Today's Reading: Genesis 12-15
"So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him." 12:4
Hearing a clear and direct message from God is something many have experienced and yet, very few share. Some covet this experience. Some avoid this experience. Hearing from God is a privilege and a responsibility.
Here are some things I have learned about hearing from God:
God speaks on God's own terms: One cannot cajole God into a conversation. One can sit and wait and listen, but God speaks when God wants to speak. We are privileged to hear from God.
God speaks calmly and precisely: God is not frantic or "emotional." God's words are not wasted with superlatives. God says what God means, and we are not to add to it or subtract from it. We are responsible to follow through on what God says.
In our passages today, God has five conversations with Abram. Though this might seem like a lot of talking, we must realize these conversations happen over many years. And they really aren't very "conversational." God says, "This is what I am going to do; this is how you are to respond." Straight to the heart of the matter.
The first time God speaks, God says:
1. Go away from all that is familiar to the land I will show you.
2. I will make you a great nation.
3. I will bless you.
4. I will make your name great.
5. I am doing this so you will be a blessing.
6. Blessing will follow those who bless you; cursing will follow those who curse you.
7. In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
God is going to do a lot for Abram. God commands only one thing from Abram: Go away from all that is familiar to the land I will show you.
Abram almost follows God's instructions, but not quite. He goes forth as the LORD had spoken to him, but, OOPS, Lot goes with him. Abram's nephew tags along.
Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but Abram has not precisely followed God's command; Abram has added to what God has said, and that causes trouble along the way. "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives."
What's the big deal? we might ask. So Abram does a little addition with God's equation. All we have to do is read the chapters that follow and we find that having Lot, a relative, tag along causes all sorts of issues: conflict in the camp, division of the land, a war, a rescue mission.
Abram also has heard from God that God will bless those who bless him; and curse those who curse him. God's arithmetic is promised to be true. And yet, the minute Abram is challenged by famine and enters into Egypt, Abram subtracts God's promise of protection and blessing from the equation. He feels he must take matters into his own hands. Results? He lies, he has others lie, his wife enters the house of another man, plagues occur with great suffering.
God promises descendants and protection; through Abram and his seed all the families of the earth will be blessed. But fear and worry enter Abram's breast when these things don't happen fast enough, or when the promises of God appear to be impossible.
Addition and subtraction mess up the results.
Abram messes up, even after hearing directly and clearly from God. He adds to or subtracts from God's word equation. He gets anxious. He becomes impatient. He takes things into his own hands.
It's hard not to do this. It is hard to take God at God's word.
While God is speaking, we bask in God's presence. We build altars of worship and remembrance. We are confident and secure.
But as we walk away from the presence of God and God's Word, other voices slip into the arithmetic of our lives, raising doubts and compromise. We add our words to God's Word. We subtract what we don't like or don't understand. And all of a sudden, we find ourselves in an "OOPS" situation.
I am like Abram. As a child and teen, I was always adding to or subtracting from what my parents said, and it usually backfired on me. As an adult, I prefer to hear from God what I want to hear, leave out the details I don't like as much or that call for sheer and total obedience, and then wonder why I find myself saying, "OOPS!" The equation of my life gets thrown off balance.
I am grateful for God's patience. I'm grateful that God's will and providence are not dependent upon my complete obedience. But, oh, that I could do exactly what I am told to do and trust God to bless and protect me, no matter what.
I guess I'm a true descendant of Abram: fickle, anxious and distracted.
And yet, God continues to sit by my side, like a patient parent helping with homework. God continues to bless others and me, despite my problems with addition and subtraction.
C'mon, M., your homework is simple. Follow the simple rules, step by step. Here's an eraser. Try again.