When God Strengthens Your Faith
Text: Genesis 17
Proposition: The elements that strengthen our faith are time, truth and task, through these God confronts our unbelief in what is possible.
Introduction: I was reading a John Ortberg book this week where he makes the comment that the largest mental health problem of our day is not depression or anxiety, it is languishing. To languish is the opposite of what it means to thrive, to languish is like having a feeling of just drifting along, a cross between low hope and low sense of purpose. I could identify with that because there are many times when I’ve felt exactly like that. On the surface things could look good but underneath there is this sense of languishing. Perhaps this happens because we lose track of what it is that our lives are all about. If faith is where our relationship with God is established and from faith it grows, if God is where I come to know the full spectrum of love and if love is the essence of what it means to feel alive then faith has everything to do with overcoming languish. Let’s look at a passage in Genesis 17 that details how God strengthens our faith and what happens when He does.
I. Time, The First Element That God Uses to Strengthen Faith.
We used our slow cooker this week to make this great meal, in fact while we were in a store this week I discovered a cook book with all kinds of recipes for how to make things like lasagna in a slow cooker. The thing about slow cookers is that they make use of what I would call ‘background time’. While you’re working, while you’re on the road, while you do what is most important to you in the time you have that day, the slow cooker works on background time, time that you weren’t paying attention to. In Genesis 16 Sarai, Abrams wife, feels like time is running out so she uses Hagar her servant to microwave God’s promise of having a son, that is she engineers a surrogate mother so she can fulfill God’s promise of having a child. The chapter ends with the Lord coming to Hagar’s rescue when being pregnant she had run away from Sarai because of her abuse. Hagar is the last person that God meets with face to face as the chapter closes. Now we are in Genesis 17, verse 1. Thirteen years have gone by from Genesis 16:16 to Genesis 17:1. For thirteen years there is no record of God speaking with Abram, there is no other mention of another son being born to Sarai and Abram. I wonder if for thirteen years Abram had begun to languish, still believing God but seeing no evidence that this slow cooker was even plugged in. And then one day, thirteen years later, the Lord appeared to Abram, right there, in front of his eyes. “I am Almighty God, walk before Me and be blameless.” Literally it reads, “I am El Shaddai proceed before My face and be whole.” The name El Shaddai has been translated to mean ‘His hand upon everything’ hence the term ‘Almighty’. To proceed before Me, before My face, infers that Abram is to move like a herald would, like one who walks before royalty announcing their presence. To be blameless or perfect or whole means to be ‘what is complete or entirely in accord with truth and fact.’ Time, the intersection of the immortal and the mortal, time is the place where faith is perfected, made healthy or whole. The One Who has His hand on everything, has His hand on time and He will use that to strengthen your faith. Re-think the way that God is using time in your life.
II. Truth, The Second Element That God Uses to Strengthen Faith.
If time is the place that God strengthens us in then truth is the compass that He uses to navigate that place. The problem with truth is that it is so easy to put into our pocket, like a compass, as we look about us and then choose which way we should go based on the slope of the land. God reminds Abram of truth, there is a Covenant, what I have Promised will be. Then He speaks new truth Abram, He tells Abram that He now has a new name. The name Abram means ‘father of many’, no doubt a daily embarrassment to a man at 86 who had no children. At 99 Abram is the father of one boy, half Hebrew, half Egyptian, that’s it, that’s the ‘father of many’. Now God tells him I’m changing your name, we’re upping the stakes as it were, now your name is to be called, ‘Abraham’, ‘father of many nations’. That’s the truth, God moves the stakes from a wobbly ‘possible’ to this immovable impossible, the father of many nations, not just the Hebrews but all the Gentile nations as well. The way that God describes the action behind this truth is simply, “As for Me…”, in other words this is My responsibility, this is what I will do as my part of the covenant. I will make nations come from you, even kings from you, the land that you stand on will be yours and your generations to come, they too will know me, both the Hebrews and the Gentiles and I will be their God. This revealed truth is to be like a compass as they navigate the next 4000 years. Then God looks deep into Abrahams eyes and says, “As for you…”, in other words this is your part of the covenant, this the truth that you are responsible to uphold. God now ordains the rite of circumcision, every male child at 8 days old is to be circumcised as well as every adult male.
Morris McMillen in his book, ‘None of These Diseases’, notes newborn children have a peculiar susceptibility to bleeding between the second and fifth days of life. It seems an important blood-clotting agent, vitamin K, is not formed in the normal amount until the fifth to seventh day of life. Another blood clotting agent, prothrombin, is at its highest levels in infants on precisely the eighth day of life, making the eighth day the safest, earliest day to circumcise an infant. God knows the truth! But circumcision was also to be carried out on all the adult males, even those who were not Hebrews but slaves. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant in their flesh, it symbolized a cutting away of the flesh nature or sin nature, a consecrating of themselves to God, a sign that as sin was transmitted now much more so was the covenant transmitted by grace through faith. This was the truth of who they were, people under covenant by grace through faith. The truth is that Abraham had a new name, a new reign and a new fame. And not just Abraham but also Sarai as her name is changed to Sarah. The first meant ‘my princess’, Sarah means ‘princess of a multitude’. Did you know that God is one day going to give you a new name because of your faith in Jesus Christ? Revelation 2:17 says that is exactly what God is going to do. It will be a new name to go alongside of the other names that you already have, like saint, righteous one, chosen one, sons of God. That is also the truth of who you are. You too will have a new reign and a new fame, with Christ as a co-heir, before His throne as a royal priesthood. The truth of a new land for Abraham is also true for you, a new heaven and a new earth. That’s not just theology, it’s the truth. Not because I believe it but because God promised it. If time is the place that God strengthens us in then these truths are the compass that He gives to navigate in that place.
III. Task, The Third Element That God Uses to Strengthen Faith.
From verse 1 to verse 21 is the conversation, verses 22 to 27 describe Abrahams response. Make no mistake, when God speaks with us He intends there to be a response. Sometimes our response is to laugh, how could this be, it’s too good to be true, it’s too high an assessment of who I know myself to be. Sometimes we offer to God our idea of what would be a better solution, an Ishmael solution for instance. Whatever our response, God sets before us His task and in the case of Abraham it was to by faith obey the command to be circumcised. Abraham’s obedience was complete, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, prompt, that very same day and daring, to virtually incapacitate all his fighting men at the same time.
So if time is the place that God strengthens us in and truth the compass that He uses to navigate that place, then task is both the shoes and the path with which and upon which we walk. That really is the essence of what Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Time, beforehand, Truth, His workmanship, Task, that we should walk in them.”
In this way God strengthens our faith, reaching our minds and hearts by grace, extending to us His great promises in Christ of election, forgiveness, justification, redemption and sanctification and then calling us to stand firm in Him, to be faithful, to remember your first love in Christ.
Time, Truth, Task, He strengthens us.