Abraham (1b): Following God’s Leading

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Hebrews 11:9-10

INTRODUCTION: As we learned last week, this passage is the first of three sections in Hebrews 11 which focus on Abraham. This first section shows us how Abraham demonstrated his faith by following God’s leading. These three verses tell us how Abraham followed God’s leading, and how we also can follow God’s leading today. Following God’s leading means we set out in faith, we continue to walk by faith, and then we also look forward in faith to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise.

Last week we looked at verse 8 which speaks about setting out in faith. God told Abraham: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” God spoke to Abraham, and Abraham set out in faith. He obeyed God and went even though he did not know where he was going.

We learned three things from Abraham’s example last week about setting out in faith. Setting out in faith means: 1) you follow God’s leading promptly, 2) you trust God to cover your losses, and 3) you don’t wait for full information. Once you have discerned God’s leading, you set out. You move forward. You take that first step of faith even if you do not know where or how it will all end up. Why? Because faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see. You trust God to lead you, one step at a time, even if you cannot see the path before you.

However, when it comes to following God’s leading, setting out in faith is only the beginning. That brings us to verses 9 and 10 which speak about continuing in faith and looking forward in faith. And those are the two aspects of following God’s leading that we will explore today.

Although we will really focus on just verses 9 and 10 today, let me read all three verses of this section as we get started. (Read Hebrews 11:8-10 and pray)

II. Continue to walk by faith (9)

It would be nice once you set out in faith if everything else just sort of magically fell into place. It would be nice if after you took that first step of faith, suddenly everything became clear and there were no more questions, no further risks, nothing else unseen. It would be nice if in following God’s leading only the first step required faith and all the rest of the steps were easy. It would be nice, but it rarely works that way.

Once you set out in faith, you must also continue to walk by faith. If you think it is hard to set out in faith, then understand that it can be even harder sometimes to continue to walk by faith over the long run. Abraham learned this as he followed God’s leading, and it is important for us to learn it as well, because there is great reward for those who follow God’s leading all the way to the end of the path.

Verse 9 talks about continuing to walk by faith, so, let’s look at verse 9 together: “By faith [Abraham] 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.” (Hebrews 11:9)

Here we learn three things from Abraham’s example about continuing to walk by faith: 1) Don’t expect instant results; 2) Don’t get too comfortable in one place; and 3) Be ready to camp out on God’s promises. Let’s look at all three of these.

   A. Don’t expect instant results
      – Genesis 12:7; Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8

First of all, don’t expect instant results. Once Abraham arrived in the land of Canaan, God gave him the promise of the land. However, the promise was for the future, not the present. God told Abraham in Genesis 12:7: “To your offspring I will give this land.” (Genesis 12:7) It was not Abraham, but Abraham’s descendants who would later receive the land. But this future aspect of God’s promise did not deter Abraham. He staked out his claim by faith. He made his home like a stranger in the promised land. He lived there in tents. So did his descendants, Isaac and Jacob, as they too awaited the eventual fulfillment of God’s promise.

God promised Abraham the land, but he did not give Abraham the land immediately. God unfolded his plan over a long period of time. There was Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then Joseph, then 400 years in Egypt, then Moses, then 40 years in the wilderness and then finally under Joshua God fulfilled his promise to Abraham: “To your offspring I will give this land.” That meant a lot of walking by faith in the meantime. And part of walking by faith means you need to adjust to God’s timetable. Do not expect instant results.

Now, this one may actually be harder for us today than it was for Abraham. Abraham lived in a much slower paced culture than we do. I don’t think anyone expected instant results in Abraham’s day. Everything took a long time. Preparing a meal might be a day’s task, and just getting from one place to another was often a long, slow and arduous process. We live in the days of airplanes and automobiles, microwaves and email, instant coffee and instant tea. Just flick a switch to turn on the lights or turn a handle to get water. We don’t like to wait for anything. We want results, and we want it now.

But that is not always the way God works. You have to remember: God lives outside of time. 2 Peter 3:8 says, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8) Psalm 90:4 says concerning God: “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:4)

Unlike you and I, God has plenty of time. He has been unfolding his plan since before the ages began, and he will continue to do so. No one can thwart his purpose; no one can stand in his way. God is never rushed, never pushed, never in a hurry. Which means that we need to learn patience when it comes to following God’s leading.

So, if you are going to continue to walk by faith, don’t expect everything to fall into place right away. Wait on God’s timing. Don’t expect instant results.

