1. The Comfortable Life
For many people routine in life is very important. It provides the means by which life can flow reasonably smoothly, with few unexpected bumps—or that is what is hoped. People like to be comfortable. And as a consequence people also like to surround themselves with familiar things—possessions, people, family, and friends.
Of course, some (pleasant) surprises every now again can make life interesting. And a bit of adventure every now and again can bring some colour to life. But generally, for many, life is preferably easy, with maybe a bit of variation—but nothing too traumatic.
2. The Uncomfortable Life
Of course, in one sense that’s quite understandable—people generally don’t like the traumas of life. However, as you and I know, life for most people is not always like that. Indeed many people will face quite a few peaks and troughs in their lives. And for that reason, I’m sure that some are attracted to the Christian faith. Because there is an expectation that the Christian life should be easy.
However, for those who have that view today, then I’m sorry, I’m going to disappoint you. Because as the bible tells us, the Christian life is not likely to be smooth sailing at all.
And by way of illustrating what I mean, I want to refer to the story of the call of Abram (later renamed Abraham). Because in it we have the story of a call by God, where Abram’s life was uprooted and in some ways made very uncomfortable indeed. And it’s a call, which has implications for us. Because just as Abram was called to be different, so are we.
B. THE CALL OF ABRAM
1. Abram’s Call (1)
And I’d like to start with God’s words to Abram: “Go! Leave your land, your people, and your father’s house.”
Now, it would have been quite common, in Abram’s time, for people to have believed in a multitude of gods. There would have been gods to control the rain, the crops, the seasons, the sun, etc., etc. And indeed, Abram’s father did. But that wasn’t to be Abram’s lot. Rather Abram was called to put all his trust and belief in the one God. And he was called to treat all the other gods, as the false gods that they were. As a consequence Abram was called to put away his family’s long held beliefs, and to devote himself to the one God.
So, firstly, he was called to have faith. And then, having put his faith in the one God, the second thing Abram was called to do was to respond to that belief in a very hands-on manner. This wasn’t just to be a faith of lip service or a faith of intellectual assent. Abram was required to clearly demonstrate the extent of his belief in a specific way. And that wouldn’t have been easy.
In those days land was precious. It was where one’s families’ traditions were maintained. It was also where one’s livelihood was based. And Abram’s family, having recently moved from Ur (in modern-day Iraq) and established itself in Haran (in modern day south-eastern Turkey), would have found it difficult to let it go.
Now saying goodbye to the people he grew up with would not have been an easy thing to do. But now God was asking him to say goodbye to his family—his siblings and the other members of his father’s household. And on top of that, to journey into the unknown, not knowing where he was being led. In other words he was being asked by God to abandon everything which was comfortable and familiar, and to trust that this one God would be faithful. He was being asked to commit himself to the one true God, and to demonstrate his commitment by disentangling himself from everything he knew, in order to pursue his faith.
Now talk about people being removed from their comfort zones.
2. God’s Promises to Abram (2-3)
However, in contrast to Abram’s simple call, God’s commitment to him, provided he was obedient, was amazing: “I will show you a land where I will make you the father of a great nation. I will bless you. I will make your name great. I will make you a blessing to others. Those who bless you, I will bless. Those who curse you, I will curse. Through you, all the peoples of the earth will be blessed.”
Now there are a lot of “I will’s” in God’s statement
“I will make you the father of a great nation. I will bless you.” Abram was seventy-five years old, and had no children. This was an age where the lack of children was seen as a sign of divine disfavour. So the promise not only to have a child, but to become the father of a great nation, must have been a very exciting promise.
“I will make your name great. I will make you a blessing to others.” To be revered by others, and for others to be blessed by the things that he did, would also have been a wonderful promise too. Being blessed, and giving others blessings, was one of the great values of the time. And to be honoured, without actually seeking that honour, was the highest honour of all.
And “Those who bless you, I will bless. Those who curse you, I will curse. Through you, all the peoples of the earth will be blessed.” To know that whatever he did, and wherever he was, that God would remain faithfully by his side—protecting him and being with him in all circumstances. Well that was something special again.
3. Abram’s Response (4a)
But despite those promises, this was still a big thing that God was asking. Remember, Abram came from a family that believed in multiple gods, and he was being asked to trust in only one. Furthermore, the promises were not about the there and then, but they were about things that God would do in the future. And at least one of which he would not be alive to see.
What God required was nothing less than raw faith—nothing more, nothing less. Abram was being asked to exchange the known for the unknown—to find his reward in what he would not live to see (a great nation), in what was intangible (God himself), and in what God would impart in the future (blessing).
