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Trusting a Person – Not a Plan

Last week Jesse and Greg gave us a fine demonstration of a three-legged race. With a little duct tape to ensure they were perfectly in sync, they made their way across the stage – and believe it or not, they did it without disaster. I guess they’ve known each other long enough and worked with one another often enough to successfully journey together and travel in sync without tripping each other up.

And all of this was an illustration for us of what our walk with God sometimes looks like.

Now of course, we don’t have duct tape to keep us perfectly in sync with God as we attempt to walk with Him in our day to day lives – but that’s the goal. To walk in sync with God – to follow his lead, to do as He does, and to stay close by His side as we journey through life together with Him.

But without that duct tape, it seems we often get out of sync with God. We drift away, we do our own thing – and as often happens in a three-legged race – before we know it, we find our selves flat on our faces.

But the good news is that we can learn to walk with God with minimal faceplants. And the key word there is “learn”. It doesn’t come automatically. It takes time and practice to learn to consistently walk with God. Thankfully, God is incredibly patient with us – and He leads us gently, always encouraging us to get up once again and have another go at it – just to take it one step at a time.

And fortunately for us, God has also given us some great teachers too. We can look to the pages of Scripture to find many examples of men & women who – over a lifetime – learned to walk with God and so we can learn from their examples. One of those great examples, as I mentioned last week, was Abram.

Now Abram was a guy who didn’t start learning to walk wth God until he was about 75 years old – which seems really late in life, but considering that he lived to be 175, he still had about 100 years to practice and learn how to walk with God. So I think Abram’s 100 years of experience can offer us a lot to learn from. And so for the next several weeks, we want to take a look at Abram’s life – leaning from his example as he learned to walk with God.

Now last week, we saw Abram’s very first steps of faith. While he was still living with his father, Terah, God appeared to Abram and told him to leave his homeland and his father’s family, and to go to the place that God would show him.

We read about this in Genesis 12 – verse 1-3, and I think we’ll read that again this morning so to keep it fresh in our minds.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3

Now keep in mind that as far as we can tell, Abram and his father Terah, up until this point, probably didn’t even know (much less worship) God. Joshua tells us that Terah and his ancestors worshipped other gods – not Jehovah. Not the one true God. And so it seems kinda surprising that God would just show up and make this promise to Abram for no apparent reason. It kinda seems to come out of no-where.

I mean, of all the people in the world, why would God choose Abram to receive all these blessings like this? We don’t read that Abram had done anything particularly good or noteworthy. We don’t see that Abram listened to or obeyed God previous to this. There was really nothing that he had done to deserve such an incredible promise from God.

And it was a pretty incredible promise! God promised Abram that he would become a great nation, that he would be famous, and that God would bless him like crazy, and that all families on the earth would be blessed through him.

Why on earth would God offer such incredible blessings to someone who really done nothing to deserve it?

And actually, that’s a question we should probably all ask about ourselves. All of us have been blessed by God far more than we deserve. Not only do we enjoy incredible physical blessings of house and home and country, but we have money to pay the bills, clothes to wear, food to eat…. We have more abundance than pretty much any other people group in history. 

And on top of that, we have friends and family who love us, we have a church family who loves us too. And then, if that wasn’t even enough, God has given us the promise of eternal life with him if we put our trust in his Son Jesus. He gives us joy and peace and all the things that really matter in life.

And why does he does that? Is it because we’re such good people? Is it because we’ve done something to earn all that? No way.

It is only by God’s grace – his unmerited, unearned favor. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2, verse 8.

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8-10

God’s graciousness to us – his favour, his blessings, his abundance, his gift of salvation – is not a reward for anything we’ve done. It is a gift from God for his own purposes. It’s so that we can do the good things that He has planned for us long ago. He has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others.

And that was the same case for Abram as well – God promised to bless Abram – not as a reward for anything Abram had done – but simply because God had a plan for Abram. God was going to bless Abram so that he could be a blessing to every family on earth.

The great nation that would come from Abram’s family was the nation of Israel. It was through Israel that God would make himself known to the world. They would be the primary conduit for the world to see what God is like and how He wants them to live. It was through them that God would reveal his plan of salvation for everyone. And it would be a descendant of Abram who would give birth to Jesus Christ. Jesus would be the ultimate blessing to every family on earth by providing forgiveness and freedom from sin and death to everyone who trust in Him.

So Abram’s blessings were most certainly not simply a reward for Abram for any good thing he had ever done – but it was the means for God to bless the entire world.

It kinda makes you think about your blessings, doesn’t it? Why has God blessed you the way he has? What good plans is God preparing you for? How might your blessings be turned into blessings for others? Because they are most certainly not just a reward for anything you’ve done. Your blessings are gift from God so that you can do the good things He planned for you long ago.

