The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Faith-Filled Waiting’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 10/5/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1BTgavf
A Long Time to Wait
God is a God of amazing promises. If you listen carefully to Him, He will share everything He has in store for you. Abraham was the recipient of many incredible promises. But his life wasn’t an easy one. In fact, Abraham’s life was full of waiting.
God first blessed Abraham when he was 75 years old:
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. – Gen 12:1-4
In Abraham’s time, the mark of God’s favor was fertility. If you were righteous and favored by God, He would give you many children. If you couldn’t have children, you must have been doing something wrong! So how long did God ask Abraham to wait before giving him children? One year? Maybe two? Twenty five.
Abraham was 100 when his son Isaac, his heir, was born:
And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. – Gen 21:1-5
God is faithful. We are instructed to “feed on His faithfulness” (Ps 37:3). In the end, He provided Abraham with a son. He provided Abraham with amazing material wealth that allowed him to bless all his descendants. God’s promises came true.
But 25 years is a long time to wait! I believe there is much to be gained from looking at Abraham’s life during that waiting period. If you’ve been around prophetic people and/or attend a prophetic church, you’ve probably had some amazing words spoken over you and into your life. But God’s will and His timing are two separate things.
Will and Timing
Abraham knew God’s will for his life; but he wasn’t seeing anything in his daily life actually change. God promised him a son; yet Sarah remained barren. Meanwhile, Abraham was getting older and older. So did he panic? No. Did he turn his back on God? No. Did he let whether or not God’s promise over his life had been fulfilled determine his love and zeal for God? No. He waited in faith.
Many people approach us with incredible ideas for our church: new ministries, mission trip ideas, and all sorts of various endeavors. But our response to those ideas isn’t always yes. Sometimes it’s yes; sometimes it’s no; and sometimes it’s not now. We can all benefit for getting accustomed to the not now response. If God asks you to hang on and wait for the fulfillment of your destiny and just enjoy Him in the meantime, will that be enough? Or have His promises over your life become so all-consuming that instead of loving God, you love your life?
We must accept God’s will while we wait for His timing. All the while, we must keep faith in His promises. Because when we try to jump the gun and spring into action before God’s timing comes around, we’re no longer working from a place of rest. When we take matters into our own hands, we end up working in, and out of, our own self-effort. And that is absolutely exhausting.
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You, Who acts for the one who waits for Him”. – Is 64:4
When we give God control over our lives, He will work on our behalf. The end result is that we don’t have to do anything except stay patient and allow Him to work in and through us! Instead of finding ourselves exhausted and out of touch, we’ll stay refreshed and full of life!
But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31
So let’s get practical. What can we do while we wait for God’s promises to come to pass? How can we exercise our faith? How can we develop patient endurance so that when the time comes to step into our God-given blessings, we’re ready?
We see Abraham do three very specific things as he waits for God’s promises to come to pass.
1) Abraham sought God in prayer.
Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord. – Genesis 13:1-4
God called Abraham out of Haran and into Egypt; so Abraham went. Abraham achieved righteousness by faith, and blessings through obedience. God used his time in Egypt to build his wealth. The passage above calls Abraham “very rich,” which is a good problem to have!
But he still didn’t have a son. His blessing was only partially fulfilled; and the part he wanted the most was left undone. But even through all the waiting and hoping, Abraham remained steadfast and committed to relying on God. He “called on the name of the Lord” and sought God in prayer.
God called Abraham back to Bethel: a physical location so Abraham could remember God’s covenant with Him. But this passage speaks to more than just a physical place. God asked Abraham to preserve a state of spiritual hunger and humility. Abraham was returning to a place of promise. God brought Abraham back to the same place Abraham had stayed before descending into Egypt to become rich. God reminded Abraham of everything He had done for him. Abraham retained his humility and leaned on God in prayer.
We all, as Abraham’s descendants, are called to do exactly the same thing. Sometimes God’s promises unfold gradually. That pace is not meant to frustrate us; it’s for our own good. God will not make us stewards over more than we can handle. He will train us up and push us into our destinies gradually to ensure that when we find ourselves in the middle of His will, we don’t panic.
I come from a background in finance. I was a Risk Arbitrage trader at a major Wall Street firm. I’ll never forget the best day of trading I ever had. My boss was out of town on vacation and I was left in charge of trading the book for the entire trading desk. I saw an opportunity come up, and I took it. And then I pressed my luck. It paid off. We were up a lot of money, and I started to feel really good about myself.
My immediate temptation was to give myself all the credit. But I knew I needed to humble myself. It was a Friday, and everyone was headed out for drinks. I was the man of the hour, so all my drinks would be on the house. But I went to church instead for CityLight’s God Encounter Friday service. I asked God to bring me back to a state of spiritual hunger and humility: the place of promise. I asked Him to make me a responsible steward over everything I had just “earned,” knowing that it was actually He who had given it into my hand. I asked God to take me back to Bethel so I could be reminded of His promises. And I waited in faith to see what He would do next.
2) Abraham honored the Lord with his giving.
