Abraham (1a): Following God’s Leading

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Hebrews 11:8

INTRODUCTION: Hebrews 11 is the most detailed chapter about faith in the whole Bible. In the opening verses we’ve learned three major principles of faith that we will refer to over and over again in this series. Together these three major principles teach us the definition, the foundation and the expression of true biblical faith.

1) Definition: Faith is being certain of realities we do not see.
2) Foundation: True biblical faith is always based on the word of God.
3) Expression: True faith always expresses itself in action.

We see these same three principles worked out over and over again in the Old Testament examples set before us in the rest of the chapter. From Abel we learned that faith means giving God the first portion. From Enoch we learned that faith means believing God’s goodness. From Noah we learned that faith means heeding God’s warnings.

Today we come to Abraham. Abraham is one of the most important figures in the entire Old Testament. He is the first of the patriarchs. He is the one with whom God made his covenant concerning the land and the people of Israel. Abraham is also the first person in the Old Testament who was specifically commended for his faith. We read in Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the LORD, and [God] credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

Abraham’s importance in the Bible continues in the New Testament. In the New Testament he is called “the father of faith” and “the father of all who believe” (Romans 4; Galatians 3). So, it should come as no surprise when we come to Abraham in our present chapter that Hebrews 11 gives more space to Abraham than any other person. Abraham gets eight verses in Hebrews 11, far more than anyone else in the chapter.

These eight verses we will be looking at present three different aspects of Abraham’s faith. In verses 8-10 Abraham demonstrates his faith by following God’s leading. In verses 11-12 Abraham demonstrates his faith by believing God’s promise about his future descendants. And in verses 17-19 Abraham demonstrates his faith by his unquestioning obedience with regard to his son, Isaac. Abraham is the ultimate example of faith from the Old Testament.

This morning we will begin to look verses 8-10, the first section of verses dealing with Abraham. This is the section which shows us how Abraham demonstrated his faith by following God’s leading. It will actually take us two weeks to cover just these verses. We will look at verse 8 today, and then we will get to verses 9 and 10 next week. (Read Hebrews 11:8 and pray.) “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.” (Hebrews 11:8)

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Today’s sermon is a message about following God’s leading. It is not a message about discerning God’s leading. The two are similar and related topics, but they should not be confused with each other. Discerning God’s leading deals with the question, “How do I know what God wants me to do?” Now, that is an important question and is worthy of an entire message or series of messages in itself. How do you know what God wants you to do?

It was easy for Abraham to know what God wanted him to do. God just told him, and then Abraham knew, right? But how about us? God doesn’t speak directly to most of us today. So, how do we know what God wants us to do? How does God speak to us today? We need to be careful here, because we can be very good at convincing ourselves that what we want for ourselves is exactly what God wants for us, too. And that is rarely the case.

So, how does God speak to us today? Well, God certainly speaks to us through his word, the Bible. In the Bible God gives us wisdom, instructions and principles which help us to discern his will for us in many areas of life. God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit in our hearts. He speaks to us through the collective wisdom of our fellow Christians. And God also speaks to us through his providential ordering of circumstances.

I wish we had more time to go into all that, but we don’t, because today’s message is about a different subject. Today’s message is not about discerning God’s leading but, rather, following God’s leading. Once again, discerning God’s leading deals with the question, “How do I know what God wants me to do?” Following God’s leading deals with a different question: “Once I know what God wants me to do, how should I respond?”

So, what does the Bible tell us about following God’s leading? Using Abraham’s example, Hebrews 11 teaches us three things about what it means to follow God’s leading in your life, and all three of them have to do with faith. Once you know that God has called you to do something, how should you respond? 1) You need to set out in faith. 2) You need to continue in faith. 3) You need to look forward in faith. We will look at the second and third responses next week, but today we are just going to look at the first response, that of setting out in faith.

I. Set out in faith (8)

So, God has called you to do something, and you want to follow his leading. You have already been praying and reading God’s word. You have been talking with other Christians and getting their advice, and God has laid something on your heart. Perhaps he is calling you to start a business or to change jobs. Maybe he is calling you to go back to school or to move to another area. God may be calling you to end a relationship, or he may be leading you towards marriage. Perhaps God is leading you to a greater level of involvement at church or in ministry. Or maybe God is just calling you to make some important changes in your life or at home. All of these are common examples of ways that God can lead in your life. And once you have properly discerned God’s leading, now, like Abraham, you need to set out in faith.

