The Growth of Faith

6So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. 7These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies goldthough your faith is far more precious than mere gold.[i] (1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT)

The Lord told Abram to leave his native country, relatives and his fathers family and go to a land that the Lord would show him. (Genesis 12:1) Abram demonstrated his faith by doing just as the Lord asked.  He left not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)

Abram arrived in the land and set up camp beside the oak of Moreh in Shechem. (Genesis 12:6) In this place the Lord appeared to him and said, I will give this land to your descendants. (Genesis 12:7, NLT)

Abram demonstrated his faith by obedience and God rewarded that faith by appearing to Abram and confirming that Abram was in the right place. This was a spiritual high place, a mountain top experience.

Immediately following this mountain top experience, Abrams faith is tested. It happened to Jesus as well.  Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan.  The Spirit descended as a dove and landed on Jesus. A voice from heaven said, You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy. (Luke 3:21-22, NLT) Then Jesus was immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil for forty days. (Luke 4:1-13)

Abrams test comes in the form of a severe famine.

In response, Abram leaves the land that God has promised him and goes to Egypt. He feels compelled to lie to the Egyptians to protect his own life.  His wife Sarai is a beautiful woman and he fears they will kill him in order to take her.  So, his solution is to lie and tell the Egyptians that Sarai is his sister.

Earlier the Biblical account tells us that there were Canaanites living in the land when Abram camped in Shechem, but Abram did not feel compelled to lie to the Canaanites. I assume this is because he was integrating more with the society of the Egyptians.

Abram builds no altar in Egypt.  God is silent.  Abrams wife is taken by Pharaoh to be Pharaohs wife.  Pharaoh gives many gifts to Abram in exchange for Sarai, who Pharaoh believes is Abrams sister. As Abram remains silent, God intervenes, causing a plague on Pharaohs whole household.  Pharaoh realizes what is going on and kicks Abram out of the country, having him escorted out.

In all this, Sarai is silent.  Abram gained riches by her, but at what cost? Can she trust him? Has he protected her honor?  God rescued her, and Pharaoh showed more respect than Abram did.

From this debacle, Abram moves into another. 

Lot traveled to Egypt with Abram, but is not mentioned in the texts concerning Abrams time in Egypt.  He reappears in the story as Abram travels back to Shechem where God had appeared to him.  Abram returns to the altar that he had built there and worships God.

However, there is a problem.  Abram is very rich in livestock, silver and gold. How much of it was from selling his wife to Pharaoh? Whatever the case, the riches become a problem in the family.  Lot is also rich and the land cannot support both of them.  Lot and Abram do not quarrel but the herdsmen do.  What a mess! 
The Canaanites are still living in the land, and there seems to be enough room for them and Abram and/or Lot.  The text tells us there was conflict and that the land could not support them living close together.  In the time of Jacob, his sons traveled all over the land grazing his flocks.  Why could not Abrams and Lots herdsmen do the same thing? There is a conflict in Abrams family that centers on possessions and livestock, but I believe it is deeper. 

The resolution of the conflict is found in them separating.  The same kind of thing happens with Paul and Barnabas in Acts. Two righteous men cannot agree on a traveling companion so they part ways. (Acts 15:36-40) The Bible does not tell us who was right and who was wrong in the case of Barnabas and Paul, nor does it tells us in the case of Lot and Abram.

When it comes to the point of having to separate, Abram offers the choice to Lot. I am not critical of Lots choice.  The text tells us that at the time the Jordan valley was like the Garden of Eden and was well watered everywhere. This is certainly not the case now, but this was before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot chooses a favorable location, but we must remember that the Scriptures describe the land of Canaan as a land flowing with milk and honey. It seems there is no unfavorable choice. However, Lot leaves the Promised Land to Abram.

This brings me to a key point. 

Lot was the son of Abrams brother Haran.  Haran died way back when the family was still in Ur. Abram had no children of his own so Lot was like his son. Lot was a potential heir to all of Abrams possessions and promises.

In Genesis 12 verse 7 God says to Abram, I will give this land to your descendants. This promise is clear.  The word descendants is the word seed.  For Abram the implication is clear.  The land is to be given to his physical descendants, not an adopted or substitute heir.

When Lot moves east, he removes himself from the Promised Land. 
This must have been tough for Abram.  Lot has been with him since Ur.  He has been attached to Abram through all of his travels this far.

These two incidents, the time in Egypt and the separation with Lot, are trials for Abrams faith. Both require Abram to trust God.

When Abram had his experience with God, his faith was tested by a drought. He immediately fled.  Although he did not go home, he did leave the land that God said, I will give this land to your descendants.  From our perspective 4,000 years later, it is easy to say he should have stayed in Canaan, but we do not know what it was like for Abram.  The Bible just tells us there was a severe famine.

Rather than trying to solve Abrams problem, we can consider our own.  Has God given us a clear vision of what He wants us to do? Have we abandoned the vision because of difficulties?

Jonah was given instructions to go to Nineveh.  He fled, was swallowed by a fish and spit back out in the right direction.  Abram was promised the land.  He fled, and was spit back out in the right direction. The first lesson that comes from the testing of faith is perseverance.  The testing has to come so that we become convinced that the promise is from God. Romans 5:3 and James 1:3 both teach us that the testing of our faith produces endurance or perseverance.

This is deeper than stick-to-itiveness. This is conviction that leads us to hold on to the promises of God.  This is refusing to let go of the vision.

Each one should look at where he or she is.  He or she is there either because of the promise or because he or she has fled from difficulty and needs to get back to the promise. 

This leads us to the second trial of the faith of Abram, the separation from Lot.
Abram was expelled from Egypt.  His faith took him back to where God had appeared to him.  However, his obedience or surrender or faith was not complete.  He was still holding onto something as a crutch or maybe as a backup plan: Lot.

Romans 5:4 tells us endurance develops strength of character, and James 1:3 tells us endurance makes us perfect and complete.  Both of these are referring to maturity. The first trial of our faith is to develop endurance, through which we mature.

The Lord uses conflict to accomplish his purposes. He did this in the case of Paul and Barnabas, by causing the dynamic duo to split up and thus accomplish more.
By allowing Lot to separate himself, Abram trusts Gods promise in relation to his descendants. At this point, he does not have any descendants. Since the promise to give the land to his descendants is clear, the giving of descendants is implied. Trusting God without the safety net of Lot shows Abrams maturing faith.
At the time of Abram, nations were being established. Only a couple of hundred years earlier, mankind had moved as a unit to the place from which Abram moved.  There they had started to build a tower to make a name for themselves.  After the tower of Babel, men built cities and nations to make a name for themselves.  Egypt is a good example of a successful nation building effort.
In this environment, leaving an heir and establishing a name is very important to Abram.  It is everything.  However, God has promised to do it for Abram. In Genesis 12:2 God says, I will make you famous. Separating from Lot means Abram has to trust God to provide descendants.

A maturing faith takes God at His word.  Endurance holds on to the promises.  Maturing faith relies wholly on those promises.

God calls each person to leave everything and follow Him. For Peter, James and John it meant that they gave up fishing and left their families behind.  For Paul it meant giving up all his political and religious ambitions. 

Today, some may be uncertain of what the vision is.  They may be at the stage that would be equivalent to Abram leaving Ur of the Chaldeans.  The challenge for these people is taking the first step of trusting God.  It might be as simple as saying, Okay, God I am not even sure You are there, but I am willing to be shown. God sent Jesus to make a way to Him. So start by asking Jesus to show Himself to you.

Others may have taken the first steps, but they are wondering what Gods purpose for their life is.  Trust God to make it clear.  In other words, like Abram, step out in faith not knowing where you are going.  God is able to make the way clear. Just take the next step.  Are you in school? Complete your studies.  As long as you ask God to guide you and are seeking Him, you can trust that He will guide you.

Finally, if you know you are where God wants you to be, but you are still holding onto a backup plan in case God does not come through, give it up.  A person cannot skydive without jumping out of the plane.  Jesus said you cant serve God and money.  We cannot hold onto God and the world at the same time.  We must choose.  We must either let go of everything and trust only God, or choose to hold on to other things and let go of Gods promises.

Abram did, and the text says he was living by the oak at Mamre in Hebron.  Hebron means fellowship, and Mamre means fatness, the implication being that Abram moved into a place of peace.

[i] Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved.


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