(Based on the “Seven Realities of Experiencing God” from Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God.)
Imagine a marriage whose goal was to have two kids, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence. The agreement between the couple was: “You help me, I’ll help you in our careers, in trying to maintain our lifestyle.” But then they spend all their time hanging out with their own friends. Oh, they spend a couple hours a week together as “family time” but otherwise no time together unless it helps achieve one of goals. It’s not much of relationship.
Does our relationship with God sometimes take a turn in that direction? Is it a marriage of convenience: God gives what we need; we work at church for him? We don’t spend much time together other than perfunctory “family time” on Sunday mornings and we do our best to “do his will” (whatever that means)?
When we talk about knowing and doing God’s will, we sometimes divorce it from the relationship itself. Yet it is the relationship that God created us for, not the work. More than anything else, He wants us to love him with our whole being (Deut 6:4-5). Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God above all!
Oswald Chambers: “The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain.”
God pursues a love relationship with us. (Reality #2)
God Pursues Us
(1-6) – When a couple is dating, there is a mutual pursuit going on. They spend time talking, testing, learning, forgiving, but mostly just being together, establishing the trust that is at the basis of a love relationship.
God’s Pursuit of Abram
Genesis 12-14 is a picture of a developing relationship, with God as the pursuer. It starts with the call of Abram and his willingness to follow God, as we saw last week. Yet all does not go smoothly. Abraham’s ups and downs are seen in Genesis 12-14; he’s not a pillar of spiritual perfection (though he got some things right):
- Notice Abraham’s first recorded words in Gen. 12:11-13. “As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” This is not a great moment in the history of husbanding! Sarah ends up in a harem; God has to rescue her. And Abraham gets a lecture on integrity from Pharaoh! (but does the same in Genesis 20!). He’s not a moral giant.
- But he gets some things right regarding possessions. In Genesis 13 he gives Lot the land he wants, showing generosity instead of greed. In Genesis 14 he rescues Lot in battle, but refuses the rewards from the king of Sodom; he won’t be in coalition with him. On the other hand, he tithes to God through the king of Salem (Jerusalem), Melchizedek, who is also the priest of God. In 14:18-20 we read:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
The first recorded tithing to God through a High Priest.
God continues to pursue throughout Abram’s life, especially in chapter 15, which revolves around the issue of trust. Can Abram trust God? Can God be trusted? Trust is the basis of a love relationship. In vv. 1-6, God and Abram do a little dance around God’s earlier promise of a son, being a great nation, possessing the land of Canaan.
- God: Don’t fear. I will protect you. I will reward you.
- Abram: But I haven’t seen a son yet! No one to pass inheritance to!
- God: You will! In fact, your grandchildren will be more than stars!
- Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness
God shows his love in engaging Abram in his mixture of faith and doubt, and gently leading him back to faith. Abram is developing the trust needed for this relationship.
God’s Pursuit of Us
More important than knowing and doing God’s will is being in a love relationship with Him. If the love relationship is not right, nothing else will be. But while God pursues us, it is not intended to be a one-sided affair. He wants us to know, worship and love Him. As with Abram, He doesn’t abandon when we doubt or fail. In fact, Paul uses this very passage as an example for us. In Romans 4, he notes that Abraham’s righteousness didn’t have much to do with him, but with God. God credited him with a righteousness that would ultimately come from Jesus Christ (as we’ll see in a moment). So when we blow it like Abram, he leads us gently back to trust him so that we can love him. Is this true of us?
God Pledges Himself
(9-11, 17-21) – At some point in a relationship, a couple makes a covenant to lifelong commitment; they become engaged, “pledge their troth” (trust). Perhaps by now, God might be asking: is this the kind of guy I want to be in covenant with? But as we get to Genesis 15, the covenant gets a little more serious.
God “Engages” Abram
Abram asks God for a commitment to his promises and God responds by “pledging his troth” through a covenant. He pledges that Abram, will have many descendants, become a great nation, gain the promised land. Then they enact a ceremony for sealing a covenant. In Abraham’s day, when someone broke a covenant, it wasn’t voided or ripped up; there were very specific consequences, and most involved the shedding of blood! Most translations say they “made a covenant,” but Hebrew actually says they “cut a covenant”, for a shocking and powerful reason! Look at Genesis 15:9-10:
So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.
After cutting the animals and dividing the halves, the partners would go for a covenant walk thru the blood flow between the pieces, to say “may this be my fate if I don’t live up to the covenant.” Jeremiah reflects this in Jeremiah 34:18 “Those who have violated my covenant, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces.” Covenants were treated very seriously!
But in this covenant with Abraham, who makes the covenant walk? Notice Genesis 15:17 “When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.” Who is smoke and fire symbolic of in the OT? God! Abraham is in a deep sleep and God’s the only one who walks the bloodpath, as if to say: “I will keep my agreement with you, and if I don’t, may I be like these animals! And if you fail, I’ll still pay!” God has made a one-sided covenant: God takes full and complete responsibility to keep the covenant, and He sealed this oath with his own blood!
God “Engages” Us
God does the same with us. Fast forward to the Upper Room. Jesus says: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” The old covenant had been broken by sinful human beings. The covenant was violated; someone had to pay. Jesus says: “I’ll pay. I’ll suffer. I will pay the price that my children deserve, and then I will cut a new, unforgettable and unshakable covenant with my blood, I will be cut. I will cut a new covenant with my body.” When we come to the communion table, when we drink of the cup, never forget that picture.
Despite our sin and breaking covenant with him, God takes full and complete responsibility for it. He sealed the covenant with his own blood, then shed his own blood on the cross, assuming our responsibility and the death penalty for the broken covenant. His Son, Jesus Christ, became that slaughtered calf, the sacrificial lamb. Why? So he could maintain a love relationship with us. That’s how much he loves us! (cf. John 3:16) As He has committed himself to us, have we made that same commitment to him?
God Partners with Us
(12-16) – There comes a time in a relationship when two people begin to truly partner together. They share their hopes and dreams, their secrets, and become partners in their plans. Everything they do they want to do together; and the point is not the doing part but the together part.
- God Calls Abram “Partner” – In the midst of this covenant ceremony, God shares his plans with Abram (a precursor to 18:17 “Shall I hide from Abram what I am about to do?”). Abram is now God’s partner; he’s no longer kept in the dark. He sees the land God would show him; he hears God recount, as if already past history, the future of his great grandchildren. God shows his love to Abram by sharing his plans, even though he won’t be part of them, because they are in this journey together; and the “together” part is the most important.
- God Calls Us “Partners” – Is it for us? In all our talk about knowing and doing God’s will, the doing is not the point. The point is the relationship, doing it together. If we’re not in a love relationship with God, we won’t be able to know or do his will. Not that it would matter, since the point is the relationship. Jesus said that to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-5:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
The most important thing about knowing God’s will is knowing God and loving him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If that relationship is not right, nothing else can be right. As we begin this new church year, can you describe your relationship to God by saying: I love you with all my heart? In the end, regardless of all you do for him, nothing else really matters!
God, you have shown me again the deep meaning and total necessity of a continuing love relationship with you. Thank you that you love me so much. Forgive me when I fail to spend time with you each day. I commit myself right now to spending time every day with you, shut off from my other pursuits. Continue to pursue me Father, and shows me how to express my love to you in real, personal, and practical ways. Let me be fully aware of the real, personal, and practical ways you are expressing your love for me. I love you. I worship you. I will serve you in time and for all eternity. Amen.
-presented to Cutlerville East Christian Reformed Church