Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 7 January 19:
Genesis 15:1, 6, 8; Matthew 6:25 — “’Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’… And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness…. But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’”…. Do not be anxious about your life….”
Today’s readings can teach us a great deal about faith, fear, failure, and God’s perfect faithfulness. Abram (Abraham) was chosen by God, not by merit but because of God’s grace. As we read Abram’s life story, we might be inclined to ask, “Why would God pick this guy?” Others might be inclined to ask the same about us. The fact is, we all fall short of God’s glory, and our lives reveal God’s grace, not anything special about us – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9) Abram’s life reveals times of great faith and times of great fear and failure. Abram’s story also reveals God’s faithfulness despite or unfaithfulness. Abram is included in the “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11, but just like us, his faith and his faithfulness (the fruit of faith), was far from perfect.
Abram was just like the desperate father who begged Jesus to heal his son and who said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) Abram and this father were both believers who trusted in God but still struggled with doubt (fear). Don’t you often feel the same way? The good news is that they were also willing to be honest with God about their doubts and asked God to help them with their doubts. How about you? Are you praying to God about your unbelief?
Concerning believers’ doubt, John Calvin said, “As our faith is never perfect, it follows that we are partly unbelievers; but God forgives us, and exercises such forbearance towards us, as to reckon us believers on account of a small portion of faith. It is our duty, in the meantime, carefully to shake off the remains of infidelity which adhere to us, to strive against them, and to pray to God to correct them, and, as often as we are engaged in this conflict, to fly to him for aid.” We must trust God with our doubt while striving against infidelity, continually praying for His help.
The Bible calls us to be courageous in the Lord, which is triumph over fear by trusting in Him rather than ourselves or anything else.
– Psalm 27:14 — Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
– Psalm 31:24 — Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!
– Daniel 10:19 — O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.
Courage (overcoming very real fear) is the evidence of our salvation and gives us the ability to do good – “You are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:6). In fact, it takes courage to truly love – “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18) Think about it. It takes faith, trusting in God to overcome fear, in order to give, to forgive, to rest from work, to obey God over the world, and to face seemingly insurmountable obstacles so that the power of God can be revealed in our lives to others to His glory. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
In doubt, Abram asked God for evidence of His promise. So, God told Abram to prepare for an ancient ritual known as ‘cutting a covenant,’ where the two parties of a contract, deal, or pact would cut animals in half and then together walk through the animal parts, essentially saying, ‘May I be cut into pieces like these animals if I don’t keep my promise(s) as I’ve stated in this agreement (covenant).’ (Genesis 15:9-11) However, in this case, God caused Abram to fall into a deep sleep, and only the Presence of God in the form of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. (Genesis 15:17) God was saying, ‘Your confidence in my promise rests solely on my faithfulness, not yours. I am always faithful, even when you aren’t. Your salvation rests in my hands, not yours. Nothing can separate you from my love.’ We can have confidence in God’s grace, and that confidence should lead us to faithfulness.
Despite Abram’s direct encounters with God, where God told Abram to trust in Him rather than in Himself, Abram turns around and anxiously disobeys God, taking matters into his own hands by getting Hagar pregnant. As a result, God does not abandon Abram, and Abram is still blessed by God, but needless pain and suffering enters into Abrams life and remains through the generations to this day. Some practical learning points are provided here: 1) We all doubt. 2) Our first response to doubt should be prayer. 3) Fear and doubt tempt us to take matters into our own hands and to make rash decisions rather than patiently waiting for God and His timing. 4) Faith often means waiting, waiting on the Lord. 5) While waiting on the Lord, simply obey what He has already clearly said in His word, and be faithful to what He has already given you as responsibility. 6) Be careful – those closest to you will often give you bad advice, but you are still responsible for your own decisions. 7) Fear leads to infidelity which causes needless pain and suffering. Faithfulness allows us to experience the fullness of God’s blessings without unnecessary sorrow – “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” (Proverbs 10:22)
Finally, Jesus tells us today that, when fighting fear, we need to go on the offensive rather than the defensive and be proactive rather than reactive – “Therefore do not be anxious…. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33; compare with Matt 5:6) Stay focused on obeying God, knowing Him more and more each day, and making Him known more and more each day. And Jesus concludes today’s readings by saying, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) The best way to prepare for tomorrow is to be faithful with today. Focus on making the most of the opportunities God presents to you today. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15, 16) Joyfully, confidently, and gracefully, make today a masterpiece to God’s glory.
We will all doubt, but doubts need not equal defeat. When we have doubts, we need to be honest about them, take them to The Lord, trust in His provision, and obey through our doubts. Fear need not lead to failure or needless pain. But if we do fail, we need to trust in God’s grace and remember God’s promises in 1 John 1:9 and Romans 8:28, 29. God uses even our failures for good and to conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 7 Jan 19: Today, confess your doubts and fears to the Lord, trust Him, wait on Him, and obey Him through your doubts. Focus on being faithful with today.