By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going…
By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith Abraham, even though he was past age— and Sarah herself was barren— was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country— a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11v8-16
Faith is a journey where we actively believe that the things we can’t see are more lasting than the things we can see – and that our choices to line up with them will be rewarded by something better. That’s why I love this passage from the famous chapter about the heroes of faith in Hebrews: it encourages me that I am following in the footsteps of champions – making the same decisions and mistakes that they did. Just as Abraham had the miracle of Isaac but didn’t live to see the numerous descendants that followed, I may only ever have my one ‘strawberry’ as a sign of the harvest that is to come and I may not see the fullness I have prayed for in my lifetime… But I know it will come, in its time, because I am part of an ongoing narrative that stretches across the generations. This is a long term view of being part of God’s story!
Meanwhile these choices are costly. There are times of nerve-wracking decisions and times of stagnation. We can feel that we are standing on a cliff edge or sometimes just ‘stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it’ as Bono sings! We can get frustrated and anxious about unanswered prayer and lack of movement or provision, resentful of the sacrifices we have to make, envious of others who seem to have a better deal, bitter or bored with our lot in life. That’s why Jesus warned us that we shouldn’t start unless we have counted the cost first… and He was quite clear that the cost of following Him is everything we have! The killer line in the already provocative passage in Luke 14v25-35 is v33: ‘In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple’. Whoever said that being a Christian is an easy option?!
But the writer to the Hebrews does also say, ‘If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return’ – and this is true: there is always a choice to turn back or to keep pressing forward in faith. We can choose to sow our seed in whatever ground we like – I do believe this – but we will only reap from the ground where we have sown. It’s not so much a matter of right and wrong, but more like the parable of the talents where we choose what we do with what we have been given (Matthew 25v14-30). Surely to be Jesus’ disciple, to really follow Him, is to elect the life of ‘cross-carrying’ and self-denial… yet each of us has a different way of living that out and our own path to walk: it is always a matter of free will.
When things seem stuck my favourite reminder is ‘it won’t always be like this’: looking back I can see that in my own story! It’s like a woman who is weary of being pregnant… but no-one stays pregnant forever! But at the other extreme, my worst tendency is to simply try too hard- I often set myself up for failure by having expectations of myself that the Lord never entertained! I have so many ‘good ideas’ that wear me out (what we call in our family a ‘Martin/Rebecca Dyer production’!) and take on things that the Lord didn’t ask of me. God ideas are better than good ideas 😉 I am learning that I just can’t ‘make’ anything happen and I simply have to wait for Him to do it…
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ Isaiah 55v8-9
The times when it seems I am actually ‘set up to fail’ are the hardest – for my pride at least… I usually learn more from those times than from my successes. I have been talking to a friend this morning who is making similar choices to sow into things he can’t see. We have been laughing about the times when we make our very good plans but they don’t work out. ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ – NOT when it doesn’t! However, I am learning that the Lord allows that failure because He has a better plan… It may not look like it at the time, but later I realise He knew what He was doing – both in my character and in my circumstances!
Looking back I have quite a few very practical examples of that – God’s care looking like the opposite of what I thought was best! Silly things like not getting the super-duper apartment we wanted in Tenerife or the dates we had hoped in Menorca – yet ending up with something much nicer/more appropriate. Challenging things like Martin failing his medical finals, but finding the Lord’s love through that experience (My story) – or several times not getting a job he went for, even on a few occasions being told he would have to leave his job(!) but ending up a while later in a much better one. Even, believe it or not, looking back over these years with Sam being ill and being grateful for all the good that has happened as a result of what we have faced – how we have grown, how we have been willing to invest more in his independence than we would have done, how I have experienced this creative explosion… It wasn’t exactly a cost I counted beforehand, but I have paid a price to continue believing and walking forward daily in faith and hope, to choose to trust that there will be full redemption and that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ Romans 8v28.
I am sowing for a new generation of God-chasers, both within and coming out of this nation. I may never see it, but that is what my seed is going into the ground for – in prayer and in life choices. If you want to know what that looks like, look at my life! It is costly and there is a fierce battle – but I am believing for something better, just like Abraham. I am fully expecting the hope of heaven, but also ‘the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God’ – and a ‘better country’ – both a heavenly and a well prayed-for earthly one!
‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ Hebrews 12v1-2
Sounds like ‘something better’ to me!