This week I was up in Chicago for a conference on Reformation Theology. The seminar was held on the near north side of Chicago. This means it was in the more “inner” city. The conference was held in a church that was in the middle of a city block and had virtually no parking. The registration was a 9:00 a.m. and the first day sessions ended at 4:00 p.m. Now if you know anything about Chicago, you know that that meant that I spent a good deal of time looking for a parking spot and driving in bumper to bumper traffic or as it is humorously called, “rush hour”. It’s that time where no one rushes anywhere and this gridlock lasts for much longer than an hour.
So, my job was to draw upon what I had learned early driving in Chicago. Allow lots of time. Focus on driving your own car. And don’t wander into areas you are not familiar with. To be honest, I was a little distressed by the whole adventure.
There are lots of things that can distress us nowadays. There is war in Yugoslavia. There is the doomsday talk about Y2K. There is the seemingly ever-present threat of deadly illness. There are the costs of health care, the cost of college, the diverse demands on our time. Life can leave us staring at the ceiling when we should be sleeping.
And that’s why this first verse of Genesis 15 is so wonderful and helpful. For here we read promises that comfort and spur us on.
After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
GOD IS OUR SHIELD
We’re not really sure of the setting for our text. We read “after this…”. Did it mean “right after this”? In other words, was it right after Abraham’s victory over the four Kings and meeting with Melchizedek in chapter 14? Or does it mean, “sometime later after this.” Which means it could have been any time.
All we do know is that Abraham was concerned. It may have been about retribution from the four Kings or it may have been fear of not having an heir. It could have been something entirely different. But what matters to us is what God tells Abraham. His words instruct and encourage us. The words are chosen carefully. The first thing we see is that God is Sufficient for our every need.
“To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One. Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out one after another, calling each by its name. And he counts them to see that none are lost or have strayed away. O Israel, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles? How can you say God refuses to hear your case? Have you never heard or understood? Don’t you know that the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth? He never grows faint or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak. Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will give up. But those who wait on the LORD will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. [Isaiah 40]
God promises that He will be Abraham’s shield. As we read through the rest of the Bible we see that this is a promise not only for Abraham . . . it is also for us. In Matthew 10 the Bible tells us that not one bird can fall to the ground apart from the will of God and reminds us we are more valuable than the birds to the Father. (29-31) In Luke 21 Jesus tells us that if we stand firm, He will protect us. (21:18) In 2 Thessalonians Paul tells us that “he will guard us from the Evil One.” (2 Th. 3:3)
Our Typical Course
Now most of us might say that we trust God. We talk about how great it is to be living in His peace . . . But much of the time we are really putting our faith in other things. For example we might put our faith in:
- Money . . . feeling it is the answer to any problem
- Weapons . . . we can shoot our way out of trouble
- Alcohol . . . we can drink until we don’t feel any pain . . . we can escape
- Friends . . . we surround ourselves with those who tell us what we want to hear
- Systems . . . we’ll go to a counselor, attend a seminar on “five steps to gaining victory over our problems”
- Education . . . we feel we can “figure it out”
I wonder if Abraham was looking at his own strength. Maybe the great victory was going to his head. Maybe he was feeling like he could whip the world. But God reminds him that it was God that brought him the victory. And as long as he rests in the Lord . . .it will not be his last victory.
When will we get it through our heads that God is sufficient for our every need? When will we see that His way is ALWAYS the right way? Why are we so slow? It think it is because we don’t really believe that God is sufficient. But why?
Barriers to Overcome
We believe there must be “a catch”. We have been raised on the notion that The Lord Only helps those who help themselves. Contrary to public opinion, that is not from the Bible. It is a construct of men. It comes from our unwarranted confidence in human ability and our tremendous desire to be masters of our own fate.
Sadly, This is a gospel we hear preached on most street corners, television shows and in a majority of pulpits. the notion is that God wants to help us but “can’t” unless we help Him. He “can’t” save us unless we do our work. He “can’t” help us unless we follow certain principles, or say certain words, or engage in certain activities. But, is this what the Bible teaches? Is this what God said to Abraham? All we have to do is trust Him.
Do you see what an insult this kind of teaching is to God? Do you see how contrary this runs to the entire gospel message? Paul says we were “dead in our trespasses and sins”. We were lifeless but God “made us alive.” Salvation is something that is ALL of God. God is able to make promises and keep them without any dependence on us at all!!