But despite that, what Abram did is now history. At the age seventy-five, with wife, nephew, possessions, property, and other household servants, Abram departed on his journey of faith. He trusted in God to lead him, to keep his promises, and to provide for all his needs. Is it any wonder, then, that over the centuries Abram’s story has been considered to be one of the greatest stories of faith?
However, it’s also a story that should not be read in isolation, because it has many implications, even for us today.
Now the call of Abram is not unique in the bible. Moses, Joshua, the Judges, David, the Prophets, the Disciples, and Paul all received similar calls—to forsake all and follow God. And, lest we think that this kind of call is only for a particular type of person—the leaders of the church or for the spiritual elite— then a reminder from Jesus should dispel that idea. The words of Jesus: “Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life my sake, will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
1. Our Call
So, like Abram, whether we like it or not, the bible teaches that we are also called to give up everything to follow Jesus. Abram was called to believe; he was called to have faith. And so are we. But we are also called, like Abram, to respond to that belief in a hands-on way. Lip service or intellectual belief is not enough.
Now, not all will be asked to physically leave their homeland, their family and their friends, because God asks each of us to do different things. But all of us are asked to place our faith, and the practice of that faith before all the things that make us comfortable.
So just as Abram was asked to disentangle himself from the world and from the things that he held dear, for a relationship with God, so we are asked to do the same. And that will not always be easy. Because there will always be pressures from family, friends, and the community to conform. And there will always be the distractions of the world, discouraging us from the steps that God requires us to take.
2. God’s Promises to Us
The other side of the coin, however, is that just as Abram was promised a number of things—land, a new family, being the father of a great nation, fame, blessing, and protection from his enemies—so our call involves a number of promises from God too.
And in the context of Jesus’s words that I quoted, those promises include salvation—eternal life with God. In other words if we are prepared to give up everything and put God first, then the promise is that when we depart this world eternal life will be ours, guaranteed.
Now, a promise like that is not something that we are going to see totally fulfilled in this lifetime. As a consequence, like Abram, we are also called to accept God’s promises for the future. We are required to have faith, believing that they will happen.
However, we can also experience something of God’s promises in the here and now. Not least of which is the shadow of the afterlife that we can experience now through his presence with us, and with the guidance and blessings that he provides.
3. Our response
Now, of course, we know how Abram responded to God’s command. We also know how Moses, Joshua, the Judges, David, the Prophets, the Disciples, and Paul responded too. But that still leaves the question of how we have responded to God’s call ourselves.
In other words, what have we done with the call of God to accept him in our lives? And as a consequence, what have we done with the continuing call of God, to respond daily as well? Jesus’ words again: “Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life my sake, will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
Of course peoples’ responses to the call of God will always be quite varied. Many will find the call of Jesus as something that they don’t need—because they like to be self-sufficient. Some will consider that he asks too much, or that the world is far more appealing. Some will accept Jesus, but then lose the plot, and show no evidence of faith in their lives. But a few, like Abram, will respond to God’s call.
What we need to remember, however, is that the call of God to give up everything and follow him is not a one-off sort of call. But it requires us to go on a journey with God, as he leads us to the Promised Land—a journey, which should affect every believer, every day of their life.
Abram’s call was a single searching command from God. It was a call to disentangle himself from his country, his kindred and his father’s house, in order to pursue his faith in God. And that is exactly what our call is as well.
But have we responded to that call from God? What have we done with God’s promise of eternal life? Is it something that we responded to a long time ago, and have since lost the plot? Or is it something that we eagerly pursue in our daily lives?
Now I said at the outset, for many people some sort of routine of life is important. And many people like to have familiar things around them—including, possessions, people, family, and friends. Indeed, most people would prefer life to be fairly even, without too many surprises. But life is not always like that. And for Christians, life should not be like that at all.
As Abram was called to forsake everything, to leave everything behind for the claim of God on his life, so are we. We are called to make great sacrifices. But whereas Abram was specifically promised a new land, children, and to be the father of a great nation, we have been given the promise of eternal life with God.
The words of Jesus make it perfectly clear, that the call to follow God isn’t just a one-off event. It isn’t something that we accept once, and then we can forget. Rather it is a daily decision to put all else behind for the priority of following Jesus. And that may make us very uncomfortable indeed.
So the question today is, “What have we done with God’s call? We too might prefer the more comfortable life, but have we accepted the more uncomfortable life of faith? We can’t have it both ways. Which way have we chosen?
Posted: 10th March 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis