Summary: The Life of Abraham, Part 5 of 10.
PLANNED GROWTH (GEN 17:1-19)
Twice Michelle Kwan failed to land the big prize at Winter Olympics Figure Skating Championship. In 1998 she was placed second, and in 2002 she dropped to third. Each time she bravely congratulated the winner, evaluated her condition, and announced her participation in the next Olympics. Since then, it has not been plain sailing and not what UCLA student had bargained for, apart from the commercial endorsements. Critics and reporters said she was too old, too cautious, and too mechanical. They harped that her jumps were the same, her routine had no edge, and her rivals were gaining.
The twenty-year old Michelle who had since won the U.S. Figure Skating Championship nine times and the International Championship five times, but a year before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah confessed, “It doesn’t get easier. It gets harder and harder. You have to stay on top of your game.” (San Gabriel Valley Tribune 1/22/01)
In Genesis 17, Abram had settled comfortably in Canaan, Sarai and Hagar had suspended their rivalry, and even Ishmael, who Abram fathered when he was eighty-six, had grown (Gen 16:16, 17:1). Abram did not have much before, but now had plentiful of silver and gold (Gen 13:2), on top of livestock and servants (Gen 12:16). In chapter 15, God promised the land and an offspring to Abraham, but now the subject had shifted to the identity and the mother of Abraham’s offspring.
Is your faith going forward, moving ahead, or making progress? Genesis 17 is about a continual desire to grow in faith, to live a stirring Christian life, and to make a difference to the world around us. How do we make an impact after weeks and months and years of the same thing? What is missing? What are the first steps to rekindle the flame?
IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers." 3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. (Gen 17:1-2)
In 1997, I made a bold decision. After serving seven years in one church after seminary graduation, I was ready to face new challenges, obtain further training, and learn new skills. Little did I know, God was preparing me for a teaching, writing and Internet ministry on top of the pastoral ministry. My wife laughed loudest, constantly reminding me that I did not have an email until I left Los Angeles in 1997.
In 1998, after I had returned from Chicago, a friend asked me if I was still interested to meet with a few pastors on a regular basis to talk about what we were doing, share our needs, and spend time in prayer. I never felt the need for it early in my ministry; before I considered it a waste of time, an invasion of privacy, and a restriction on freedom, but now it was God-sent.
Michael Eisner once said that a man must renew himself once every seven years. And God gave Abraham a big surprise, a big present, and a big lesson when his second seven-year cycle is due at the birth of Isaac the following year.
To renew oneself is to make new, fresh, and alive one’s relationship to God. It is to reverse, turn around an extended period of stagnated growth, declining significance, or inactive faith. It is the answer to the SOS crisis - same old stuff. To remain focused after years of decline is a need, a challenge, and a task.
God had previously appeared to Abraham in Genesis chapters 12, 13 and 15, and again this time, it had a powerful effect on Abram. Back in Genesis 12, when God told Abram to leave his country, people and his father’s household, Abram left (Gen 12:1-4). When God reappeared to Abram after the separation form Lot, Abram built an altar to the LORD (Gen 13:18) The third and previous occasion of the Lord’s appearance to Abram was the promise of an heir to Abram. Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Gen 15:1-6)
At this point God appeared to Abraham, and the adventure starts all over again. Now Abram fell on his face twice in awe, worship, fear and reverence (17:3, 17). He fell on his face before God for the first time for a valid reason. The Lord God declared, also for the first time, that He was El-Shaddai, Almighty, Omnipotent.
We need to renew our relationship with God, to cherish our walk with Him, and to kindle a warm glow in our lives, a deep longing and a heightened sensitivity for Him. There should be a fear, a reverence of God in our lives. Not fear in the negative emotional sense, but in the positive and godly sense, sometimes known as holy fear. It’s the difference between scaring us to death or waking us to life in Him! We need the latter.