By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:8-10
My sister loved her home. I don't think I know anyone who has had such a dear affection for their home. It was a little nine hundred square foot place, two bedroom, one bath, with so little room that the bedrooms had pocket doors.
They lived just outside of town on a beautiful little property, with the sun rising above the misty hills, the llamas grazing peacefully. They had a flock of chickens, climbing trees for their boys, and a volleyball field. I remember admiring the sweet circle-stack of firewood my brother-in-law would create every year in preparation for winter with their warm and inviting wood stove.
Over the years, she enjoyed memories of birthing their babies in the home, with friends and family waiting to welcome each one.
Relationships were deepened, milestones were celebrated, love was shared, and memories were made that would never be forgotten.
But a few years back, God asked them to do a very hard thing.
He asked them to walk by faith.
I remember the tears and prayers and wrestlings that she shared with me, and how God sweetly and gently kept calling to her. I remember the day they finally sold their home, their non-portable possessions, and said goodbye to their family and friends.
As I was reading the passage in Hebrews this morning, I thought of my sister. Abraham's journey of faith to promise echoes in her life in a profound and meaningful way.
When Abraham was first called by God, he had a home, a city, a family and friends. He had a job, security and what he thought was a certainty in life.
But in order to gain an inheritance in a reality that is more real that anything that we call reality here, more valuable than anything we value now, Abraham had to leave.
I remember too, when we sold our first starter home, one we had long since outgrown. We had loved our home, but it was far too small for our large family, and we couldn't function properly in such a temporary space. We had always known it would be temporary, but the transition to our new home would be longer and more painful than we had envisioned. We knew though, that the only way we could ever move to our new place that fit our needs would be to leave the old. That transition was so very difficult because we had to trust that the next purchase wouldn't fall through.
We had to trust that the little we had left would be worth the leaving.
Whether physically, emotionally or spiritually, the walk of faith always requires that we leave what we have.
Leave our past with its failures, mistakes, sins and pain, leave our possessions in the hands of a God who in truth owns all of what we steward, and leave our places of reputation, security, ideals, and meticulously developed ambitions.
But God never asks us to leave anything without having somewhere to which He is leading us to go.
Our dear pastor recently retired, but this last Sunday he came back to preach while my brother took a rest with his family. In his sermon, he said, “For every departure there is an arrival.” He spoke of vacationing in Hawaii, where every morning he could see the plane taking off from the airport. Knowing the flight well himself, he knew the final destination: Oregon. Home. He knew that every time that airplane took off with its passengers, it was with the end landing in mind.
For Abraham, that destination looked uncertain. His route, the distance, the journey's length, and the final destination were all unknowns. They were unknown to him, but not unknown to God.
Personally, I have often questioned the route God is choosing for me. The distance, the journey's length...sometimes I really do not understand why God chooses certain relationships to have an impact on my soul. Why He doesn't act as quickly as I think would fit into my plans of how perfectly things should come together. I question sometimes if somehow He has forgotten me.
I had a few days this last year of that question battling around in my head. With all the unexpected twists and turns of following God, I wondered if somehow I had gotten off whatever path I was supposed to be on, and if He was still on that path--without me.
I smile even as I write it, because it sounds ridiculous now, but at the time it seemed very real. I couldn't see what He was doing, or even where He was. I didn't think that He had forsaken me, but I did think maybe I had somehow gotten lost off “The Plan.”
That day the Lord sent five different ways to tell me that He was with me and wouldn't leave me or forsake me. Some days I need a lot of underscoring!
But here's a comforting thought, and a true one:
The walk of faith always requires that we have uncertainty in the details.
Faith requires a going without knowing.
Now, as very hard as that is, I wish it were only as simple as that! Wouldn't it be nice and easy to just go...and then arrive, with no ellipsis in between? Those ellipses are some of the most difficult parts of our life sentences! Not only do they contain uncertainties, but they contain a wandering. They contain a sense of being in a foreign place.
One year I visited another of my sisters whose husband was in the military overseas. Since I knew we would try to travel together to sight-see, in preparation I studied the language, customs, culture and menus. I tried to prepare as much as possible for living temporarily in a nation in which I would not innately understand how to protect ourselves or to navigate.