Consider your own children. We want them to learn to think for themselves. We encourage them to live responsibily but if they have a problem . . . we are there. Sure, there are times they need to be allowed to make mistakes so they can learn. But if they were in real danger we would not wait for them to do certain things. We would not “wish” we could help. We would do what we could. Now, let me ask you a question. Would God do less than our earthly parents? The foolishness of the question should be it’s own answer.
Sure, there ARE times when we CANNOT help our children. There are times when we are helpless. But, GOD IS NEVER HELPLESS. He is never surprised, never outflanked, never ambushed. He can and will shield us. Jesus said, “no one can snatch us from His hands.”
Now does this mean we can live recklessly? Of course not. The true follower is completely dependent on God but is also desiring to please God with their living. They know that His way is best. So . . . we do our best and know that God will provide the rest. That’s His promise.
But we also have a problem because we Have Accepted the Contemporary Battle Cry things are different Now! We hear this a great deal. The argument is simple to understand: the Bible was written a long time ago and what it says is irrelevant to contemporary living. We hear it said that people are more “enlightened” (are they?) or more “evolved” (or is that de-evolved). Times are indeed different . . . but God is not different. In Psalm 102:25-27 we read,
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.
God does not change.
- The values in our society may change . . . but right and wrong does not. Right and wrong are determined by God . . . not public opinion.
- Our surroundings may change . . . but God does not
- Our practices and ordinances may change . . . but God does not.
- Our problems may change . . . but God’s ability to protect us does not.
God’s character is constant. His standards do not waver. His promises to His people are sure.
This last week Don Kistler made the statement (I don’t know whether he was quoting someone or not), “The unchangeableness of God is the sinner’s greatest fear and the saints greatest comfort.” Think about that. If God doesn’t change (and the Biblical testimony is clear) there are many people who are in big trouble. They have sought to re-define God . . . they have excused sin as being progressive in our thinking . . . they have dismissed truth as irrelevant for today. They are in big trouble. They have changed . . . but God, the standard, the ruler, has not.
But for the believer, there is great comfort in these words. . . .it means God’s promises are sure.
Does this mean we will never have any problems? Of course not. What it does mean is that God is at work in every situation. There will never be something we face that is outside of His control. We may not always understand why things happen but we need never doubt that God is on the throne.
James Boice writes, “Are you shielded as Abram was? Is God your shield? Do you trust him? Many men and women trust other things. They trust the government or their investments, their friends, family, wealth, or popularity. but these things ultimately disappoint the one who trusts them. If you want a real shield, trust God.” [Genesis p. 528]
GOD IS OUR REWARD
Notice one more thing in this passage, God tells Abraham he need not be afraid because the Lord would be his shield. But then note what he says. Hear it carefully. I am your shield . . . and I AM YOUR REWARD.
I wonder what was going on in Abraham’s mind at this point. Was he thinking about all the bounty he could have had that he turned down? Was he having second thoughts? God says, “I am your reward.”
Was he thinking about the son he didn’t have? Was he imagining how great life would be if only he could have that son? Did he think that life would be wasted if he never had a child? God says, “I am your reward.” The
Hebrew is peculiarly emphatic in setting apart the word, “I, Jehovah, am thy exceeding great reward.”
We don’t think this way. We most often see God as a means to our reward.
- the Lord’s blessing
- a healing
- a great experience
- a healed relationship
How often have you heard people say these things? How often do we appeal to others to come to Christ not because of who He is, but because of what He will do for us? So . . . do people come because of the end they hope to get or do they come to Him because He is worthy of their love and allegiance?
Suppose you were in a relationship. And suppose the only thing your partner wanted when you were together was intimacy. As soon as your time together was over they lost interest in you. Or suppose when you were together they only wanted to talk about themselves. How would you feel? You’d feel used wouldn’t you? You’d feel like an object that was exploited rather than someone who was loved and cherished. Right?
Now, here’s the question: Is this not the way we often relate to God? . . . . . . Don’t just pass by that question, think about it. Don’t we tend to use God? Don’t we come to him to get our needs met? And once we have those needs met we are on our merry way until we need Him again? Is that too strong? I don’t think so.
What would you think if you got into a jet airplane to go to California and at the time of departure the jet left the airport and started driving down the interstate? We’d think the pilot was crazy! Planes are supposed to fly! That’s why we get on them.
Well a Christian who is desiring or focusing anything other than the Lord is like that pilot. We are missing the point and the benefit of our position. Our privilege is to know Him. Our joy is to be called His friend. Our fulfillment comes from being in His presence.
We tell each other (I do it too) that we should put Jesus FIRST in our lives. But what Jesus wants is to BE our life. He doesn’t to be just a part of our life . . . He wants to be the focus or the end of our lives.
