Trust and Obey
1. Summer is nearly here. The weather will soon – hopefully! – get warmer and sunnier. Some have no doubt already started using their barbecues. For many people the approaching season of summer means one thing: vacation! It is the time of year when people travel and go on trips to see family, friends, and to take time away from work. People go to cottages, camps, other parts of the country, and perhaps, for some, other parts of the world. Either way, lots of people leave their homes and towns and cities this time of year to go someplace else and experience something different.
2. Now, whenever you’ve gone on vacation you’ve likely done a lot of planning, right? At the very least you’ve determined your route and your destination. You know where you’re staying. You’ve booked the hotels. You have a map. You have all your supplies. Imagine, however, that someone else has planned your trip, and not only have they planned it for you, but they haven’t really told you where you’re going to end up. They say to you: “Ok, This is where I want you to go. Just trust me. We’ll take it one step at a time. Now let’s go here to start. Don’t worry, I’ll show you where to go next. And don’t worry about your final destination. I’m taking care of the details. What I want you to do is trust that I am guiding your steps along the way, even when you don’t know where you’re going. Trust me.” What kind of vacation would this make you expect? Would you be looking forward to it? Would you be comfortable with someone else making plans for you like this? Would you be able to trust them? Would it fill you with peace or would it fill you with anxiety?
3. But maybe you’re not a vacation person and prefer to stay close to home. Let me ask you this then: have you ever had to move? Have you ever had the occasion to pack your all your belongings and leave once familiar surroundings for new territory? Have you ever had to leave close family and friends behind while you travel to what feels like “the great unknown”? Maybe you’re moving because of a new job. It could be that you’re moving to attend a college or university. Or perhaps a life change has meant that you have to move. How does such a move make you feel? Do you feel nervous at all? Would you rather stay close to what is familiar and known? This morning we’re going to look at the call of Abram – better known to us as Abraham – and what that tells us about how we ought to respond to the call of God in our own lives.
The Where of the Call
1. What do we know about Abram at this point? Let’s take a look at Genesis 11: 31: “Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.” So at the outset we see that Abram and his family lived in a place called “Ur of the Chaldeans.” This is ancient Mesopotamia which today is modern-day Iraq. More specifically, Ur is quite possibly located 70 miles south of modern Baghdad. We also learn this in Acts 7: 2ff where it says: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living.”
2. Now, knowing something about where Abram lived and what that place was like tells us something significant about the call of God on his life and what he had to leave behind to obey the call. “Scholars believe that in ancient times Ur was a port city. It was a city that flourished with prosperity because there was a great deal of trade taking place along the coastal waterways. Two great rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, made their home in Ur. The rich soil produced corn, date-palm crops, apples, grapes, pomegranates, and tamarisks growing wild. Canaan did not compare to the luxurious comforts of Ur, yet the Lord was asking him to relinquish his country for the sake of Canaan.” This is not the sort of place you would leave if you had the choice! You would not trade life in Ur for life in Canaan! Have you ever lived somewhere that you would never want to leave, not for anything? Is it possible that the Lord is calling you to move from where you are? Where are you at in your life right now? The call of Abram raises the question for each of us: Where is God calling you from?
The Who of the Call
1. Sometimes the Lord calls us to leave people. What I mean is that the Lord may call us to leave the comforting surroundings of family. I know that when Alisha felt called to study at Houghton College in New York that leaving her family was incredibly difficult because she is so close to her family – yet she knew in her heart that going to Houghton College was God’s will. She listened to the call and she obeyed.
2. The same is true of Abram. Abram belonged to a strong family unit, a clan. They had what we call a nomadic existence. When they travelled and moved they did so together. They stuck together. And more than that, Abram’s very identity came from these family ties. Being part of this family, this clan, defined who he was. Isn’t that so true of us at times? There are those who are very much defined by our family relationships. Not only were the family ties strong, but Abram would have depended on these family ties for his future security. He would have been entitled to family property and an inheritance. Chances are he forfeited these things and the security they would have given. Yet despite all of this, Abram obeyed the Lord when he said “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
3. There are times when following the call of God in our lives puts us in an even more difficult position. I know people that became Christians even when their immediate families were not believers. That can make being a follower of Christ very difficult. But when it comes to following Christ or being loyal to family, Jesus himself is pretty clear on who we put first in our lives. In Matthew 10: 37, 38 Jesus says: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
4. Are there people around you that are a negative influence on your walk with Christ? Are you letting non-Christians shape your attitudes more than the word of God? Or are you so attached to family and friends that you’re afraid to step out in faith and follow the Lord to where he wants you to go? The call of Abram raises the question for each of us: Who is the Lord calling you from?
