as an example.  He is an example of faith.  Faith was accounted to him as righteousness.  He believed God.  He is an example to all of us.  Look at Hebrews 11:8-10:

Hebrews 11:8-10 (NKJV)
11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
This is written about a man of faith.  But I want to consider Abraham’s faith in today’s post.  We llike to think that his faith is way beyond the faith we have, but I think that Abraham is like a lot of us.  I think that we can all be people of faith like Abraham.  So lets consider his faith.  The first mention of Abraham is in Genesis 12.

Genesis 12:1-4 (NKJV)
12:1 Now the Lord had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." 4 So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
So here we see Abraham’s great faith.  He is raised in a pagan environment in Ur.  He is in a place where the God of the Bible isn’t preached; he’s in a place where no one is talking about God.  Then his family moves to Haran, also a place of pagan worship, again there is no thought given by this society to the God of the Bible, but yet when God calls Abraham hears his voice and recognizes that the one who calls is God.  He follows God out to a place that God shows him, not even knowing where he’s going.  This is an example of great faith.  Abraham is a man of faith.

God promises to make him a great nation, and Abraham believes Him, he builds an altar to honor God.  Then things begin to go wrong:

Genesis 12:10 (NKJV)
12:10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.
He’s left the place that God has promised to him to go to Egypt.  He’s trying to survive the famine.  He feels like the place where God has placed him isn’t able to provide for him so he leaves and goes off on his own.  Then fear sets in:
Genesis 12:11-13 (NKJV)11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, "Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. 12 Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, 'This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you."
Now, he’s become afraid that the Egyptians will kill him.  Now, he’s forgotten God’s promise to make a great nation from him.  How can that promise come true if Abraham dies childless in Egypt.  His faith has shattered.  What’s the cause of his loss of faith?  Famine, hardship, difficulty in living in the land of the promise has killed his faith at this moment.

After dwelling in Egypt he comes again to Canaan, and the land can’t support the flocks of Lot and the flocks of Abraham, so they separate.  Lot goes toward the plain of Jordan as it was, “well-watered everywhere, like the Garden of the Lord.”  Abraham went in the opposite direction into the desert.  God renews the promise, telling him that he has given this place to his descendants forever.  His faith rekindled, he trusts that God will help him in this place. He builds an altar and once again honors God.

Look at this expression of faith and devotion to God that takes place after the battle for Sodom and the rescue of Lot:

Genesis 14:21-23 (NKJV)
14:21 Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself." 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich'--
So at this point Abraham is fully invested in the God of the Bible.  His faith is strong, but time is passing.  It has been a number of years of dwelling in difficulty in the desert, and Abraham remains childless.  He begins to question the promise of God.  He can’t see how the promise can come about.  He left Haran a number of years ago to follow God and he remains without an heir.  He complains to God about it in genesis 15:

Genesis 15:1-3 (NKJV)
15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." 2 But Abram said, "Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!"
His faith has drifted again.  He can see no way the promise can be fulfilled.  The only heir I have is Eliezer of Damascus, he’s not my child.  He’s demanding to know how God will compensate if he fails in the promise.  But God speaks to him.  The last post is about this conversation with God. You can look back at “Possibilities of Faith.”  Abraham believes God and in verse six, the Bible says, “it is accounted to him as righteousness.”

The problem is that it doesn’t end here.  Abraham doesn’t just continue on as a man of great faith.  He stops waiting on the promise of God and decides to make it happen himself.

Genesis 16:1-4 (NKJV)
16:1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, "See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her." And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. 3 Then Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. 4 So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.
This takes place after Abraham has been in the desert for ten years.  He’s now eighty-five years old, his wife is seventy-five and barren.  He thinks that he has to “help” God to make the promise come about.  His faith is once again broken, he takes on God’s part of the promise, thinking it’s up to him. 

Genesis 18:9-12 (NKJV)
18:9 Then they said to him, "Where is Sarah your wife?" So he said, "Here, in the tent." 10 And He said, "I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son." (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. 12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, "After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"
This has happened when Abraham was ninety-nine years old.  Sarah cannot believe that she will have a child and she laughs as the Lord speaks to her about it.  Where has faith gone?  They don’t see the promise as coming through them but through Ishmael.  Abraham and Sarah are like us at this point.  Have you ever doubted that God could live up to his promises? Have you ever thought that you had to take up God’s side of the promise?  

Once more Abraham goes to Egypt and has the same problem with faith.  He once again asks Sarah to say she is his sister.  He once more fears death.  His faith has deserted.

Then the child is born:

Genesis 21:1-2 (NKJV)
21:1 And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. 2 For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
He sees God live up to that promise.  He sees the beginning of the nation that will come from him.  Then God tests Abraham’s faith asking that he sacrifice Isaac. 

Genesis 22:1-3 (NKJV)
22:1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
We know the story Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac, the child of the promise.  And God delivers him by giving them a ram to sacrifice instead.  Look at Abraham’s thought process in this time:

Hebrews 11:17-19 (NKJV)
11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
He has faith that God will bring about the promise, even if he sacrifices Isaac.  God will do what’s necessary to keep His promise.  Abraham’s faith is now complete, perfected.  I think Abraham, this great man of faith, grew in faithfulness.  His faith wavered and he struggled in doubt at times, but as he saw God deliver on His promise his faith strengthened and became complete.  We never see Abraham waver in His faith again.

I believe that you and I must also go through this process of perfecting our faith.  We can have the faith of Abraham, but we need to struggle through the breakdowns of our faith.  It is in these things that our faith is perfected.  Struggle and doubt is a part of the growth of faith.

Stream of Thought:

  1. Abraham is the “Father of Faith.”
  2. His faith wavered throughout a large part of his life.
  3. His faith was perfected as he saw God deliver on His promise.
  4. He was a man like we are.
  5. Doubt and Struggle is part of the process of faith.
  6. We can be like Abraham, “Heroes of Faith.”
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