If I were to gather a group of believers to ask for their favorite Bible stories, I suspect a few would rise to the top: David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den…Abraham and Isaac. We love to hear stories of courageous men and women following God with unhindered obedience. If only we had the courage of David, who, armed with nothing more than a sling, took on a fierce, ginormous warrior. And what does it take to have the courage of Daniel? Or Abraham, a man who raised a knife, ready to sacrifice his long promised son?
And yet, I can’t help but wonder what happened in the “back story.” Was Daniel always courageous, or was this something he learned through experience? The Bible offers a bit of history on David. We know when he was a shepherd, he had to fight off wild animals on occasion. What we don’t know is what he felt during that very first encounter. Was he terrified, crying out to God for aid?
We like to think these Bible heroes are somehow more than human, but the truth is, they likely struggled with the same emotions as you and I: fear, sadness, anger, discontentment. What made them great was not their super-human spirituality, but instead, a superior God who continued to mold, guide, strengthen and transform their hearts.
I love the story of Abraham because it demonstrates a steady progression from fear to faith. I’m tempted to start and end on Mount Moriah, where God tested Abraham’s faith and Abraham came forth as gold, but if I skip over his times of struggle, I miss out on crucial growth steps.
In Genesis 12:1-3, God promised to bless Abraham (called Abram):
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “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.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have God Himself say, “I will bless you.”
And He says it again once Abraham arrives in Canaan.
6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:6-7)
This blessing is a bit more specific. Abraham’s offspring will inherit the land. But there’s one problem–Abraham and Sarah (called Sarai) don’t have any children. Which means, God’s going to have to grant them children in order to make good on His promise.
And yet, a few verses later, once Abraham gets to Egypt, he fears for his life. Faith would say, “God said He would bless me. God promised I would have offspring. Dead men don’t have children, therefore, God will protect Sarah and I in this foreign land.”
But Abraham didn’t say that. Fear took hold instead, and motivated him to take matters into his own hands. Sure, God had promised to bless him and make him into a great nation, but maybe He needed Abraham’s help. So Abraham came up with a plan to “help” God’s plan come to fruition.
As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:11-12)
And what happens when we allow fear to control our actions and take matters into our own hands? We make a mess! Which is exactly what happened here. Because of Abraham’s sin and lack of faith, countless Egyptians suffered.
17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. (Genesis 12:17)
Abraham takes Sarah, and a large amount of riches from Egypt, and continues on. In Genesis 15, God promises to bless him again. This time He’s even more specific.
1 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.”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.(Genesis 15:1-6)
So now, God has spoken to Abraham on three separate occasions, promising to bless him, protect him, and give him a son. And Abraham believes God…at least, during that moment when God speaks. But notice what happens in the very next chapter:
1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. (Genesis 16:1-2)
God promised Abraham a son. Abraham’s married to Sarah. Sarah’s not having children, so Abraham decides he needs to help God out…again. He takes Hagar, Sarah’s handmaden, and sleeps with her. The result? Another mess. Tension fills the home, to the point that Abraham sends his own son and Hagar away.
Once again, Abraham’s sin hurts himself and others.
By the time we meet him on Mount Moriah, he and God have quite a history, don’t they? Time and time again, God’s promised to bless Abraham, yet when difficulties arise, fear takes hold and Abraham takes matters into his own hands. Yet each time, his actions create chaos and pain. I’m thinking by the time God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he’s finally learned that God’s ways are indeed better.
So basically, Abraham’s faith grew through experience, by watching God show up again and again, by hearing God’s promises again and again.
The same is true for us. I believe our faith starts once we get to the end of ourselves, when we realize that we are incapable of going it alone. When we’re tired of creating messes.
It is hard to have unshakable faith straight out of the gate, but as we continue to walk with God, He shows us day after day and year after year that He is good, and strong, and wise. Then, when new difficulties arise, we can remember God’s faithfulness and derive courage from our past experiences.
Are you struggling with fear today? God wants to replace your fear with unshakable faith. Spend a moment in His presence, and remember times He’s proven Himself faithful in the past.