The What of the Call
1. We have the names of two of the cities where Abram and his family lived: Ur and Haran. At the time that Abram and his family were in the land of the Chaldeans, the cities of Ur and Haran were known for their pagan worship. The chief deity was a moon god, and the culture was polytheistic, meaning they worshipped many gods. Abram and his family were a part of this culture and society. They did not believe in only one God. Scripture also tells us this. In Joshua 24: 2, 3 it says: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors – Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor – lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the river and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.” So Abram and his family were not monotheists, but polytheists. They worshipped numerous gods and the people of this culture would try to entice the gods to do what they wanted. They would try and earn their favour. They would try and manipulate these gods. When the Lord calls Abram, he is calling him to leave all of these other gods behind. The Lord is saying to him: “No longer will you worship gods that are really no-gods; instead you will worship me.” The call of the Lord to Abram teaches Abram that this God, the one and only true God, is not one that can be manipulated. We can’t make the Lord do what we want him to do. He doesn’t follow our bidding, we follow his.
2. Once when I was a student I was invited to dinner with the rest of my class with our professor who was visiting our college from Wales to teach a summer course. It was the professor of missions who had us to her home for dinner. Having spent a lot of time overseas, she had plenty of foreign artifacts and treasures from a variety of countries and cultures. Our visiting professor, being Welsh, had a very dry sense of humour, and when he noticed some African masks hanging on the wall, he commented dryly, “Ah, these must be the household gods!”
3. Well, we might not have “household gods” in that sense, but we can all have things in our lives that take the place of the Lord, things that we use to give our lives meaning, meaning that only the Lord can give. Are there any “household gods” in your home? Are there any idols that you need to get rid of? The call of Abram raises the question for each of us: What is the Lord calling you from?
The Why of the Call
1. So, as you can see, when the Lord calls Abram, this is what Abram’s life is already like. He lives a nomadic lifestyle where family relations are central to life and determines one’s future prosperity; he lives in a culture that is filled with luxuries that would be hard to part with; and in a land that is filled with pagan idolatry and polytheism. It is out of all of this that the Lord calls Abram. Abram is being asked to separate himself from all that prevents him from trusting the Lord completely.
2. Place yourself in Abram’s shoes: how would this make you feel? Abram was being asked to put his trust in the Lord. He was being asked to trust in the Lord for his complete well-being and for his future. Imagine the Lord saying to you: “Leave all that you know behind. Leave behind all that you find familiar and comfortable and safe. Leave your homeland, your country, and your family. Leave behind any sense of security you had in your possessions. Leave behind any false gods that you think you can manipulate into helping you. There is only one God, me. So instead trust me. Trust that I will do for you what I say. Trust that I will be with you. Trust that I will guide your steps. Trust that I am able to do this. Trust me with your future. Trust me with your life. Trust that I am going with you, and, in fact, am going ahead of you. Trust me, just trust me.”
3. Do you think it was easy for Abram to do what he did? To show you what I mean, let’s look again at Acts 7: 2 where it says: “The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.” According to this passage the Lord called Abram before he arrived in Haran, which is where he was when the Lord called him in our passage. The Lord had called Abram more than once. I think that it’s quite possible that Abram found it difficult to believe, that he found it hard to trust, and that he put off obeying the Lord’s call.
4. Another pastor comments on this and says: “Even Abram at first had a hard time believing God. The truth gleaned from this is that the life of faith is a process. That is, when we begin the journey our ability to trust in God is not perfect. In fact, the journey of faith is really a journey of maturity. Abram’s life of faith will mature over the years because the life of faith is a process. Likewise, when you and I start the journey of faith it is a process of maturity. And just as Abram had his moments of struggling to trust God, so do we.”
