(Based on the “Seven Realities of Experiencing God” from Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God.)
Abram had been called by God to go to the land he would be shown, and promised by God that he would become a great nation (which meant he would have a son). But it had been some time (11 yrs), and in Genesis 16 he takes matter into his own hands and has a son named Ishmael by Sarai’s servant Hagar. Now the boy’s 13 and God speaks: “I am God Almighty. Walk before me and be blameless” (oh oh!). He confirms his covenant with Abram (which had been a promissory covenant, all of God), and now invites Abram to be a covenant partner, to take some responsibility in covenant. But it’s a rather outlandish story, certainly for Abram and Sarai. Here’s Frederick Buechner’s take on it (Wishful Thinking, 24-25):
“When God told Abraham, who was a hundred at the time, that at the age of ninety his wife Sarah was finally going to have a baby, Abraham came close to knocking himself out—“fell on his face and laughed,” as Genesis puts it (17:17). In another version of the story (18:8ff) Sarah is hiding behind the door eavesdropping, and here it is Sarah herself who nearly splits a gut although when God asks her about it afterward she denies it. ‘No, but you did laugh,’ God says, thus having the last word as well as the first. God doesn’t seem to hold their outburst against them, however. On the contrary, he tells them the baby’s going to be a boy and that he wants them to name him Isaac. Isaac in Hebrew means laughter.
“Why did the two old crocks laugh? They laughed because they knew only a fool would believe that a woman with one foot in the grave was soon going to have her other foot in the maternity ward. They laughed because God expected them to believe it anyway. They laughed because God seemed to believe it. They laughed because they half-believed it themselves. They laughed because laughing felt better than crying. They laughed because if by some crazy chance it happened to come true they would really have something to laugh about, and in the meanwhile it helped keep them going.
“Faith is ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,’ says the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:1). Faith is laughter at the promise of a child called laughter.”
This next stage in experiencing God may cause us to laugh, or cry, depending on what God has in store for us. Reality #3 of Experiencing God (Henry Blackaby): God invites you to become involved with His work. Let’s look at three key phrases: God’s invitation, our involvement, God’s work:
God is the sovereign Ruler, the one at work; He alone has the right to initiate a work:
He does not ask us to dream our dreams for Him and then ask Him to bless our plans. He is already at work when He comes to us. His desire is to get us from where we are to where He is working. (Henry Blackaby)
God Takes the Initiative
In Genesis12-15, God has called Abram into a love relationship, offering a promissory covenant. But He hasn’t asked Abram to do anything (oops!). Now he comes to officially invite Abram to be His covenant partner, to be involved with His work. Nine times God calls it “my covenant;” it is His initiative.
You never find God asking people to dream up what they could do for Him. He will give you the dream. God wants us to adjust our lives to Him so He can do what He wants through us. How often, instead, don’t we ask God to bless our plans and agendas. God will let us follow our plans, but then we will never get to experience what God wanted to do through us (Abram’s plan led to turmoil & heartbreak in his household, and he might never have known joy of Isaac!).
God Guarantees Completion
God confirms and guarantees fulfillment of the covenant by changing Abram & Sarai’s names to Abraham (father of many nations) & Sarah (princess, mother of many kings), in order to reflect the covenant’s future completion. He even names their son Isaac & describes the grandkids! It will also be an everlasting covenant.
What God initiates, he completes (Isa 46:11“what I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do” – Phil 1:6 “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion”). That holds enormous implications for us individually, as a church: we can accept God’s invitation with confidence in Him (vs. ourselves).
What is our role, then, when God calls us?
God-centered vs. Self-centered Living
Abraham moves from a promissory covenant to a two-party covenant. God gives him responsibility to obey the covenant and be circumcised, a self-maledictory oath by Abraham (cut me off if I disobey).
John Ortberg reflects on this: Now imagine you’re Abraham. God comes and says: “There’s going to be a sign for our covenant. I want you to be circumcised.” Do you think Abraham felt a bit like saying: “Noah got a rainbow! This doesn’t quite seem fair. How about a cloud, or a secret handshake, or a decoder ring, or something like that!” But Abraham obeyed that very day, and along with it comes hope.”
God prefaces the covenant: “walk before me and be blameless.” Don’t take matters into your own hands! Abram had sinned; how?
The essence of sin is a shift from a God-centered to a self-centered life.