That’s what we’re talking about this morning. What does it mean to set out in faith once you realize that God is calling you to do something? Let’s look at Hebrews 11:8 together again. “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.” (Hebrews 11:8)

This is the ultimate example of setting out in faith. God told Abraham to go. Abraham obeyed God and went, even though he had no idea where he was going. That takes faith. What does it mean to set out in faith? Let’s see what we can learn from Abraham’s example.

   A. Follow God’s leading promptly
      – Mark 1:18; Luke 9:59-62

First of all, setting out in faith means you follow God’s leading promptly. We find this at the beginning of verse 8 where we read, “By faith Abraham, when called to go … obeyed and went.” That phrase “when called to go” could actually be translated as “while he was being called.” “While he was still being called to go, Abraham obeyed and went.” This indicates that Abraham responded immediately to God’s leading. It implies prompt and decisive action motivated by complete trust in God’s word.

We find a New Testament parallel in the gospels with Jesus calling his disciples. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, we read in the gospel of Mark: “At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mark 1:18) How did the disciples respond to Jesus’ call? They responded immediately. Setting out in faith means following God’s leading promptly.

Once again, it is important that we do not confuse following God’s leading with discerning God’s leading. The process of discerning God’s leading often takes time. You need to pray, apply biblical principles, apply common sense, pray, talk with people whom you trust, explore various options and then pray some more. Discerning God’s will is a process that takes place over time, and you should not rush that process.

Now, sometimes God makes his will clear to you very quickly. But more often than not, God makes his will clear to you over time. So, if you think that God may be leading you to change jobs or to move your family, do not rush that decision. Never make large decisions rashly. Pray about it, seek godly counsel, and do your best to discern God’s will. God will make it clear to you over time.

But once you feel that you do know God’s leading in your life, then it is important that you act on it promptly. If God is telling you to do something, then you need to do it. And if he is telling you to do it now, then you need to do it now. Do not hesitate or put it off. Do not give in to fear. Do not make excuses or delay.

We read about some would-be followers of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. Luke tells us Jesus said to one man: “‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:59-62)

What did each of these would-be followers of Jesus say to Jesus? “I will follow you, Lord, but first ….” Jesus is saying that there are no “but first’s” when it comes to following him. There is a reason God is calling you, and there is a reason God is calling you now. True faith does not hesitate or delay, but trusts God and his timing completely. Setting out in faith means first of all, you follow God’s leading promptly.

   B. Trust God to cover your losses
      – Genesis 12:1; Mark 10:29-30

And then, secondly, setting out in faith means you trust God to cover your losses. At this point, you may be saying, “Wait a minute. What do you mean, ‘my losses’?” All of a sudden that doesn’t sound so good, does it? There is great gain in following Jesus, but let me forewarn you, there is also great cost. Following God’s leading often means letting go of things that you really don’t want to let go. Sometimes you cannot even see why God would ask you to let go of those things. But that’s part of faith, isn’t it, trusting God with things that you cannot see.

Abraham followed God’s leading, and it cost him dearly. We first read about God’s call to Abraham back in Genesis, so let’s turn there for a moment. God says to Abraham in Genesis 12: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

Have you ever thought about what it cost Abraham to follow God’s leading? What Abraham lost when he set out in faith? God told Abraham: “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household.” Three of the strongest ties that we experience as human beings are the ties of place, culture and family. God told Abraham to leave all three behind.

First, God told Abraham, “Leave your country.” That’s the tie of place. Because we live in a highly mobile society, we often underestimate the power of place. But geographical place is an extremely strong connector. When you first meet someone, one of the questions you often ask them is about place. “Where are you from? Where did you grow up?” It tells you something about the person. We are connected to place by familiarity with climate and with specific locations, and by a multitude of specific memories tied to those locations. Ties to place are so strong that people in lands ravaged by war or famine often refuse to leave the place that they call home.

Now, leaving a place with which you are familiar is hard enough. Arriving at a new place presents a whole new set of challenges. You have to learn things all over. Abraham would have had to adjust to his new surroundings. Even today moving from one area to another is not easy. “Where do I go to buy bread? Where do I go to find friends? Where will I go to church?” And just as important, “How do I even get from here to there?”

