Monday 1 August 2016

Trusting God in the unknown

The unknown is scary, right!? 

Most of the country did not expect the Leave vote to win. Yet we are heading into an uncharted territory for this country. And for many, if not most (including our family) it’s quite daunting and scary.

How do we deal with the unknown?

Our lives are God’s story and song. From knitting us together in our mother’s womb to dancing with him in heaven, our lives on earth are meant to reflect a walk with him towards that eternal goal. Rather than living just for a comfortable retirement with worldly possessions, God has called us into something much richer, deeper and more beautiful. It doesn’t have to be scary.

We don’t need to be afraid, if we are walking by faith, even in the unknown.

Faith gives us hope. 

In Genesis 12 God chose one man, Abraham, to begin his redemption plan for the whole world. Abraham had to make great sacrifices in this world to be obedient to God. Abraham had to step into the unknown to be obedient to God. In this story, we see how God was faithful to fulfil his promises and more through Abraham and ultimately our saviour, Jesus Christ. And we see an example of the value of trusting God even when our present circumstances looks bleak.

Abram, later known as Abraham, lived in a place called Ur.

This was one of the most developed areas of its time. Life was pretty sweet and Abram was rich with land, livestock and many servants. He had status in the community and was highly respected. The land of Mesopotamia was rich, fertile, and fruitful. They had buildings and even hot and cold running water. If anyone was in a comfort zone, it was Abram. It is here that we begin the story where God first calls Abram to leave his home land.

In verse 1, it says:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

First call of Abram was not a promise, it was a command. Action was demanded of Abram, even though God was scant on details.

I’m a planner. I love to know exactly what we’re doing, when and how. I hate it when I feel things are unorganised and not thought through. And if we’ve made a plan, let’s stick to it, whether that’s what I’m doing in life, generally, or even just what we’re eating tonight for dinner. I don’t know about you, but my nature is one of wanting to know what is coming next and if I don’t know, I get quite stressed and anxious. If we’ve planned on having pizza for dinner, I will move heaven and earth to make sure that it’s pizza and woe betide anyone who dares suggest to change the plan.

So, when I read in Genesis of Abram being told by God to simply leave what he knows and step into the unknown with a “don’t worry, I’ll show you along the way….” makes me anxious just reading it.
Yet that is exactly where I am at right now. We’ve heard the call of God to move to the Philippines.

We took a step of faith and obedience. 

We reserved tickets to Cebu, not having the funds to pay for it, but trusting that God would provide.

And he did.

This has happened to us three times now, in the last year. This seems to be the way that God works with us:
1. Hear the call and decide to act.
2. Act (ie. Commit to going/booking tickets etc).
3. God provides the means.

This pattern of walk with the Lord has happened to us countless times over the 6 ½ years we’ve been in missions, since we quit our jobs. We made ourselves vulnerable, but God has always come through.

But it’s not always easy. Right now, we haven’t yet got a place to live, we don’t know who we’re going to be working with and how we’re going to be doing it. The call is there but the details are scant. Usually this would freak me out and I would be having sleepless nights worried about what the future might hold.

Yet in a strange way, we have peace. Having seen God provide and guide all these years has given us confidence and assurance in His leadership and provision over our lives. Once again we have stepped off the cliff edge of surety into the unknown. I don’t’ think this makes us special or wonderful – but maybe a bit crazy. There isn’t some special magic that God does to missionaries to make us super human. We have our fears, issues and problems. We have kids who don’t always do what we ask them to do. We get sick and tired. We have mis-understandings with others and each other.
I think if anyone were to ask how we got to this point in our walk, it is through baby steps in the past, and God has always been there for us. We have seen many miracles which each time strengthens our faith and helps us to take the next step.

OK, so let’s look at the next bit of Genesis 12.
“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.”

OK, so God has told Abram to go, not told him where to go or what he’s going to do. But…he has given him a great promise. And what a promise it is. This is a man without any children at this stage. He’s got wealth but no descendants.