The essence of salvation is a denial of self. (Blackaby)
If we are to be involved with God in His work, we must be focused on Him, not on ourselves; on His purposes, not on our plans. It’s the difference between living for God vs. self:
God-centered Living Self-centered Living
confidence in God self-confidence
dependence on God, His provision pride in self & accomplishments
life focused on God & His activity life focused on self
humbleness before God depending on self & abilities
denying self affirming self
seeking first God’s kingdom seeking to be acceptable to world
seeking God’s perspective in every circumstance looking at circumstances from a human perspective
holy and godly living selfish and ordinary living
When God is ready to do something, he will call a person to do it. We can’t arrange the call, but we can be prepared for it by God-centered living. If we are too busy with ourselves, our own agenda, God may keep getting a busy signal!
But we also have to realize God has own timing. Abraham’s blunder was in trying to jump in before God was ready for him. It had been 11 years; he would have to wait another 14, until he was 100 years old!
We may be open, itching to have God use us, but He hasn’t called yet! He may have to lay some important foundations in your life, give you necessary knowledge, experiences, soften your heart to Him, in order to prepare you for a task. Peter thought he was ready to drink Jesus’ cup but he ended up denying Him (although later he did die on a cross for Christ!).
God is far more interested in accomplishing His kingdom purposes than you are. He will move you into every assignment that He knows you are ready for. Let God orient you to Himself. The servant does not tell the Master what assignment he needs. The servant waits on his Master for the assignment. So be patient and wait. Waiting on the Lord should not be idle time for you. Let God use times of waiting to mold and shape your character. Let God use those times to purify your life and make you into a clean vessel for His service. (Blackaby)
When He does call and is ready to use you, you need to be …
Knowing Where God Is at Work
God had Abraham’s attention and showed where He was at work: not in Hagar/Ishmael but in Sarah/Isaac!
In his book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby tells the story of George Mueller, a pastor in England during the 19th century. He was concerned that people had become discouraged, no longer looking to God to do anything unusual, no longer answering their prayers, having little faith.
God began to lead George to pray. He prayed for God to lead him to a work that could only be explained as an act of God. When George felt led of God to do some work, he prayed for the resources needed, but told no one else of those needs—again wanting to make sure the people knew it was totally from God. During his ministry in Bristol he started an institute for the distribution of Bibles and also began an orphanage. By the time of his death, his four orphanages provided for over 10,000 children, and he had distributed over 8 million dollars that had been given him in answer to prayer—though his personal wealth stood at $800.
What helped George Mueller know where God was working? He suggested 3 things:
- He sincerely sought God’s direction
- He waited patiently until he had a word from God in the Scriptures
- He looked to the Holy Spirit to teach him through God’s Word
When he wasn’t hearing God’s will, it came from lacking honesty of heart and uprightness before God, impatience to wait for God, and preferring the counsel of men over the declarations of Scripture.
We also have to let God get our attention so He can show us where He’s at work around us, or we might do things He’s never intended and miss things He’s already started! It starts with being God-centered, prayerful, open-minded, watchful, patient. In Waiting, Ben Patterson wrote: “Don’t worry about God telling you what He wants you to do. God wants us to know His will better than we want to know it. Don’t worry about God getting through. Worry instead about whether you will do it when He shows it.”
So, once we know where God is working, we need to be …
Working Where God Is at Work
Once Abraham knew that the covenant would be fulfilled through Sarah/Isaac, he would focus his attention there. He responds in immediate obedience to God (through circumcision).
When God shows us where He is working, it is His invitation to join His work. Perhaps a neighbor/colleague/classmate starts inquiring about spiritual matters. God is undoubtedly drawing that person and this may be an invitation to join Him in the work. Only God can save a person, but we can offer ourselves as an instrument in His hands.
Oswald Chambers: Readiness for God means that we are ready to do the tiniest little thing or the great thing, it makes no difference. We have no choice in what we want to do, whatever God’s program may be, we are there, ready.
When God invites us to be involved in His work, will we be ready?
When I think about this subject, I’m reminded of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Gandalf comes to him, inviting him on an adventure:
Gandalf: “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”
Bilbo Baggins: “I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! … “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not Today. Good morning!”
Are we willing to be on an adventure with and for God?
-presented to Cutlerville East Christian Reformed Church