On our first day, after waiting a sleepless 36 hours through a trans-atlantic flight, I arrived, met with my sister, and enjoyed a very caffeinated cup of espresso. Since I don't care for large cities, I had chosen a little village bed and breakfast in the mountains for our first night. We had to navigate the underground metro to some smaller cities, and then a bus station to take us farther into the mountains.
At first in the big cities, there were plenty of English speakers. But by the time we got to the smaller towns, and finally to the bus station, neither the station attendant nor any of the bus drivers understood English. I knew just enough of the language and maps to know that there was a little mountain village in the area called “Magno,” and that the one we were to arrive at was “Margno.” This unnerved me. I purchased “due biglietto,” and questioned repeatedly which bus of the many idling in the courtyard we were to get on. I asked the bus driver as well, who only responded with, “Si, si!”
As we wound our way up treacherously small and winding mountain roads, honking before every blind turn, I stayed on high alert for every bus stop, wondering if I had gotten us on the wrong bus and if we were about to have a much more adventurous vacation than I had hoped to plan.
After many small little stops, our bus stopped very momentarily at a small sign, “Margno.” We hurriedly got off and with a deep breath of relief found our way to a lovely bed and breakfast with a fantastic host—who also only spoke a few words of English.
While that experience held some excitement and a certain amount of anxiety, it does give me a good taste of what Abraham must have felt like dwelling in a strange land. Abraham lived the rest of his life dwelling in a place that he would “later receive as his inheritance.” Our language, our hopes, our eternal culture and perspectives, our values and our destinations feel unnatural to the world. We feel foreign.
In our faith journeys, the walk of faith always requires us to live as strangers.
For you who have read the story of Abraham in Genesis 12-25, you know that “later” did not mean while he was alive. While he lived, he was always a stranger in a strange land. And because of this, he had to wait.
Now, this “waiting” was not an inactive one. Waiting on God isn't like that. It does have an element of internal rest, but when God asks us to wait, there is an active participation in faith of physically setting in place the eternal boundaries of our inheritance.
If we go back to the whole story of Abraham in Genesis, we see God giving Abraham both the promise of his inheritance as well as an participatory action to accompany his wait:
"The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” Then Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD." Genesis 13:14-17
So first, he was to look from where he was.
If we were to look from where we are, what would we see? Sometimes we get so caught up in our present situation and in our limitations, that we don't see what God wants to give us. In our place of waiting, we need to seek a vision for what God wants to do through us. Just like Abraham was to look “northward, southward, eastward, and westward,” so God wants us to look into every part of our lives and situations to see how He wants to bring it all under His rule and dominion, and to give it back to us as a permanent inheritance.
The next thing Abraham was asked to do was to physically walk through every part of what God had promised him, to establish a claim and a boundary around the entire inheritance.
Later on with Moses and then again with Joshua, God gave the same directive to the descendants of Abraham coming to receive the inheritance:
"Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the River Euphrates, even to the Western Sea, shall be your territory." Deuteronomy 11:24
Something I learned recently in studying the land of Israel is that the people of Israel, when they walked through the land and took possession, remembered the promise of God by building the walls around their cities in a foot shape! Even today, from aerial shots you can still see the outlines of the foot-shaped walls around many of their cities.
In our journeys, the walk of faith always requires an active wait.
What vision do you see of what God wants to establish as your eternal inheritance? What obstacles, strongholds, and enemies of your faith do you see?
How can we tread on these places, making monuments to the grace of God in our lives, setting up boundaries and staking our claim on the areas that God wants to give us?
For me, I journal. I write. I set down the stories of what God has done, and the promises I believe God has given me.
Sometimes for us it means going to the painful areas of our lives with our families, with our marriages, with our ministries, and declaring God's sovereignty over those places.
It can mean staying in a painful relationship showing love, knowing that your love isn't reciprocated.
It can mean training and teaching our children to honor and love God by faith when we can't see the heart or life style changes yet.
Wherever we are on this journey, whether still reticent to leave, in the process of going, struggling with being a stranger, or learning to actively wait, we can be absolutely certain of the hope of what God has promised.
As we journey together on this walk of faith that inherits, “let us hold unswervingly to that hope, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." Hebrews 11:13-16
Halley Faville lives with her husband and children in their mountain home in Oregon.