   B. Don’t get too comfortable in one place
      – Genesis 23:4; Acts 7:5

And then, secondly, don’t get too comfortable in one place. Look at verse 9 again. Verse 9 says: “By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country.” (Hebrews 11:9) That phrase “made his home like a stranger” is a single word in the original language which means “to dwell beside” or “to live as a temporary resident.” It is a word normally used of aliens and refugees.

Abraham never really settled down or made himself comfortable in Canaan. He was a stranger in a strange land. He never became a citizen of any particular city. He never built a house. He never purchased any property that he could call home. We read in the book of Acts that God “gave him no inheritance there, not even a foot of ground.” (Acts 7:5) When his wife Sarah died, he had no place to bury her, so he had to purchase a plot of ground from the Hittites. (Genesis 23:4) The land was Abraham’s by promise, but he had to live in it as a foreigner and a stranger.

Continuing in verse 9 we read: “He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” Abraham never put down roots in any one place. He lived in tents and moved around as God directed him. We read in Genesis that Abraham pitched his tents in Shechem (12:6), and then at Bethel (12:8), Hebron (13:18) and also Beersheba (22:19). God had promised him the land, but he didn’t know when and he didn’t know how, so he kept himself mobile, flexible, open, ready to move at God’s command.

God calls us also to live as pilgrims in this world. We also are to “live in tents” so to speak. That means we are to hold things lightly, always ready to let go and move on. The Bible tells us this world is passing away, so do not hold on to it too tightly. Putting down roots too deeply can hold us back from God’s plans for us.

Don’t get too comfortable in one place. This is another hard one for us in 21st century America, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I like to be comfortable. I like to be settled. I like predictability and routine. But that is not the life of faith. Faith doesn’t let you get too comfortable in one place. Faith severs the anchor to the status quo. Faith chooses to maintain a “pick up and go” attitude at all times. Faith keeps us limber and flexible and ready to respond to God’s leading.

Now, when we say, “Don’t get too comfortable in one place,” don’t get too hung up on the word “place” here, as though we were only talking about physical place. “Place” has a far greater meaning than just physical location. In order to walk by faith, you should not get too comfortable in any place in your life. God may not call you to leave your home, but he may call you to change your job, or rearrange your priorities, or take on a new challenge or move to a new place in your life.

So that’s the second part of continuing to walk by faith: don’t get too comfortable in one place. You need to be ready to respond to God’s leading at any time.

   C. Be ready to camp out on God’s promises
      – Joshua 21:45

And then, the third aspect of continuing to walk by faith is this: be ready to camp out on God’s promises. Abraham may have lived in tents as a stranger in a foreign land, but not just any land. Verse 9 tells us: “By faith he made his home in the promised land … as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” (Hebrews 11:9)

Now, we hear about the promised land all the time. But did you know this is the only place in the whole Bible where you find the actual phrase, “the promised land?” We find other phrases like “the land God promised,” but this is the only place in the Bible that uses the actual phrase, “the promised land.”

Abraham made his home in the promised land. The land was not his yet, but God had promised it to him, and so he knew that one day this land would indeed belong to him and his descendants. And so, in faith he pitched his tent in the land of promise. Even purchasing the burial ground for his wife Sarah in the promised land – that was an act of faith looking toward the future fulfillment of God’s promise. Abraham camped out on the promises of God, and not only Abraham, but also his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob, both of whom “were heirs with him of the same promise.” (Hebrews 11:9)

When you follow God’s leading, be ready to camp out on God’s promises. What does it mean to camp out on God’s promises? It means staying with God for the long run. You stay in God’s word, you keep steady in prayer, you remain faithful in Christian fellowship, you continue to trust God and to follow his leading – no matter how long the wait, no matter how difficult the obstacles, no matter how unclear the path. God is faithful, he will keep his word, and you need to follow him all the way through. It means you practice a stubborn faith, and you set up tent-city on the promises of God.

Walking by faith requires patience. Neither Abraham, Isaac nor Jacob received the inheritance of the land themselves, but that didn’t matter. They camped out on God’s promise of the land. They waited for God, and God came through. After the Israelites had conquered the promised land, Joshua was able to testify near the end of his life: “Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” (Joshua 21:45) Pitch your tent on the promises of God and learn to wait patiently for God’s fulfillment.

III. Look forward in faith to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise (10)

Now, this interim period of struggle and waiting is never easy. We might be tempted only to follow God part way. We might start out in faith, but then stop right in the middle of the pain and the struggle instead of following God all the way through to the victory on the other side.

