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Genesis Chapter 13:1-18 - Decisions: Faith Vs. Sight - Part 1
A few weeks ago ago we talked about Abram being a “Faith Follower,” and discussed having faith when God “calls” us. Many people think that having faith in God is a blind faith, that we are asked to stake everything on a leap in the dark, hoping against hope that there is a God out there who will catch us.
One skeptic, Ambrose Bierce, in his book: “The Devil’s dictionary” defined faith as: “belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.” Or, as Mark Twain wrote: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
Abram’s faith what not of that sort. His faith was not a blind faith, if it had been, he would have despaired when he saw the massiveness of the difficulties that stood between him and the things promised by God. His continued to trust in the midst of all and that shows us a man who knew that his future was controlled by a loving Heavenly Father.
The content of God’s revelation to Abram was slim, to say the least. It wasn’t much at all, but that’s what it means to live by faith. God reveals Himself to us, and we respond to Him trustingly, taking Him at His word.
We have already learned from Abram, that a relationship with God is a journey of faith that begins with a simple acknowledgment that He exists... and that He loves us, He has a plan for us that includes a great blessing, and He wants us to enjoy a close relationship with Him. We have also learned that faith isn’t merely believing that an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator exists; faith is trusting in God as we experience life. And we have also seen that faith begins hesitantly and imperfectly, and that God will use our experiences to help us grow strong in faith.
Abram faltered during his first crisis, reverting back to his old ways - deception - rather than trusting in His Lord. Now he faces a different crisis: prosperity. Fortunately this test revealed that Abram’s faith had grown.
So, how did Abram deal with his failure? He went back to square one. The opening verses in Genesis 13 show Abram reversing his tracks. He went back to the Negev where he was when he made the wrong decision to go down to Egypt. From there he went to Bethel to the place where he had pitched his tent earlier and where he had built an altar. There he called on the name of the LORD, just as he had before.
Here is the key test of the kind of faith we have: Does our failure drive us away from God or towards Him? If our faith is in the power of OUR faith, failure will drive us further away from God. If we are trusting in our own goodness to gain access to God’s presence, we will either try to conceal our failure and pretend it never happened, or we will be devastated by our failure and driven away from God by it. The reason is simple: Our failure exposes the emptiness of our claim to stand before God on our own merits.
But if our faith rests in God and what He does for our ability to enter His presence, then our failures won’t destroy us. It will drive us back to square one, back to the altar where we started, so that we can repent and call on the name of the Lord.
As the Psalmist put it: “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when He delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.” (Ps. 37:23-24)
As people of faith, we fail just like everyone else. The difference is that when we fail, we do not fall, because we return to the Lord in repentance, calling on His name and seeking forgiveness.
So now Abram is put to a new test, the test of prosperity. Earlier, he left the promised land because of famine. Now he and lot were so blessed by God, and their herds and flocks increased so much, that they faced another crisis. Their possessions were so great that they were unable to stay together and quarreling broke out among their herdsman.
We don’t usually think of prosperity as a testing condition. In fact, we usually think that if we just had a little more money, then many of our problems would be solved. And this is a test many of us would happily volunteer to go through! But how foolish we are! How little we recognize the dangers and risks that wealth brings in its wake!
The Apostle Paul knew its dangers better than we do. He wrote: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:12-13). Paul had learned to be content in both conditions, whether well fed or hungry, rich or poor.
Don’t most of us think it's difficult to be content only when we are poor? We would be quite happy to try being rich for awhile. But I think if we were ever given the opportunity we would discover that riches solve very few problems and can easily become a major obstacle in our spiritual growth.
Think about it: if you won or inherited a fortune, would that change your relationship with God? Would you still be dependent upon Him for your daily bread? Would you still be faithful to the calling you have received from Him? We could do a great deal of good with a whole lot of money. But there would be a great temptation to spend most or all of it on our own comfort.
It would be hard not to say what the rich fool said to himself in the parable of Jesus: “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12:19).
I’m not sure I could handle that kind of blessing, and think I would be better off to stick to the prayer of Proverbs 30:8-9 - “give me neither poverty or riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or, I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
What this means is that prosperity is a testing soil that exposes our heart idolatries in a similar way to adversity, as we talked about last week. In adversity, we lack the thing that we most crave, or we fear losing it. Our idol is threatened, and so we respond with anxiety and fear, frustration and anger. If we trace back those negative emotions to their source, they are a powerful counseling tool to see what is really driving us. Our fear and anxiety, frustration and anger then become arrows pointing right at the idols that have the strongest grip on our hearts. However, in prosperity, we receive an abundance of what we crave.
Join us next week as we see how Abram handled prosperity.