The story is told of a battle in which the flag bearer got so far ahead of the regiment that the officer of the regiment sent word back to headquarters and asked, “Shall we bring the flag back to the regiment?” The commanding officer replied, “No, make the regiment catch up with the flag!” In Hebrews 11, we could rightfully say that the flag of faith is being held up in front of us through the lives of the heroes of the faith. In some ways, we may overwhelmed by their faithful example and feel like the “flag” is too far ahead. But instead of lowering the bar, we ought to be motivated to “catch up with the flag” and demonstrate true faith in God through our lives as well. According to Hebrews, Abraham demonstrated great faith in the face of four uncertainties of life, uncertainties that we often grapple with as the followers of Christ.
First, Abraham had faith when he didn’t know WHERE.
The first uncertainty that Abraham faced involved “where” God wanted him to go in life. At the close of Genesis 11, the Bible says that Abram had been living with his father in Ur of the Chaldees, where more than likely he was born and raised. At some point in his life, Abram heard the clear voice of God speaking to him and was confronted with a choice—would he submit his life and obey God, or would he choose to ignore God and continue living in Ur where he was comfortable and cared for, the place he had known all his life? From what the Bible says about him, Abraham was living life in the lap of luxury. His wealth was tallied in his flocks and herds, and he was coasting in his native homeland. Yet when God called, he was willing to walk away from it all and become a sojourner in the journey of faith. The great calling that came from God was to leave the land he had known all his life and to follow God in total faith to the place where God would lead him. At some point, God appeared to Abraham and spoke. Thus, there came a time in his life when Abraham heard the Word of God.
Romans 10:17—“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
The word that Abraham heard generated faith in his heart. In fact, all throughout the story of his life as recounted in Genesis 12-25, the Bible frequently uses the phrase, “And the Word of the Lord came to Abraham.” When he received the Word, he responded to the Word. He dropped everything and obeyed God in total faith. This is where the life of faith always
begins. It begins with hearing the Word and the willingness to leave one’s own “Ur,” one’s own place of sin and unbelief. It is turning your back to the world and turning in obedience to Christ.
Second, Abraham had faith when he didn’t know WHAT.
Abraham demonstrated faith in God when he didn’t know where God was leading, and he also had faith when he didn’t know what God had in store for him. When he arrived in the promised land, the Bible says that Abraham chose to live in a tent rather than a permanent dwelling. We often see Abraham’s tent frequently made mention of in the Genesis narrative of his life. In fact, the reference is made some 21 times. Why is this mentioned as part of his faith? If he had made the choice to live in a permanent dwelling, he could not have packed up and moved at the command of God. It means that he never got too comfortable where he was. He was always on the move, keeping his eyes focused and his heart tuned to God’s will. Abraham could live in a temporary dwelling because he was waiting for something permanent, something far better. As a stranger in the land, Abraham had to be patient. And because the land was promised to him, patience must have been that much harder. He never saw God’s promise fulfilled, but simply waited. In fact, he waited all his life for the land of promise which was never given. He simply kept trusting God’s promise.
In a similar way, the Bible says that believers are “stranger and pilgrims” living on the earth. We are citizens of another country journeying toward home. Our citizenship is in heaven, and as such, we must never become too comfortable living here below!
Third, Abraham had faith when he didn’t know WHEN.
The Bible says that God made the promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. God promised that he and Sarah would have a son. Though they both were old and it was physically impossible for them to bear children, the Bible says that they reasoned that God was faithful to perform His Word to them both. In other words, rather than trusting human rationale, they trusted God and experienced the miraculous. When Abraham and Sarah looked at the situation, it looked impossible from their vantage point. But they placed their faith in God and in God’s character to do what He says. Faith always trusts God even when the way seems impossible. Faith opens the way for God’s power to be revealed in our situation.
George Mueller—“Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.”
Fourth, Abraham had faith when he didn’t know WHY.
God kept His word and blessed Abraham and Sarah with a son named Isaac. Abraham’s faith was such that it trusted God to RECEIVE the blessing, but his faith was also such that he was willing to RELINQUISH the blessing at God’s request. The day came when Abraham was asked by God to do the unthinkable. He was to take Isaac to a particular mountain and offer him to the Lord as a sacrifice. Can you imagine the initial pain and shock? All these years, God had been promising him a son and that he would be the father of many nations. Now, God was asking him to take that promised son and offer him up as a sacrifice to God. Isaac was precious to Abraham. But more important to him than Isaac was his relationship with God. Abraham was more concerned about the Giver than he was about the gift!
Thus, faith, in order for it to be genuine, will always be tested. I have heard it said that a faith that can’t be tested is a faith that can’t be trusted. It was faith that carried Abraham through the test. It was not faith in himself, or even faith in his faith. It was his faith in the promise of God. This means that even though God was asking him to give up his own son to death, Abraham believed in God’s promise so strongly that he came to the conclusion that God was going to raise Isaac to life again. The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham believed God for a resurrection. When Abraham put Isaac on the altar, he was giving to God all that he had—his hopes, his dreams, and his every desire. And as a result, he proved through his faith that his heart belonged to the Giver and not the gift. Of course, at the last minute, the Bible says that God provided a lamb for the sacrifice in the place of Isaac, and that lamb was an Old Testament illustration of the Lamb which would be offered up for the sins of the whole world, the Lord Jesus Christ.
From Abraham’s example, we learn that faith always trusts God even when it doesn’t know where God is leading, what God is doing, when God’s promise will be fulfilled, or why we face the test of adversity.