“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
I sat across the table from a young man about to resign the church he has been serving as an associate for five years and move to another state for a new ministry.
“How do you feel?” I asked.
That is the right combination. Two currents flowing in from different rivers, meeting in our hearts and minds and clashing, then mixing. Sometimes one overwhelms the other, sometimes both rise to the surface. Both are legitimate responses to this new thing the Lord is doing in his life.
I said, “When you were called into the ministry, you were excited and scared. When you left home for seminary, you were excited and scared. When you preached your first sermon and when you took your first church, excited and scared.” He agreed.
Acting on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ almost always produces those two reactions. You are sitting in church, thinking about stepping into the aisle and going to the altar to confess your faith in Jesus Christ. Your pulse is racing, your knees are knocking, the adrenalin is lowing. Tears are welling up inside you and will soon be making their presence known.
You are scared and excited at the same time.
We Jesus-followers are excited about the new venture, about testing ourselves, about knowing that life is about to change forever since we will not be able to return to this spot ever again and start afresh. And we are frightened for the same reasons.
What if we fail? What if our commitment and determination and zeal are not enough? What if the people in the new assignment do not welcome us or refuse to accept us or to follow our leadership?
We can fail. That is a given.
We can always fail.
In any venture we launch by faith, failure is ever present as a possibility.
Some will take issue with this, reminding us that “we are more than conquerors through Him,” God don’t sponsor no flops, and “thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ.” True and wonderfully so. Ultimately, in Christ, all who are of faith are winners.
But in the short-term, we can get this wrong. We can give in to our fears and drop out of church, give in to our panic and quit tithing, give in to the nay-sayers surrounding us and cancel plans for the mission venture.
It was to believers our Lord said, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).
Failure is always an option. That’s why it’s a matter of faith.
If there were no possibility of getting it wrong, no faith would be required.
Take Abraham in the text above.
Imagine him trying to explain to his family and his wife’s parents that, yes, we will be leaving, and no, we might not ever get back this way again. And no, Mama, we do not know how far we are going because we’re not quite sure where it is we’re heading. You’re wondering how we will know when we get there. All I can tell you is that the living God, the One who has called me to do this, He will show us.
Imagine Abraham telling Sarah his wife in the first place. There were no guarantees, no safety nets, no golden parachutes, and no fall-back positions. We’re told that wives like security. Sarah was promised anything but that. And yet, she honored her man (see I Peter 3:6) and went with him.
The writer of Hebrews makes these points in that single verse (11:8)….
1) Abraham was called. He didn’t make this up, did not dream up a scheme and put God’s name on it, and did not volunteer.
I will say this: When you are called by God and know you are called, you speak with a confidence and an authority you could never have concocted on your own.
The Prophet Amos knew this. When the religious authorities in the Northern Kingdom urged him to leave Bethel and go back “down south where you came from” because “they’ll pay you for preaching like this,” he had a ready answer. “I am not a professional,” he said in essence. “But I was a herdsman and a gatherer of sycamore figs. But the Lord God took me from following the flock and said to me, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel!'” (Amos 7:15) He said, “When the lion roars, you will fear. And when God speaks, you will prophesy!” (Amos 3:8).
2) Abraham obeyed. That, more than any other single thing, is the response which the Lord asks for and expects to His call.
“To obey is better than sacrifice,” we are told in I Samuel 15:22. The Apostle Paul said, “For this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you are obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:9).
“Trust and obey. For there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus.”
3) Abraham obeyed and left home, not knowing where he was going.
Do not miss this. In faith, there is always the missing ingredient. Sometimes it’s a lack of full information, sometimes adequate resources or confirmation from supporters, and at other times the problem is opposition.
In Abraham’s case, he knew what he was doing and why. What he did not know was the destination or what would happen once he arrived.
4) That place would become his for an inheritance. There is the promise of a reward, something making this faith-decision worthwhile.
We happen to know something else the writer of Hebrews does not mention: Abraham did not get it perfectly right. He made some bonehead mistakes. (See Genesis chapters 12 and 16.)
Scripture does not gloss over the sins and foolishnesses of its heroes, which is one more reason we believe in its inspiration and accept its accuracy.
Thankfully, the Lord knows what frail people He is dealing with. “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).
If the Lord required perfection from us, the Kingdom would have no citizens and Heaven would be bare. That’s why the message of the cross is so crucial.
“We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10:14).
There are 120 reasons for our faith in Jesus Christ, but that’s the biggest. He paid for our sins. He blasted out the wall separating us from God.
We are saved in Jesus Christ.
We put faith in Him to be saved, and then we live by a constant practice of that same faith.
“The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11).
“Without faith, it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
“For we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
We clear on that now? Good.
You excited? Scared just a little? Good. Now, get on with it.