Abraham was seventy-five years old when God called him to leave his home. That’s a lot of history in one place. It is not easy to leave your home, your roots, the place where you grew up – especially if you have lived there all your life. Abraham left his home country and went to a strange and unfamiliar land. Abraham had to break the tie of place.

But then God also said, “Leave your people.” That’s the tie of culture. Culture is another strong tie or connector in our lives. People in the same culture share many things in common. They share language, history, values, customs, rituals, food and dress.

Leaving your culture can be a highly traumatic experience. When you leave your own culture behind and enter a different culture, you experience what is called “culture shock.” Everything is new and different. Things you took for granted which added stability to your life are no longer there. The very ways of doing things are different. It takes great effort even to accomplish the most basic of tasks. You have to learn a whole new system and how to function in it. Culture shock affects you at the very core of your being. Perhaps one of the hardest aspects of culture shock is the way you feel like you stand out from everyone else, like you don’t really belong here. Some people are so devastated by culture shock that they never fully recover.

God told Abraham, “Leave your people.” Abraham left his own people and went to live among the Canaanites, a foreign people who had their own ways of doing things and who worshiped false gods. Abraham had to break the tie of culture.

And then God also said, “Leave your father’s household.” That is the tie of family, perhaps the strongest tie of all that we experience here on earth. Blood is thicker than water, and whether you come from a good or a bad family experience, family ties really never let you go.

We are all products of our families. It’s hard being away from family. It’s hard when you are missing out on their lives, and they are missing out on yours. At least today we have computers, cell phones, email, postal mail and new and advanced ways to travel, but it’s still hard. Sometimes you just want to sit down with someone in your family and talk. We miss their physical presence, something which technology just cannot supply.

God called Abraham to leave all three of these important ties behind: place, culture and family. Following God’s leading cost Abraham dearly.

Now, we just spent quite a bit of time talking about these three things, and there’s a reason. First of all, I want you to understand what Abraham had to give up in order to follow God’s leading. I want you to know that it cost him to follow God. This is important because it may cost you to follow God’s leading too. God may not call you to leave place, culture or family, but he may call you to sacrifice some other things in your life that are near and dear to you.

But then, secondly, I want you to understand what Abraham had to give up because these are the same three things that missionaries give up when they follow God’s leading to serve him in another culture. They also have to leave behind place, culture and family. They miss the familiarity of their home. They experience culture shock, often severe culture shock, when they arrive on the mission field. They dearly miss their families.

Understanding this will give you a new appreciation for missionaries. And hopefully, it will give you a new sensitivity to their needs. Missionaries are not super-human people, or even super-spiritual Christians. They are just people like you and me. They are not immune to all this. Missionaries get discouraged and depressed. They struggle with finances and parenting and relationships. They have good days, and they have bad days. And they do it all in a different country and culture, often far away from family and loved ones.

God told Abraham, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household.” Abraham obeyed and went. He left everything behind: home, land, security, family and friends. Once again you can compare Abraham’s response to Jesus’ disciples dropping their nets and leaving everything behind in order to follow Jesus. There is a cost to following Christ. Sometimes God calls you to leave things that you love and cherish behind. The losses are real. They are painful. They are substantial. And yet we are called, in the words of one song, to “abandon it all for the sake of the call.” (Steven Curtis Chapman, “For the Sake of the Call”)

But even though the cost is great, God has promised to cover your losses. We have these words of comfort and assurance from Jesus in the gospel of Mark. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age … and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30) What a wonderful promise from God! God has promised to cover your losses.

Following God’s leading will cost you, and you know what? That’s why some people never set out at all. It takes faith to risk the loss of things that are important to you. Setting out in faith means you trust God to cover your losses.

   C. Don’t wait for full information
      – Genesis 12:1; John 16:12

1) Setting out in faith means you follow God’s leading promptly. 2) Setting out in faith means you trust God to cover your losses. And then thirdly, 3) setting out in faith means you don’t wait for full information. Hebrews 11:8 tells us that Abraham obeyed and went “even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)

God did not give Abraham full information. He did not even tell Abraham where he was going. He simply said, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) “Excuse me, Lord, what land would that be?” “I will show you when you get there.”

It was sort of like a mystery trip, except that Abraham had to leave everything behind in order to go on this one. God gave Abraham a direction, but not the final destination. When Abraham set out, he left no forwarding address. He could not tell his relatives where he was going, because he did not know himself! Abraham knew that God knew the final destination, and that was enough for him. And so, he set out in faith.