And that leads us to other point that I want to pull out of God’s promise to Abram. Notice that God doesn’t really give Abram a detailed plan. Look again at Genesis 12:1

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

There’s not a lot of details in that, is there? God doesn’t give him a roadmap – in fact, He doesn’t even give Abram a final destination. He just says “Go to the land that I will show you.” Start walking and I’ll let you know when to stop.

Not many of us would take a road-trip like that. Imagine if your spouse told you, “Ok honey, pack up all your belongs into this moving van, hop in, and let’s start driving. Not really sure where we’re going, but God will let us know when we get there.” I think we’d be pretty hesitant to do that, but that’s exactly what God asked Abram to do.

And not only did God leave out the details of where exactly they were going, but he also left out the details of how He was going to fulfill all those promises he made.

God doesn’t address how Abram will become that great nation. After all, Abram’s wife, Sarai was 65 years old by this time and she had been unable to become pregnant, so they had no kids. How would Abram’s family grow to be a great nation when they couldn’t have kids? 

Well, again, God didn’t give those kind of details. And I wonder if the reason why God didn’t share his plan with Abram was because God didn’t want Abram to trust the plan – God wanted Abram to trust the person who made those plans.

You know, I don’t know that there is any place in the Scriptures where God calls us to trust a plan – we’re always called to trust a person. We’re called to trust in Him. Proverbs 3:5 says…

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

We’re called to trust a person, not a plan or a program or a procedure. We are to trust in a person – we are to trust in the Lord.

Even John 3:16 says…

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV

Eternal life is for those who trust IN HIM – God always calls us to trust in a person, not a plan. 

So when Abram obeys God and he takes that first step of faith – it’s not faith in a plan (because Abram didn’t really know what the plan was), but it’s faith in a person. Abram had faith in God. 

And that’s a great reminder for us too, because more often than not, we don’t know God’s plan either. He doesn’t give us all the details. He just asks us to take those simple steps – or sometimes those big scary steps – of faith. Faith, not in a plan, but faith in a person – Jesus Christ.

And the good news is, that when we put our trust in the plan-maker, it doesn’t even matter what the plan is. We can leave that all up to God, trusting that He is good, that He is wise, that He loves us like crazy – and so any plan that He comes up with, it’s gonna be the best plan.

That’s what Abram did. He didn’t know the plan, but he trusted the plan-maker. And so we read in verse 4 of Genesis chapter 12:

4 So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. 5 He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites. Genesis 12:4-6

So here’s Abram, 75 years old – he packs up all his family (including his nephew Lot) and he packs up the whole farm and he heads for Canaan. He still doesn’t really know what the plan is, but God’s given him a command and promise, and so Abram trusts God and journeys to Shechem – which is basically the centre of what will one day be the nation of Israel – although at this time it was inhabited by the Canaanites. And this is where God re-affirms for Abram that all of His promises will indeed come true. In verse 7 it says.

7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord, who had appeared to him.  Genesis 12:7

This is actually where we get this idea of the Promised Land. You’ve probably heard that term before. “The Promised Land” is Old Testament Lingo for all the land that God promised to give to Abram’s descendants. And Shechem was roughly the centre of that land. 

And again, Abram had no idea how God was going to do it – He didn’t know how God was even going to give him descendants, let alone how God would give this land to his descendants. He didn’t know the plan, but he trusted the plan-maker. He built an altar and dedicated it to the Lord. Then in verse 8 it says…

After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the Lord, and he worshiped the Lord. 9 Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev. Genesis 12:8-9

Now so far, Abram is doing really good. So far he’s set the example of how to walk with God – how to trust in him even when you don’t know the plan. But then we get to verse 10.

10 At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan, forcing Abram to go down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner. 11 As he was approaching the border of Egypt, Abram said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, you are a very beautiful woman. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ 13 So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.”  Genesis 12:10-13

Now this is a very interesting passage. First of all, you’ve got to wonder just how beautiful Sarai actually was. I mean, Abram wasn’t just flattering his wife – he was genuinely concerned that his 65 year old wife was so beautiful that the Egyptians would kill him in order to have her. And as it turns out, his concern wasn’t unfounded. Verse 14 tells us

14 And sure enough, when Abram arrived in Egypt, everyone noticed Sarai’s beauty. 15 When the palace officials saw her, they sang her praises to Pharaoh, their king, and Sarai was taken into his palace. 16 Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

Genesis 12:14-16

So Sarai must have really been that beautiful. It says everyone in Egypt noticed her beauty – the palace officials sang her praises to Pharaoh, and as a result, she was taken into Pharaoh’s palace – and Abram was paid a generous dowry so that Pharaoh could marry her.

Now I’m not really sure how Abram planned to fix this little problem that he had created for himself and Sarai. But that’s not the real issue here. The real issue is how Abram stopped trusting God – instead, he made his own plan to save his own neck by lying and and putting his wife into a compromising & potentially harmful situation.

