Thursday, January 10, 2008

O Lord God, How Am I To Know?

"O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?"
Genesis 15:8
How am I to know? This was how Abram responded after being told by the Lord that he would inherit the land to possess.

I love the Bible. And the more I read the Bible, the more deeply I feel this. It wasn't always this way. There was a day when if you had asked me why I read the Bible, my response would have been something along the lines of "because I'm supposed to." There were often days when I would read my Bible and before the day was halfway over there is no way I could tell you what I had read. I had no clue why I was reading the Bible but I still did it anyways.

Why do you read the Bible? Today, if you were to ask me that question I would answer by saying that I read the Bible so that I can be reminded of who God is, how He interacts with man, and how He desires man to interact with Him. These things shape the way I live my life from day to day. When I come to the Bible each day, I'm really looking for something of these three things and all I need is one verse or idea out of a chapter or two of reading to lead me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake (Psalm 23:3).

We are a forgetful people. We must continually be stirred by grace to love and good works. And that's why I know that I need these tangible reminders daily (the truth is, I need it much more than this). There probably was a time when I wouldn't have dared to miss a day reading my Bible because I was a Pharisee who did so to boast in my self-righteousness. And though I know that there are still remnants of that in me today, the reason I dare not miss a day reading my Bible now is because I know that yesterday's bread is simply not enough to sustain me today. I will perish from hunger and I fear that more than anything else. I need a fresh supply of spiritual food because though my head may not have forgotten so quickly, my heart surely does and the Holy Spirit must supply new stirrings of grace in my heart the way that the Israelites needed God to provide a new supply of manna each day because the bread that they were given was only to be their portion for that day (Exodus 16:4).

So when I come to Abram asking the Lord how he is to know that these things promised to him will come to pass, I listen intently to God's response as though it were me asking. Because the truth is, it is. How am I to know that You will make good on Your promises? How am I to know that You will withhold no good thing from me? How am I to know that You will give me the desires of my heart? Could You give me some sort of confirmation? Some sign? Some assurance?

This is why I am all eyes and ears when I read my Bible. Every situation that the people in the Bible find themselves in, either I have found myself in or am currently finding myself in or will find myself in at some point in the future. That's why all of it is useful "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). What am I to learn from Abram and God's response to him so that I can know how I am to know as Abram seeks to?

All of a sudden little details begin to matter and I'm paying attention to every word I read. And then I realize that instead of explaining the how, God simply adds to the what:
"Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."
Genesis 15:13-16
Now if I were Abram at this point, I would probably be too fearful to say it but I know what I would be thinking: "Lord you didn't answer my question. Now instead of just wanting me to know, You want me to know for certain. How am I to know?"

And of course God knows what I am thinking just as much as He knew what Abram was thinking. That's why He did what He did before and after He responded to Abram with those words.

Yes, God answered Abram's question. But He answered by His actions rather than by His words. The Lord made a covenant with Abram that He enacted when, after Abram cut a bunch of animals in halves that opposed each other so that there was a path formed between them, He passed between them. God was the initiator and God was the guarantor. God didn't have to initiate the covenant. But He did so because He desired to according to His lovingkindness. And in this, Abram could have had no greater guarantee that God would make good on His promises. It didn't depend on Abram doing anything and it didn't depend on God giving Abram an advance payment, but rather it depended on the unimpeachable faithfulness of the One who promised. And in God's mind, this was all that was necessary to sufficiently answer the question Abram asked and thus quiet his soul. So the question at the end of the day for Abram was simply this: did he believe God or not? Did he trust God's unquestionable faithfulness or not?

The same is true for me. The same is true for all of us who call God our Father. Day after day, the question isn't so much what will we do, but rather, regardless of what we see or experience, what will we believe? This is true because 1) we can control what we believe while we can't control what we see or experience, 2) our believing is always what informs our doing, and 3) a day is coming when we will not have any ability to do but only the ability to believe. What will we believe if we are relegated to a hospital bed or wheelchair without any mobility? Will we believe that He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all will also freely with Him give us all things (Romans 8:32) and is doing so in that moment? Will we believe that He will never turn away from doing good to us (Jeremiah 32:40) and is doing good to us even in that moment of unbearable pain? Will we believe that He is irrevocably for us (Psalm 56:9) and never will stop? Do we believe so today? Because, as controversial as this will sound, God is more interested in what we believe than in what we do. Why? Because what we do always reveals what we believe.
And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6
Oh Father, we believe. Help our unbelief! We know You so little. Grant that we would feed on the manna of Your Word daily so that we might know You, so that we would be a people who don't just believe general ideas about You but rather specific statements about Your character and Your promises. Forgive us for being a forgetful people and therefore having little to believe. Forgive us for filling our hearts and minds with so much of the things here on the earth that there is no room to fill them with the milk of Your Word. Make us to hunger and thirst for Your Word so that we come eagerly day after day, and even multiple times a day, searching Your Word to find something, even a morsel, that will give us a better understanding of who You are in Your infinite faithfulness and how we ought to walk with You. And may You enable us to dare not trust the sweetest frame within ourselves, but to wholly lean on Jesus' name, the One through whom we inherit the promises by faith. Thank You that Your answer to us is always Yes in Him. So when, like Abram, we seek assurance and confirmation that You will keep Your word to us, may we say Yes with open arms when You offer to us Christ as our portion instead of the answer we seek. In His sweet name, Amen.

1 comment:

Kristen said...

Thanks for writing this.