How many of you like to know where you are going before you set off? How many of you like to know where you are going and how you are going to get there? I know I do. When I plan a vacation or a long trip, I map everything out. I book the hotel rooms. I schedule the driving time for each day. I check mileage, gas stations, rest stops. I leave nothing to chance, and I drive Rosi nuts in the process. Abraham did not have that luxury, because God called him to go without having all the information. Abraham’s obedience to God’s leading is a stunning example of trusting God’s word even when you cannot see.

Setting out in faith means that you don’t wait for full information. You operate on the information God gives you. You act on what you know, trusting God will fill in the details as you go. When Abraham set out in faith, he did not even know that God was going to give him this new land as an inheritance. God didn’t tell him that part until he got there.

Abraham set out in complete faith, acting only on the limited information that God had given him. He knew enough to obey, and that was enough. Sometimes when God calls you, you have to set out in faith without knowing all the details. You don’t always know how it is all going to work out. You have to trust that God knows what he is doing, and you follow him one step at a time.

Let’s face it, if you waited to follow God’s leading until you had full information, you would never actually set out, right? God doesn’t tell you everything, and if he does, please let’s get together for lunch and you tell me! Because I’d like to know!

Why doesn’t God tell us everything? I can think of at least three reasons. First of all, if we had all the information up front, we wouldn’t need any faith, would we? If we could see where it was all going, there wouldn’t be any need for faith. But when we obey God without all the information, that gives us the opportunity to exercise faith, which brings God glory.

And then, secondly, some things are on a need to know basis. And guess what? We don’t need to know. We may not like that, but it’s true. There are some things we are just not meant to know in this life.

And then, thirdly, sometimes we are not ready for full information. Jesus said to his own disciples in John 16: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He … will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:12)

God in his mercy does not tell us everything because sometimes we are not yet ready to hear it. It is more than we can bear. And if we really knew all that lay ahead down the path, God knows that we might never get started to begin with. God will tell you what you need to know when you need to know it.

CONCLUSION: Setting out in faith means you follow God’s leading promptly, you trust God to cover your losses, and you don’t wait for full information.

I find it interesting that these three aspects of setting out in faith correspond to the three main reasons people often give for not following Christ.

1) Reason number one people give for not following Christ? They say, “I’m not ready yet. I have some things I want to do in life first. I can always come to Christ later.”

What’s the answer to reason number one? Follow God’s leading promptly. The Bible says, “Today is the day of salvation.” If God has been speaking to you about putting your faith in Christ, don’t put it off. Seek God while he may be found. Come to Christ today.

2) Reason number two people give for not following Christ? They say, “If I come to Christ, I know I will have to make some changes in my life. I will have to leave some things behind that I am not willing to part with.”

What’s the answer to reason number two? Trust God to cover your losses. Yes, there is a cost for following Christ, but there is a far greater cost for not following Christ. And God has promised to cover your losses, both in this life and the next.

3) And then, reason number three people give for not following Christ? They say, “I would come to Christ, but I still have so many questions. Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? What about people who have never heard about Christ? What about the trinity? I don’t understand how God can be three and one at the same time.”

What’s the answer to reason number three? Don’t wait for full information before coming to Christ. You don’t have to understand everything about God and the Bible in order to come to Christ. I’m a pastor, and I still don’t know the answers to all the questions.

You don’t have to know it all in order to come to Christ. You just have to know that God loves you so much that he sent his only Son to die on the cross for your sins so that you can be forgiven and live with him forever. That’s pretty simple. Don’t wait until you know it all, or you will never come to Christ.

So, as we close out our message this morning, stop and examine yourself. Has God been speaking to you about something?

Perhaps you have come to a place where you have discerned God’s will, and now it is time for action. But something is holding you back. You’re hesitating. Perhaps following God’s leading in this area is going to cost you, and you are not sure if you can handle the cost. Perhaps you don’t have all the information, and you’ve been waiting for God to fill in the details.

Don’t wait any longer. Once you have discerned God’s will, you need to set out in faith. Follow God’s leading promptly. Trust God to cover your losses. Don’t wait for full information, because it probably isn’t coming. God has good plans for you. Will you follow him?

© Ray Fowler

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