It’s certainly not a shining moment for Abram. Just a few verses back we read about how God had promised that Abram would become a great nation and his descendants would inherit the Promised Land – that certainly wouldn’t happen if Abram was killed in Egypt. So clearly if God was going to keep his promise, he would have to protect Abram’s life. But for whatever reason, Abram doubted God – the person who made those promises, and instead trusted in his own clever plan to save his life.

I can’t help but noticed the selfishness that comes across in verse 13 where Abram says:

So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.” Genesis 12:13

Abram’s not conveying any concern for the well-being of his wife. He’s not protecting her. He’s not acting in her best interest. He seems only concerned for himself. It’s pretty clear that Abram’s not “walking with God” in this moment.

But before we blast Abram for being such a selfish jerk, I think we’d better take a look at our own lives first. As husbands, how often do we put our own interests ahead of our wife’s? How often are we focused on our own needs and desires – rather than on hers? As husbands, our job is to take care of our wives. Our job is to protect her and to put her needs ahead of our own.

Unfortunately I speak from experience when I say that all too often, husbands – even good Christian husbands – don’t do that very well. Too often the things I say or the things I do in our home, or the things I don’t do in our home, reflect my own selfishness, rather than my concern and care for my wife. But the Bible is pretty clear on our responsibilities. Ephesians 5:25 says:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25 NIV

We are to care for our wives just like Christ cares for us. Just like Jesus gave up everything for us, we are to give up everything for our wives. That’s what love is. We are to give ourselves up for her – not the other way around. We are to put her needs and her interests ahead of our own.

And Abram certainly didn’t do that. While Abram was given gifts by Pharaoh – sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels – Sarai was taken to Pharaoh’s palace to become one of his wives. This was a total failure for Abram as a husband and as a man who was learning to walk with God.

But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Even when Abram blew it and sold out his wife and he trusted his own plan rather than in God, God still cared about Abram and Sarai and He graciously acted on their behalf. If you go to verse 17, we’ll finish the story.

17 But the Lord sent terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram and accused him sharply. “What have you done to me?” he demanded. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ and allow me to take her as my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and get out of here!” 20 Pharaoh ordered some of his men to escort them, and he sent Abram out of the country, along with his wife and all his possessions.

Genesis 12:17-20

Thankfully, God intervened and protected both Abram & Sarai – despite Abram’s foolish decision. But Abram’s lack of faith in God had tremendous consequences. It certainly created conflict between the Egyptians and Abram’s family. It brought plagues on Pharaoh and his whole household. I can’t imagine that left a good impression on the Egyptians.

And it most certainly caused serious tension at home between Abram & Sarai. Can you imagine how this impacted their relationship? Can you imagine the conversation (or the lack of conversation) as they were escorted out of the country?

And we can only imagine what other consequences may have come up had God not intervened!  You can see how important it is that we consistently walk with God. Just like in that three-legged race, it doesn’t take much deviation to lead to disaster.

But here’s the good news. God, in his kindness and grace, didn’t give up on Abram. Of course, Abram still had to deal with the consequences of his choices, but those choices didn’t cancel God’s promises or change God’s plans. Even though Abram stumbled in a moment of faithlessness, God remained faithful. Even in the very next chapter, we’re going to see again that God reaffirms his promises to Abram. Abram’s failure did not lead to God’s abandonment.

And I hope that that’s encouraging to you this morning. It’s quite possible that somewhere along the way – perhaps even this week – that you’ve stumbled and failed. 

    • Maybe you’ve doubted God’s goodness or protection or provision or whatever, and you’ve made up your own plan? 
    • Maybe, like Abram, you’ve made decisions that hurt the people around you –  maybe even the people that you care most about? 
    • Maybe you’ve made big promises to God, that you’re going to do better this time, only to find yourself flat on your face once again.

If that’s the case, I want to remind you that no matter how faithless we may be, God remains faithful.

Actually, 2 Timothy 2:13 says:

If we are unfaithful,

    he remains faithful,

    for he cannot deny who he is.

2 Timothy 2:13

God is faithful. That’s one of his defining characteristics. That’s just who He is. He’s faithful. When we blow it, He doesn’t abandon us. He doesn’t cancel his promises. He doesn’t change his plans for us.

Our course, our sin brings its own consequences, and we have to deal with those. But John tells us that…

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9

He doesn’t take away our consequences, but he takes away our sin. He takes away our guilt. He picks us up off the ground and encourages us to again walk with him – one step at a time.

This is all part of the process of learning to walk with God. Believe it or not, our failures can actually lead to even greater trust in God, because when we see first hand how God loves us and is faithful to us, even when we are unfaithful to him, it just proves his trustworthiness over and over again.

That’s not to encourage you to go out and blow it big time this week to test God’s faithfulness – its much better to experience God’s faithfulness without the consequences of sin.

But just know that if you do stumble and fall, and you do make a mess of things – God’s not done with you because of that. He still loves you. He still has a plan for you. And He will be faithful no matter how faithless we are.

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