He didn’t start by giving him Isaac. 

He started by sending him out into the unknown. Abram had to trust God’s promise in the midst of the unknown.

I don’t know your circumstance. I don’t know what you’re facing in life. But I do know one thing: God is faithful and trustworthy. He is big enough to carry your burdens with you and walk with you in your journey, in your story, your song. You can trust him that he is good and true.

But do you trust him, even when things look bleak, even when you don’t know exactly where you’re going? 

Let’s just have a look at that verse for a minute. That’s quite a promise to Abram. This man who seemingly has everything he needs, except a family of his own. Yet at this stage, God doesn’t promise him children. He goes way beyond that. He promises so much more. This is not feel good, pithy promises from God. These are true statements that actually came true.

In Galatians 3 we see the end of the story:
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Paul, here, nicely unpacks for us the fulfilment of that promise to Abraham. Our saviour, Jesus Christ, was a direct descendent of Abraham. All who have faith in Jesus are blessed, along with Abraham. There is no doubt here, that God fulfilled his promise to Abraham. He didn’t fill Abraham in on the details. Abraham had to trust God, take that leap into the unknown. He had to have faith in God. It’s that faith that Jesus is referring to, when he says in Matthew 17, with the power that faith as small as a mustard seed can have. Abram’s faith to walk in obedience with God, made him righteous before the Father in Heaven.

What is God calling you to do, which is a leap into the unknown? What areas of your life are you holding back from him, because you’re afraid of losing them? Allow the Holy Spirit to prompt you, even whilst I’m speaking.

For us, stepping into the unknown is easier. Back in those days when you left your household to follow the call of God, you probably never saw your extended family again.
But now… …with social media and the internet, home never feels that far away. We can see pictures and watch videos of our god children. We can skype with Grandma and Grandad. We can tweet the queen, if we so choose!

However, it doesn’t make it comfortable, or even easy, to move 6,754 miles away. Yes, I googled it! We are all experiencing varying levels of culture shock in our family right now. Having lived out of suitcases since May, our lives have been continuously disrupted and we’re ready to settle somewhere as soon as possible. Our promised land may be different to that of Abraham…but we know that it will be good.

Abram was, at the age of 75, to make this long journey towards Canaan. He was to leave everything behind. Yet he was obedient. He continued to trust God along the way and didn’t complain when God told him to keep moving.

Our journey and our experience is different to that of Abram, all those years ago.

Living in the 21st Century, we have the joy of the knowledge that Jesus has already come. He has already died for us. He descended to the dead and rose again on the third day. He is alive today! And he’s coming back! The curtain is torn. There is no need for an earthly intercessor or priest. We, yes all of us, have access to the Father through the Son. And as we step into his throneroom, we have a freedom to dance with him, to run with him, to enjoy life with him.

Walking in obedience to Christ is no burden. As we release the hold that worldly values keep us enslaved to (and there are plenty of them that I still need to release), we find a new freedom that means that the unknown is no longer scary. The Joy that comes from knowing that He loves us, no matter what our circumstances may be, is immense.

Abram was righteous. He was brave. He chose to trust God, even when what God was offering him seemed impossible and even laughable.

Have a think about your own life. What is your story? 

It has been said that there is no testimony without a test. A test from God is not put there to put us down, or humiliate us. It is there to purify us – just like when you’re purifying a precious metal, it’s held under the fire, so that all the rubbish falls away. God purifies us, tests us, and nurtures us, so that we may be Kingdom fit and heaven-ready.

For me, I am not brave or bold, or clever, or rich.

As a family, we do not go out into the mission field feeling like we’ve got it all together. We choose to go, because we know He is the one going before us. He is the one who provided the clothes I’m wearing today.

He is my true father and I want my story and my song to be his.

This text is taken from a talk given at St Mary's Church, Luton on 31st July 2016