Have we ever seen His beauty? Have we ever been captivated by His character and power? Have we ever loved Him for who He is rather than what He can give us? God tells Abraham that the reward is not the son he will have or the victories he will win . . . his reward is the Lord Himself. Abraham’s greatest blessing was that he had a relationship with the Almighty God. It’s our greatest blessing too.
So. . . what are you pursuing? What are you yearning for? Are you yearning to know and love Him more? Or are you focusing on the “stuff” of life? I find these questions very convicting. I have been guilty of seeing God as a means to an end . . . rather than the end itself. What about you?
How do we start?
If you recognize that you have not seen the Lord as your reward then there are several things you and I need to do. First, we need to repent. We need to confess our wrong before the Lord and ask Him to forgive us for treating Him in such a manner.
Second, we need to refocus our life. We need to change our appetites. We need to develop a hunger for God.
- We need more exposure to His Word so we get to know Him
- We need to spend time in prayer loving Him and not just asking for stuff
- We need to turn off the television
- We need to use our free time to daydream about Heaven and not the stuff we wish we had
- We need to focus on our privilege and not our struggles
- We need to study God’s character and attributes.
We need to start somewhere. If you wanted to love your spouse more . . . what would you do? If you wanted to love your children more . . . what would you do? So . . . if you want to love God more . . . what will you do?
There are several things I think God wants to communicate today . .
First, there is a REBUKE here. We are confronted with the reality that we are not trusting or loving God as we should. If we trusted Him we would not fret and worry as we do. If we trusted Him we would not ignore His clear teachings and instruction for life. If we trusted Him we would be looking to live His way rather than our own. And if we really loved Him we would desire Him much more than we do. We would not want Him for what He can do, but for who he is.
There is also a rebuke for those who would present the gospel as a means to an end which is not the Lord Himself. We should repent when we tell people to come to the Lord so they can have their problems solved or their needs met. People should turn to the Lord because He is God. If He were to give us nothing other than this privilege of His mercy and grace it would be more than enough. We dare not cheapen the gospel by “using” God.
There is INSTRUCTION here. For those who are being tossed about by the storms of life, there is a clear message: turn to the Lord. For those who are overwhelmed by their own failures and sin, the message is: Turn to the Lord. For those who are running away from the Lord the message is: stop running and turn to the Lord. What you are looking for in life is Him. It is not stuff, it is not money, it is not a better job, a nicer car, a better grade, a better body. What you are looking for . . . . the happiness and joy that seems to be so illusive is found in Him. Turn to Him.
You may need to make time for prayer and Bible reading to get to know Him. You may need to put Him first in regards to worship. You may need to re-evaluate the way you use your time. Friend . . .do whatever you need to do. Get rid of the barriers that stand between you and the Lord. Run to him and don’t delay.
Perhaps you need to get right with God. Perhaps you have kept him at “arms length”. My friend, do not think for a minute that these promises apply to you unless you turn to Him for forgiveness and life. It is not enough to be interested in Him. It is not enough to desire His influence. We must admit to Him our sin and must look to Him for forgiveness and grace through Christ’s death in our place. If you have not done that . . .I urge you to do so today. Do not live a day longer without the great shield He supplies. Do not wait another day before you know the reward of His love in your life. In the quiet of this place reach out to Him right now.
There is COMFORT here. Some of you, I’m sure feel overwhelmed. Daily living seems to be squeezing the life out of you. You may feel afraid, overwhelmed, or trapped. My friend, the good news is this: God is sufficient for your needs. The promises He made to Abraham He makes also to you. He has not changed. He will not change. He will shield you and be your reward.
Charles Spurgeon concludes a message on this passage so well that I quote him,
If God be our reward, let us take care that we do really enjoy him. Let us rejoice in him, and let us not be pining after any other joy. You may have to go and live in a lonely place, where you will have few encouragements; but you will still have your God, so how can you feel lonely? You may be coming down in earthly circumstances; your income is decreasing; but your God is not any less than he was, so you are not really a loser. One dear friend after another is being taken away from you; there is a great probability that the dearest one you have will soon go to the grave; yet the Lord liveth, so blessed be your Rock. Rejoice in him! Possibly, you are soon going to the grave yourself; the years are telling upon you, and increasing weakness proves that, before long, you must put off this earthly body. Well, even if it is so, he who is your All-in all will not die. This world is not your rest or your inheritance; you are not, therefore, losing your inheritance, you are going home, to it, for the Lord himself is “thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” [Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Vol. 49 p. 43,44]
May God teach us to trust Him, love Him, and honor Him more.