(Based on the “Seven Realities of Experiencing God” from Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God.)
There is an old legend about a man lost in a desert, when he stumbles upon a broken-down shack with a rusty old water pump. He tries the pump, but to no avail. Then he sees a dusty old jug, which he finds filled with water! A note written on it says to use this water, all of it, to prime the pump to get fresh, cool water from the well below (then refill it for the next person). Now he is at a turning point: should he the trust instructions (on blind faith) or drink the water he could see?
Life has such turning points, including a life of experiencing God. As God calls you into relationship and to join him in his work, there are at least two major turning points where you could miss experiencing God working through you: a crisis of faith and the (in)ability to make major adjustments (Henry Blackaby, Realities 5 and 6 of Experiencing God). While Abraham had several turning points in his life, these are best illustrated in his relationship with Ishmael.
A Crisis of Faith
Reality #5: “God’s invitation to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.”
When you realize God’s assignment is too big for you, it brings you to a crisis of faith: will you believe God (on blind faith) or decline the assignment because it is impossible? Abram serves as a negative example.
Abraham’s Failure of Faith
Abraham had numerous faith failures: he lied about Sarah being his sister twice (12, 20); both laughed at God’s promise of Isaac’s birth (17, 18). But his greatest failure was when he took matters into own hands to produce an heir; he actually tried to fulfill God’s role in covenant (Abraham had no covenant responsibility at this point).
At the heart of this act is the failure to believe God, to trust in Him. It is walking by sight rather than faith. Abram’s actions showed what he believed about God; his faith was limited by human reason. Ishmael was an insurance policy; he was hedging his bets. As a result, Ishmael not only caused Abraham and Sarah grief in their old age, but Ishmael and his Arab descendants have lived in hostility toward Isaac and the Jews from then to today! Abraham, the “man of faith,” was actually a man of wavering faith (Good news for us, since we do the same).
The Issue of Faith
“Crisis” comes from a word meaning “decision.” It is not so much a crisis in your life but a time when God’s call brings you to a fork in road: which road will you take? You have to decide what you really believe about God
Encounters with God require faith because when God gives an assignment it is God-sized and something only God can do. God wants the world to come to know Him and the best way is when God does impossible things through unlikely people. Moses, Joshua, and others could never do what God called them to on their own. Abraham’s mistake was trying to fulfill God’s promise by something he could do, when making him a great nation was a God-sized plan!
But that’s only for biblical characters, right? What does Jesus say?
John 14:12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Matthew 17:20 Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
With only a mustard seed sized faith in God, nothing is impossible for followers of Jesus. In fact, he promises that we can do even greater things than he did!
Henry Blackaby writes: “The reason much of the world is not being attracted to Christ and His church is that God’s people lack the faith to attempt those things that only God can do. If you or your church are not responding to God and attempting things that only He can accomplish, then you are not exercising faith.”
The faith required is a confidence that what God promised will happen. This is not faith in an idea or plan, but in a Person: God Himself. Obedience shows our faith, disobedience the lack of faith. What you do tells what you believe about God. People who decline God’s assignment often wonder why they don’t experience the power and presence of God like others do; they forfeited it by declining God’s invitation!
Have you ever been called to a God-sized assignment where you had to trust God to work through or provide for you? Do you sense God might be calling you to something like that today? Or are you open if He does call?
Reality #6: “You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.”
Many people want assignments from God but are not interested in making adjustments. If you make them, you go on to obedience; if you don’t, you miss experiencing what God may have in store for you. Here Abraham is a positive example.
Abraham’s Life Adjustments
Abraham had many adjustments to make: leaving his land and family at 75, with no plan or road map; believing in God’s promise of a great nation with a barren wife; becoming a father at 100! But perhaps his biggest adjustment was to give up his insurance policy, Ishmael. This would grow in importance in Genesis 22, when God asks him to sacrifice Isaac! Abraham’s adjustments meant he had no choice but to fully rely on God.
Adjusting to God
You cannot stay where you are and go with God: Noah had to become an ark builder; Moses had to go to Pharaoh; David had to leave his sheep to become king; Matthew had to leave his tax collector’s booth; Paul his Pharisaic lifestyle; Peter had to drop his traditional thinking about Gentiles to enter Cornelius’s house. Blackaby writes:
“Enormous changes and adjustments had to be made! Some had to leave family and country. Others had to drop prejudices and change preferences. Others had to leave behind life goals, ideals, and desires. Everything had to be yielded to God and the entire life adjusted to Him.”
It means adjustments:
- in your circumstances: job, home, finances, etc.
- in your relationships: family, friends, business associates, etc.
- in your thinking: prejudices, methods, your potential, etc.
- in your commitments: to family, church, job, plans, tradition
- in your actions: how you pray, give, serve, etc.
- in your beliefs: about God, His purposes & ways, relationship
It means coming to total dependence on God, waiting on God because His timing and ways are always right. If you don’t think you can do it, remember the adjustments Jesus made for us (Philippians 2:5-11):
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus made these adjustments for us. Can we do any less for him?
As a college sophomore, God shocked me with a God-sized call to pastoral ministry. Understand that I had been fighting this all my life, having a grandfather/namesake who was a pastor. There were all kinds of roadblocks, from my ineptitude with foreign languages (Hebrew and Greek?!) to my deathly fear of public speaking. God’s call left me scared, weeping, wanting to say NO for several days. It was a traumatic experience for me and it was only by God’s grace that He gave me the faith to accept it and the ability to make the major adjustments in my life. Not that it has always gone perfectly: I shudder to think of how many times I’ve missed something God wanted me to do.
I don’t know what God’s assignment may be for you, but I can testify to this: God is faithful. He does work through you and often despite your weaknesses. The fact that I’m still in pastoral ministry can be attributed solely to Him. And I shudder to think of what I would have missed in my life if I hadn’t been dragged kicking and screaming into His assignment for me. All I can say to you from personal experience is: God can be trusted. He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or can imagine. When He calls you, will you trust Him?
-presented to Cutlerville East Christian Reformed Church