Every person can see God’s faithfulness by noticing the events that kept God’s promise.
Chuck Colson writes of being invited to preach at tough old San Quentin Prison, an opportunity he greatly anticipated and carefully planned for. Three hundred of the 2,200 inmates had agreed to come to the chapel to hear him. But just days before his arrival, officials uncovered a hidden cache of weapons, and the prison was immediately locked down with inmates confined to their cells.
When Colson arrived at the prison chapel, he was disheartened to find that only a handful of men were able to be present, and they were mostly Christians. His spirits flagged, for he had so hoped to preach the gospel to the unsaved. Struggling with a lack of enthusiasm, he thought Maybe I’ll just give a short devotional, ten minutes or so. I can’t really preach my heart out to this crowd.
But spotting a video camera in the far end of the room, he said to himself, Maybe this is being recorded for the chapel library. Maybe I’d better give it my all. He felt convicted for basing his morale and mood on the outer circumstances rather than the inner impulse of the Spirit, and so he preached with great fervor, as though a thousand inmates were listening.
Later he mentioned to the prison chaplain how disappointed he had been to have missed sharing the gospel with the three hundred men who had originally signed up to attend. “Didn’t you know?” asked the chaplain. “Because of the lockdown, the administration agreed to videotape your sermon. They’ll be showing it to all the inmates tomorrow on closed-circuit television in the morning and again in the afternoon.”
In fact, the sermon was aired not just twice, but nearly a dozen times over the following weeks. Because of the lockdown, not just three hundred but all 2,200 prisoners heard the gospel.
Look at how God arranged the circumstances to make sure everyone got a chance to hear the message. We can see God working in similar ways in the life of Abram.
Event I. Abram returns
A. Abram had been promised a land and a name. But a famine in the land had caused Abram to leave the land God had promised him. He went from that land to Egypt. As we read in the beginning of v. 1 Abram returns to the land God had promised him after the famine was over. Egypt was obviously a nice place, or at the very least a place where people felt secure when they had to find refuge. Many people were going to Egypt when things went bad in Israel. God had even used this side trip as an opportunity to fulfill his promises to Abram. While Abram was in Egypt he had acquired a great deal of wealth. In chapter 12 we saw all the good things God had promised. Now in v. 2 we are told that Abram had become very wealthy. He had a lot of stuff that he was hauling around with him.
B. God fulfills his promise by having Abram go to Egypt. This was probably not in Abram’s plans. You would think that if God takes you to a place and says this is where you will live, that is the end. In the case of Abram God was working out some of his plan that Abram had not seen or perceived. He eventually ended up back in the place God had brought him to. He took a little detour, but he was still able to see God’s promise fulfilled.
C. Maybe there have been times in your life when you felt sure that God wanted you to do something. As you ventured into that thing it seemed like nothing when right. As a matter of fact it seemed like everything was steering you in a different direction. Perhaps God has a detour he wants you to take. In 1920 Oswald Smith was certain that God wanted him to become a missionary. With every missions organization he applied to, he was rejected. It seemed as if his dream would die. As he prayed he felt as if God was leading him to start a church that would send missionaries. He was able to fulfill the dream God gave him, but it took a slightly different avenue.
Event II. Struggle resolved
A. In v. 5 Abram faces another challenge. He finds that he and his nephew Lot are having troubles. They had both increased in wealth so much that the land could no longer support them and their belongings. It had become such a challenge that they were apparently quarreling with each other as well as those who worked for both of the men. What seemed to start out as a decent venture had become a struggle.
B. This could be another detour that Abram faced that would keep him from the blessings God had promised. This problem could have evolved into a bigger problem and kept Abram from receiving the blessings God promised him. The disagreements could have continued to escalate until they went to war against each other. Abram and Lot could have found their lives being threatened. Rather than experiencing a struggle that stopped him in his tracks. Abram was wise and very sensitive to God. He was able to suggest a solution to his problem. He recommends to Lot that they separate. He suggests that Lot choose one direction and he will go in the other direction.
C. Whenever we face a difficult situation we can find help from God. Sometimes God gives us help in his Word the Bible. This is where the majority of our help will come today. Abram would not have had the Bible that we have. So God spoke to him in a personal way. God told Abram what to do. This information was passed on to Abram in a personal way.
