7Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
Over the years, a certain mythic status has been earned by White House telephone operators, who are rumored to be able to find anybody, anywhere, at any time. President John F. Kennedy once challenged a friend to name someone that the operators wouldn’t be able to track down. The friend mentioned writer Truman Capote, who kept an unlisted number. Within thirty minutes, the operator had Capote on the line. The amazing thing about this feat is that Capote wasn’t at his own home in New York at the time. He was visiting a friend in California who also had an unlisted number.
A woman was standing in a hotel elevator when she heard a phone ringing. She opened a little compartment and picked up the elevator telephone. On the line, she heard these words, “This is a recorded message from So-and-so Insurance Company. We’ve been trying to reach about your car’s extended warranty?” Not the kind of thing you expect to hear when you’re standing in an elevator.
Have you ever received an unexpected call? I know we all do. A prank call, an obscene call, a wrong number? How do you think Abram felt when he received his call from God?
In Genesis 12: 1-3 we read, “The Lord had said to Abram, “˜Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.'”
And Abram obeyed.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? God calls, Abram obeys. All the loose ends tied up so neatly. But there’s always more to the story than that. A famous pastor once said, there are two great days in a person’s life, the day we are born and the day we discover why. Well, this was the day that Abram discovered why he was born. He had a special calling from God.
First, the Lord told Abram to leave his country. Abram lived in Haran, a wealthy, cosmopolitan town. He was living among the “movers and shakers” of his society.
What if God came to you tonight and told you to pack up and leave home? To really make this comparable to Abram’s experience, you would have to move out of state, or out of the country. Where are you going? Who knows? Just pack up and start driving.
Where was God asking Abram to go? Would there be roads there? Would there be well-organized towns, a well-run local government? In between many towns were stretches of wilderness that were ruled by thieves and bandits. Travelers were always at risk.
Another thing to consider was Abram’s financial security. In those days, a man’s wealth consisted of his land and his cattle. By leaving behind his land, Abram was giving up a part of his wealth. He was giving up the land that he called home. We Americans are used to living in a mobile society. But in ancient times, people usually moved only when forced out by war or famine or natural disaster. Permanence was security to them.
What did you leave behind when you became a Christ-follower? Where is God’s call taking you? You see, when God calls us to one life, God is also calling us away from our current life. We may have to leave behind one job to find an even better one. When we marry, we leave behind the possibility of many relationships for the promise of one relationship. When we move through different stages of life, we leave behind some friends and gain new ones. But there’s no way to follow God’s call if we insist on clinging to our old way of life.
In the Shattered Dreams, the author claims that we are motivated to seek God’s face when we have lost everything else that is secure in our lives. Pain is often the pathway to greater understanding of God. He also charges that churches are full of people who are too comfortable to seek God’s face. Satan’s masterpiece is not the prostitute or the bum. It’s the self-sufficient person who has made life comfortable, who’s adjusting well to the world and likes living here, who longs only to be a little better and a little better off than he already is.
This idea clashes with the American Christian view that security and comfort are blessings from God. Maybe security and comfort are masking our spiritual deadness. God’s calling takes us out of our comfort zone in order to build our character.
There was an item in Men’s Health magazine sometime back. It was a description of what an average man is like. In case you were wondering, the average male is: 5′ 9″ tall and 173 pounds. Is married, 1.8 years older than his wife . . . Prefers showering to taking a bath. Spends about 7.2 hours a week eating. Does not know his cholesterol count, but it’s 211. Watches 26 hours and 44 minutes of TV a week. Takes out the garbage in his household. Prefers white underwear to colored. Cries about once a month–one fourth as much as Jane Doe. Falls in love an average of six times during his life. Eats his corn on the cob in circles, not straight across, and prefers his steak medium. Can’t whistle by inserting his fingers in his mouth. Prefers that his toilet tissue unwind over, rather than under, the spool . . . Will not stop to ask for directions when he’s in the car.
It’s all right to be an average man or woman. If you want something more than average, however, you’re going to have to leave your comfort zone. That’s what God was asking Abram to do, leave his comfort zone.
Next, Abram is told to leave his people. In ancient times, and even today in many Middle Eastern countries, the family and the community are the source of one’s identity. This wasn’t a culture that worshiped the rugged individualist. The people in the community shared a common language, culture, attitudes, values, and stories. It’s hard to be anonymous in that kind of community. You were known intimately, just as you knew others intimately. And yet Abram was being asked to sever ties with his community. Just as God does with God’s holy things, God set Abram apart. His story would stand as a symbol throughout succeeding generations of Jews that they were set apart as a holy people, especially called to God’s service.
Why would God take Abram away from Abram’s people? The people of Haran were idolaters. They worshiped the moon-god, whose name, by the way, was Sin, along with a number of other idols. Temple prostitution was a common component of worship in these areas. Most women were forced to perform in the temples at least once in their lives. In Joshua 24:2, we learn that Abram’s own father, Terah, worshiped false gods. When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything. That’s a pretty good description of the people of Haran. They believed in anything but the one true God. Abram was a righteous man surrounded by idolatry. He had to leave his people and even his father’s household, in order to keep his own life pure.
Are there people in your life, even in your own family, who are drawing you away from God?
And so, Abram gathered up his family and his servants, and he left. In the past was his security, his identity, his community. In the future was uncertainty. But Abram was following God, and that’s all that really matters.
This was the righteousness of Abram. Hebrews 11, the New Testament chapter that’s a roll call of God’s faithful, begins with the words, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Abram was not sure where he was going, but he was sure of whom he was following. As Abram and his household traveled those hundreds of miles, don’t you imagine that Sarai sometimes asked, “Abram, where are we going? What are we doing?”
In 1955, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a boycott of the bus lines in Montgomery, Alabama. At the time, the buses were strictly segregated. Black citizens could only sit in the back of the bus and were required to give up their seat to a white person if the bus filled up. Thousands of citizens–particularly African-American citizens, spent months walking or carpooling to work, to school, to the market and the bank, rather than support the racist bus line. After many months, Dr. King suggested to one elderly woman that she return to riding the buses. At her advanced age, she didn’t need to be walking so much. But the woman insisted on walking until the boycott was complete. “But aren’t your feet tired?” Dr. King asked. “Yes, my feet are tired,” she replied, “but my soul is rested.”
That would undoubtedly have been Abram’s answer, “My feet are tired, but my soul is rested.” Whenever we’re walking in God’s will, our soul is at peace. Abram is a hero of the faith because when he was called to go, he went. He didn’t dwell on the things he had to give up for God. He let nothing stand between him and obedience.
As Mother Teresa would say, be all and only for Jesus. Let Him use you without consulting you first. Abram accomplished great things because he took himself out of the way and surrendered himself fully to God’s leading.
Where are you going, Abram? What are you doing? I don’t know, but God does. Ask yourself that same questions, where am I going? What am I doing? You can answer, I have no idea where or what, but God does. And then add, that’s good enough for me.