Genesis 21:1-2, The LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as He had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.
Can you recall a time when God called you to obedience? Indeed, He calls us to obedience on a daily basis. But what I’m talking about is obedience that was particularly difficult to obey, even if you failed. God calls us to sexual purity, but every day many of us choose to disobey the parameters of what God has deemed a sexually pure life. God calls us to love our neighbour, but at certain times we may choose to serve our more selfish, baser needs. What about a time when God has called you to obey a particular call? A calling that may not have been easy to follow or seemed unreal at first?
I remember the first time I felt the call to become a pastor. It was June 2008. I was 18-years-old at a camp retreat in preparation for a mission trip to Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina relief. I was only a year into my faith at the time, and after ministering to people for the first time is when I first felt the call. I couldn’t believe it at first, of course. I kept saying to myself, “Why would God call me? I’ve only been a Christian for a year and I’ve done some terrible things.” I’ve still done some terrible things since then. And yet here I am, 9 years later getting ready to attend seminary for four years on the road to becoming a pastor. God’s grace has brought me a long way on this journey, and I’m still waiting for His grace. I need His grace to make it through seminary, I need His grace to become ordained, and I need His grace for a church to call me.
God called Abram, saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2). Abram’s calling here follows a sacramental pattern. In the sacraments we are given both a command and a promise. In the Lord’s Supper, for example, Jesus commands us to eat His body and blood in the bread and wine, and with it promises the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). Similarly, God commanded Abram to “Go,” and with the command promised to make him into a great nation. We now know this command to be—in its ultimate fulfilment—the holy priesthood of all believers.
The promise first came in Exodus 19:6 when the Israelites—Abraham’s descendants—first arrived at Mount Sinai, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Peter shows us this is ultimately fulfilled by faith in Christ, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
So God kept His promise to Abraham not only by giving him his firstborn son, Isaac, but also making him into a great nation, like He had originally promised. Some time after Isaac had been born, God repeated His promise to Abraham, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17). God fulfilled His promise not only through the nation Israel, but ultimately through Jesus Christ by faith. Paul explains this, saying, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:6-8). What Paul is saying is the Jews became sons of Abraham not through Abraham himself, but through the promise that came through Isaac. In the same way, we become children of God according to the promise in Christ. With the millions to billions of Christians who will have lived throughout time, God indeed kept His promise to Abraham. Abraham waited on God’s grace—sometimes impatiently (recall Hagar)—and God’s grace showed up because He promised it.
So what’s my point? Trust in God’s promise, because God always shows up. On my journey in becoming a pastor, God has always shown up as I pursue this call even when I’ve been impatient and even when I haven’t done “pastorly” things. I truly believe God has called me to be a pastor, and I continue to wait on His grace throughout these next four years of study.
What is God’s promise to you? Think back to the beatitudes. You know, those awkward paradoxical statements? “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Strange and paradoxical. In what world are those who mourn blessed? As a child of God you find blessings in turmoil. When you mourn the loss of a loved one, you find comfort with friends and family, including your church family. I recently attended the memorial service of a friend who was far too young to die. Many of the people who showed up were from the church he attended, and we were all there to give his wife and kids comfort. Comfort not only comes in words, but especially in presence. Sometimes you don’t even need to say anything to comfort someone. I’ve done this on more than one occasion. In the midst of such bereavement, God blesses us by giving us people who know Him.
God has a habit of acting on His promises, and this is a habit worth praising Him for. All throughout Scripture we see God making an unconditional promise and acting on it, whether it’s months, years, or generations later. God has made certain promises for us today, such as the beatitudes. You can expect God to show up; He never forgets a promise. It might be a long time for us, but “with the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years as one dy. The Lord is not slow to fulfil His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8). This reminds me of Gandalf’s quote from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, “A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”
I doubt J.R.R. Tolkien intended it, but this is an image of our God. In the film, it was to show Frodo’s youthful impatience so the audience would know Frodo is still in his youthful ways (contrast this with his vast maturity and wisdom by the end of the trilogy). We are no different. Compared to God’s ageless eternity, we are eternally youthful. We always tend to think we know better than God. This is the greatest sin mankind has committed that led to the Fall of Man, and indeed is still practised today, especially among atheists. We tend to think we are smarter than the ancients because of our advancements in technology. It is this same thinking that leads us to think we know better than the apostles and even God Himself. But we don’t know any better. We never will. We can only know what God has revealed to us.
God did not give the specifics to Abraham when He called him to leave his country and countrymen. He just commanded him to go and called him to trust in His promise. In the end, that’s all we really can do—trust in God’s promise. We’re finite beings within the constraints of time; we know far little compared to our infinite God who is outside of time. God has called us to trust in His promises, and that’s all we really can do. It might seem scary at first because we tend to be afraid of the unknown. But God is not unknown. He is known in Jesus Christ (John 14:9) and we know He fulfills His promises, and Christ is that ultimate promise.