Event III. Lot chooses
A. Abram gives Lot the first choice as to which way he will go. This could have been a disastrous decision. God had already promised Abram a land of his own. If Lot chooses the wrong way Abram could have missed out on the blessing God was offering to him. This however indicates some of God’s providence. God had clearly been speaking to Abram and Abram was a man of great faith. He certainly had his faults, but he was a man of faith. He was also the man God had chosen to give this land to. So when the choice is offered, Lot chooses the plain of the Jordan River. This for one thing was a pretty fertile area. It is compared with the garden of God, presumably the Garden of Eden from the early chapters of Genesis. It is also compared with the land of Egypt. It is described as a rich land. It would be a good place to dwell.
B. The author inserts some information about the cities of this land. For one thing we are told that Lot went toward the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah before God had destroyed them. He also says in v. 13 that the men of those cities were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord. Perhaps this kind of life was somewhat appealing to Lot. I don’t know this for sure, but some have suggested that this was some of what drew Lot in that direction. He was not as connected with God as Abram was. Because of Lot’s choice Abram is able to go on and take possession of the Land God had promised him.
C. Abram knew where God wanted him to go and what God wanted him to do. This could have made Abram say, I am going to take this area and you can have the rest. Instead, we see a demonstration of faith. Rather than forcing the issue Abram lets Lot make the decision. He also lets God demonstrate his faithfulness. Lot chooses what is not Abram’s and Abram gets to keep what was promised to him. Abram did not need to organize circumstances in order for God’s promise to be fulfilled. He let the pressure of keeping a promise stay with God. It was not an issue Abram needed to make happen.
D. I think that sometimes Christians feel like they need to make God look good. Rather than just allowing God to be God, we try to spruce him up. We try to create a good image of him. We want to make god into something that is appealing to us, and we hope that he will be appealing to others as well. Guess what? We don’t have to make God look God. We simply need to be faithful servants. We need to be obedient.
Event IV. God reaffirms his promise
A. After these two part company God speaks to Abram directly. In his message God reaffirms the promise that he had made to Abram in the previous chapter. All of the land that Abram could see would belong to him and to his family. Maybe it was necessary to reaffirm this promise. In chapter 12 as Abram is going to Egypt he is sure the Egyptians will kill him to get his wife. So he lies and tells everyone that she is his sister. Pharaoh likes the looks of Sarai and has her added to his harem. When bad things start to happen Pharaoh traces the problem back to Abram and Sarai. While I have been looking at Abram’s great faith in this passage, at the end of 12 he demonstrates a great deal of cowardice.
B. Abram had not been very faithful then, so when they return to the land God had promised, God reaffirms that promise. Even though Abram had not been faithful in that instance God will continue to honor his promise to Abram. Even if it appeared that Lot got the better end of the deal, in the end it is Abram who has the better deal. Abram is the man who receives God’s blessings. He is the one who has a home that is not destroyed. It ends up being a very good home.
C. Just look at the promise that God makes to Abram. This promise is that all of the land that Abram can see from where he is standing will be given to him. In addition God is going to bless Abram by making sure that he always has descendants. There will be so many descendents that they will not be able to be numbered. God is making some really big promises to Abram. They are not promises that God cannot keep. They are promises that God can and will keep.
D. God’s promises are good, even for the people who fail to follow through with their promises. Abram did have a failure when he lied about his wife. It was not so bad that God refused to honor his end of the deal. Even today we can have failures in our lives. We can have areas were we don’t do well. Nothing we do will be so bad that God cannot forgive us. There is no sin so big or so bad that God cannot forgive it. Scripture teaches that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin. That is an unwillingness to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Have you ever felt like you messed things up so bad that not even God could straighten it out? I think that there may have been times when Abram felt that way too. Through this period of his life we can see how God stays faithful to his promise even though Abram seems to falter in his faith, and even though there are times when he had moved away from God’s promise. God always brought Abram back to the place where the promise was made.
Even though there might be times when we are doubtful of God’s promises we can be sure he will never fail. We might not see God’s promise fulfilled in the way think it is going to happen. God will get us there.
Perhaps you are in a place today where you need to rediscover God’s promises for you. Why not commit to seeking Him this week.
Morgan, Robert J.: Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes. electronic ed. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, S. 291