5. It could be that one of the reasons the Lord is calling you to something new is because that is one of the primary ways he teaches us to trust him. If I am removed from an environment that I am intimate with, that I understand, and that I feel safe in, then it could be that I trust my surroundings more than God. It becomes very easy to trust other things rather than the Lord. Therefore the Lord says to us, “Go here and do this. Learn to trust me.” The call of Abram raises the question for each of us: Do I really trust in the Lord?
The How of the Call
1. And it is not only about trusting. It is also about obeying. Trust and obedience go together. The two are inseparable. When we fail to obey, we demonstrate that perhaps we do not trust the Lord as much as we might say. Obedience is how we live out the trust in the Lord we profess to have. How do we prove that we trust God? Abram’s trust led to obedience – he did leave his land and his surroundings and followed the call of God. He trusted. And he obeyed.
2. We are to do likewise. Obedience is much more difficult than believing. But if you sense that the Lord is calling you to do something, then you must do it. Pray about it. Listen carefully. Seek the wisdom of other brothers and sisters in Christ. Search the Scriptures. But ultimately obedience is the response God is looking for. By this we show that we trust him, and that we place him before all else in our lives.
3. Sometimes it’s frightening and difficult to obey what we know the Lord is calling us to do. It can be hard to go where we sense he wants us to go. But that is why trust and obedience go together. If someone who I do not trust tells me to follow them, to go to a place that they will show me, I will most definitely not go. Why would I? Our obedience to the Lord is based on our trust in him, that he is faithful and worthy of our trust and loyalty and worship. I think that even when we do obey the Lord it can sometimes be with a healthy bit of fear and trepidation. Obedience to the Lord is based on our trust in who the Lord is; and our trust in who the Lord is should result in obedience. Obedience is the “how” of trust. The call of Abram raises the question for each one of us: Is our trust in the Lord leading to obedience?
1. You know, the fact is that faith is a journey. Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ and living a life of faith is like going on a trip knowing the journey never really ends in this lifetime. Following the Lord also sometimes feels like moving to a new place. You don’t know what it’s going to be like, and all you know for sure is that it’s new and unfamiliar. Following Jesus is sometimes like that classic Star Trek slogan: “To boldly go where no one has gone before!” NT scholar F.F. Bruce calls Abram’s willingness to go where the Lord was leading a “mad adventure.” Obeying God’s call in our lives can definitely feel that way!
2. In our passage we see that Abram went one step at a time. The last verse says that “Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negev.” The Hebrew verb that we translate “journeyed” literally means to “pull up the tent and move to another place.” The picture that the verb communicates is a journey that takes place in stages. The life of faith is an ongoing process that has its ups and downs, but through it all, the Lord calls us to trust that he is leading. He wants us to demonstrate our trust by responding obediently to the various ways in which he commands us to live out his call on our lives. And he calls us to follow one step at a time, one stage at a time.
3. Obviously I believe the Lord calls each one of us to follow him and I also believe that following the Lord sometimes means travelling to unknown places and scary territory. I believe that the Lord’s call is ultimately one to place all of our trust in him and that this is why he calls us to do things and go places in our lives that take us beyond the familiar and comfortable. That’s his way of teaching us to trust him. And I don’t necessarily mean that God calls each one of us to do what Abram did. Obviously this isn’t true. Certainly Abram’s call was unique to his time and to God’s purposes for him. We’re not all called to move from where we are to a new land, from the land of the Chaldeans to Canaan. But we are all called to follow the call of the Lord.
4. Let me ask you: Have you ever felt God calling you to do something you’ve never done? Have you ever felt him calling you to go somewhere you’ve never been? Do you perhaps feel God calling you to do something now? That may mean attempting an area of ministry that the Spirit has been prompting you to try. It may mean going on a short-term mission trip. It may mean reaching out to a neighbour that you know needs the love of Christ. It may mean moving outside of a comfort zone so that the Lord can teach more about trusting him. In the end, it’s about who the Lord is and what the Lord can do through us, in us, and with us. In the end the call of Abram raises this question for each of us: What is the Lord calling you to do, where is he calling you to go, and do you trust him enough to obey?