So how do you keep yourself going in the interim? How do you keep your faith strong for the long term? How was Abraham able to keep following God’s leading even when he was not seeing the plan fulfilled? We find the answer in verse 10. Hebrews 11:10 says: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)

What kept Abraham going? He was “looking forward.” The word translated “looking forward” in this verse is a word that means “to wait for something; to look for, to expect; to be ready and prepared for something.” You know what, we’re right back at Hebrews 11:1 again, aren’t we? “Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

How do you keep going when you’re stuck in the middle of the pain and the struggle? Not by looking back. Not by focusing on your present circumstances. You need to look forward. Like Abraham you need to look forward in faith to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise.

   A. Remember God operates in eternity, not just in time
      – Romans 8:18; Hebrews 13:14

There are just a couple things we want to make note of here. First of all, remember that God operates in eternity, not just in time. Verse 10 tells us that Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations.” (Hebrews 11:10) The word “city” here in verse 10 conveys a sense of permanence as contrasted with the tents back in verse 9. A city contains homes with permanent foundations versus tents with movable stakes.

Abraham lived as a stranger in tents outside the more permanent cities of Canaan. But the “city with foundations” here in verse 10 is not even Canaan. Verse 10 says that this city’s “architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10) The word translated “architect” in this verse carries the idea of the craftsman or designer. And the word translated “builder” would be the workman or contractor who does the actual work of building. Hebrews 11:10 says that God is both the architect and builder of this city to which Abraham was looking forward.

So what city is this? This is no city here on earth. This is the heavenly city. This is the better country. This is Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. Hebrews 13:14 picks up on this verse when it says that “here [on earth] we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)

Heaven is the true city with foundations, the true city of permanence. All the cities of this world are merely tents with pull-up stakes compared to the eternal city that God has designed and constructed. We will look more closely at this “city with foundations” in a couple of weeks when we get to Hebrews 11:13-16.

And so, Abraham was not just looking forward to the city of Canaan. He was looking forward to God’s eternal kingdom, the city with eternal foundations. Wherever God leads you in this life has its ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom of God. That means some of God’s promises to you will not be fulfilled in this life, but in the next. One author puts it this way: God often post-dates his checks! The promise is there, the money is in the bank, but you have to wait for God’s time of fulfillment. And sometimes the time of fulfillment is in eternity, not in time.

As John MacArthur writes: “The Christian . . . is willing to forsake the present glory, comfort, and satisfaction of this present world, for the future glory that is his in Christ. In contrast to the ‘buy now – pay later’ attitude prevalent in the world, the Christian is willing to pay now and receive it later. What makes the Christian willing to make such sacrifices? Hope, based on faith that the future holds something far better than the present. [As] Paul writes in Romans 8:18, ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.’”

Abraham never inherited the land of Canaan. That was for his descendants. But it didn’t matter, because Abraham was looking forward to the city with foundations, to his eternal home in heaven. Looking forward in faith means first of all remembering that God operates in eternity, not just in time.

   B. Remember God’s plan is bigger than you

And then, secondly, remember that God’s plan is bigger than you. You may want instant answers or deliverance right now, whereas God wants you to learn some things so that you can be of benefit to others. You may be wondering, “God, I set out in faith, I am doing my best to walk by faith, but why is this so hard? Will I ever see the fruit of my faith?”

You will, in God’s good time. So, trust God and keep walking. Don’t stop halfway. Your life is only a piece of the puzzle, but it is such an important piece to God. The martyr who gives his life for the gospel understands this truth. That is why the martyr is willing to sacrifice even his or her own life for God’s larger plan and purpose.

God has good plans for you, but his plans also encompass so much more than you can see right now. You will not even know many of the things God accomplished through your obedience and faith in following him until you reach eternity. God’s plan is so much bigger than any one of us.

CONCLUSION: So, what have we learned about following God’s leading between last week and this week? Following God’s leading begins when you set out in faith. 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.

And then, after you set out in faith, you must continue to walk by faith. Don’t expect instant results. Don’t get too comfortable in one place. Be ready to camp out on God’s promises, following where God leads you until the day when God makes all of his promises come true.

And then, how do you keep walking by faith when you don’t see the results? How do you keep your faith strong for the long-term? You must look forward in faith to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise. Remember that God works in eternity, not just in time. Remember that God’s plan is bigger than you.

There is nothing more exciting, more fulfilling than following God’s leading in your life. It’s not always easy, it takes faith, but in the end, all God’s paths are paths of peace and joy and fulfillment. Will you commit yourself to the lifelong adventure of following God’s leading? I hope you will!

© Ray Fowler

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