In Genesis 13, Abraham found himself in a pickle. God had blessed him too much! Abraham and his nephew Lot had so many flocks and herds that “…the land was not able to support them” (Gen 13:5). So Lot agreed to move out. Abraham would stay in Canaan, and Lot agreed to head east to the city of Sodom in the plain of the Jordan.
While Lot was living in Sodom, the king of that city went to war. Sodom was defeated, and Lot was taken captive along with his entire family and everything he owned. So Abraham took all the trained men in his household, pursued Lot’s captors, and overtook them. He recovered Lot along with his entire household and all his possessions.
But instead of claiming responsibility for the victory, Abraham sought to honor God. He gave a tithe (literally a tenth) of everything he had to God:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all. Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’— Gen 14:18-23
Abraham encountered Melchizedek – a priest of the Most High God. Bible scholars maintain that Melchizedek is the Preincarnate Christ: the Lord Jesus Himself before He descended to Earth to die on the Cross for our sins. This was the most important encounter of Abraham’s life, following the most significant military victory he had ever achieved. So what did he do?
First, he took communion: “bread and wine.” Then, he received his blessing from Melchizedek. And after his blessing, he honored God with his first fruits. He gave him a tithe – literally, a tenth – of everything he had.
Now this might seem like no big deal. After all, a lot of people in the Old Testament tithed. But we have to keep in mind that Abraham was not required to tithe. Levitical Law had not yet been established, and there was no specific amount Abraham was required to give to God. Yet Abraham still gave a tithe (tenth).
Abraham was showing God that he would be a good steward over everything He had given him. He also refused to take anything from the King of Sodom. He knew that God had promised to make him rich, and he would not rely on anyone but God for material increase. Abraham refused to take any shortcuts! He remained firm and resolute: steadfast in his patient endurance. He would wait in faith for God’s promises to come to pass.
God promised Abraham two things: material wealth, and a worthy heir. When God honored Abraham with material wealth, he tithed. He exercised his faith in order to demonstrate that he knew God was the source of his increase. He proved to God that he could give up riches to retain God’s presence. And as a result, God honored him with much more. Abraham’s proper response to God’s material blessings allowed Abraham to receive the second part of his promise: an heir.
Even after Abraham finally received Isaac, God asked Abraham to give him up. In Genesis 23, God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Can you imagine what that must have felt like? Abraham waited 25 years for God’s promise to come to pass; and as soon as the blessing arrived, God asked him to give it up!
But God intervened. He saved Isaac after Abraham showed himself to be unwavering in faith. Abraham confirmed his place as the father of faith with his willingness to give up personal possessions for God’s presence. He was righteous by faith, but blessed through his obedience. And as a result, God honored him. By offering up his promised son for God, Abraham paved the way for God to offer up His Only Son for us. Abraham set the stage for salvation by faith, and we – his descendants – are all reaping the benefits every day.
3) Abraham took communion.
Refreshing our covenant with God is a life-giving exercise. We don’t do it for His benefit: to remind God of His promises to us. We do it for our own benefit: to remind ourselves of everything to which we’re entitled as God’s sons and daughters.
In Genesis 15, we find Abraham in a place of careful consideration. We find him contemplating why God’s promise of a son still hasn’t come to pass in his life:
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. –Gen 15:1-6
We’ve all been there. We know God’s promises are true. We know He’s a good God! But that doesn’t mean we can’t honestly confess our concerns to God. Knowledge of His faithfulness doesn’t mean we can’t cast our cares upon Him. Faith in His Word as absolute truth doesn’t preclude us from reminding ourselves of His covenant promises to us.
In response to Abraham’s honesty, God turns around and conducts the most beautiful covenant ceremony in the Old Testament:
And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” 9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” – Gen 15:8-20
In order to understand just how beautiful this passage out of Genesis 15 is, you have to understand the context. When Abraham was alive, the most binding covenant that could exist between two men was the blood covenant. Two men would divide animals down the middle as a sacrifice to God. Then, they would separate the sacrifice into halves and walk in between the severed pieces of flesh. That action symbolized that if either man broke the covenant, he would be subject to the same fate as those animals: he would literally be torn in two.
The blood covenant was punishable by death. Both men were required to participate in the ceremony as a demonstration of their commitment to the agreement. But in verse 17, something unexpectedly beautiful happens. God passed through the pieces for Abraham: first as a smoking oven (cloud by day), and then as a burning torch (fire by night; Ex 13:21).
In other words, God took on Abraham’s covenant responsibilities for him! He knew Abraham would never be able to live up to his end of the bargain, so God fulfilled Abraham’s covenant responsibilities on his behalf! God demonstrated to Abraham that he would send Jesus to die for our sins so that we could be redeemed into His eternal presence. God told Abraham that he understood his inability to be perfect; and God promised him that He would become Perfection on his behalf.
Jesus Christ came to die for your sins. It’s important to personalize Jesus when we talk about Him. Personalize the Cross when we talk about that day at Calvary. His death was for you. His death was for me.
One of the most practical ways we can remind ourselves of our covenant with God is through communion. We can take it as often as we need it. The Bible says there is such a thing as taking communion improperly; but there is no such thing as taking communion too much. We can take communion as often as we need it to remind ourselves that God sent His Only Son to die on our behalf.
So let’s eat.
– by Pastor Michael White
© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.