Developing Trust, Surrendering Fear
The Promises of God - Sermon 03 - Developing Trust, Surrendering Fear
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Jan 22, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
Introduction - The Promises of God
We are in part three of “The Promises of God” sermon series. I opened the series by introducing again and expanding on “the seed, soil, and harvest” metaphor I’ve been working through. I tied the metaphor to the idea that our lives are similar to the life-cycle of a seed before the harvest. Like a seed, we all have to shed our protective coat and be planted in nutrient rich soil, in order to come to life.
Jesus puts it this way in John 12:24-25
24Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24–25)
Our invitation to die to our sins and to ourself–what we might call our ego–is our way to join with God and break our solidarity with the powers that were unleashed when the first humans took what didn’t belong to them in the Garden. The ego is tied up in our desire to protect our selves, it’s our withdrawal from the whole, and it’s rooted in selfishness–it’s our way saying, “I can go it alone!” But precisely defining ego can be difficult because we tend to only recognize our ego via the emotions that it leaves behind; like our “anger at a loved one, our need to be right, the feelings of insecurity we experience in certain situations, the jealousy that we have that is unexplained, the need to impress someone, and the list goes on. It’s all of our emotional responses of fear, anger, lust, lying, cheating, and scheming that we participate in. This is what I mean when I say, “We have to die, we have break our solidarity with the powers.”
Since the powers of sin, death, and evil were unleashed, God has made a promise, “I will take care of the powers you unleashed, Then God asks a question, “Will you trust me as I lead you into life?”
When we inspect the promise, we discover a pattern that goes a little like this:
God makes a promise. The receiver has to decide to believe both the promise and Promise Giver. Then, there’s a period of waiting (often with some pain, suffering, and even a loss of reputation) before the receiver is able to see the promise fulfilled, followed by the receiver blessing God.
Let’s pick up right where we left off last week, in Genesis 14. You will remember that Abram had to rescue his nephew Lot, and after the battle, he met the King of Salem, Melchizedek, who blesses Abram.
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20)
I noted that this is likely the first time that Abram learns about who the Promise Giver is. This education is important and shouldn’t be quickly ignored. All that Abram knows until his encounter with Melchizedek, is there is a Promise Giver who is offering a promise. In one sense Abram has to take it on faith that the promise and the Promise Giver are real. So it’s striking that Abram is willing to tithe a tenth of everything he has, not just the spoils of war, to the priest of God, Melchizedek.
Abram, I’ve argued, learns from Melchizedek that the promiser giver is the creator of everything. Like Abram we are capable of both realizing and addressing God as the creator of everything, but are we willing to act in the same way that Abram did? Abram wasn’t able to give his offering directly to God, so he gave it God’s representative, the priest Melchizedek, which is also significant. See, I believe that Abram had an epiphany of just who this Promise Giver was, the Promise Giver was the creator God.
Abram had to make a decision, just we do, “Am I willing to die to everything I know to accept the promise and the Promise Giver?” Here we can see Abram’s response. His response is an act of worship because Abram realizes that everything that he has already belongs to the promiser giver, which unlocks a response of freedom within him. In this moment, Abram is willing to trust the Promise Giver. Abram in this moment believes that the Promise Giver will take care of him, which frees Abram to open his hands.
How do you find yourself this morning?
How open are your hands?
How’s your trust meter?
Certainty, Not Doubt is Opposite of Faith
As you read Genesis 12-25 and watch the story of Abram unfold within its chapters, you can see that most of Abram’s interactions with God are about Abram’s education, which leads Abram to develop faith and trust in his relationship with God.
The author of Hebrews defines faith as
11Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for. 3By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:1-3)
In one sense you see that Abram’s belief in the promise is centered in his hope that the Promise Giver is able to come through with what he promised. At this point in the story Abram doesn’t have anything tangible, just the promise. So this puts Abram in a posture of waiting. This waiting threatens his developing trust, it challenges his faith.
A friend of mine noted that in Spanish “to hope” and “to wait” are the same word, which he argued makes sense, “since you can't hope for something that's already happened, so therefore ontologically you find yourself waiting.” In English we’ve separated those two concepts into different words, which puts us at a disadvantage.
Abram’s initial response to the promise is centered in his ambition, you’ll remember that Abram doesn’t ask the Promise Giver any questions, he just immediately heads to the promised land because he desire is to be great. He arrived in the land and from Abram’s point of view, the promised land wasn’t ready for him. You could argue that Abram didn’t have faith and he didn’t trust that God would transform the land, so he took matters into his own hands. After his plans fail, he finds himself back in the promised land, still without an heir.
As Abram waits, he has to make a decision, just as we do, “Am I willing to die to everything I know to accept the promise and the Promise Giver?”
A friend of mine recently retweeted something that caught my attention,
“When God makes a PROMISE, I can count on the PAYOUT... But the PROCESS of waiting for it is the POINT of what God wants to accomplish in me.”
I tweeted back at this friend and asked, “Why do you think God wants you to wait?”
The idea that God requires us to wait on the promise struck an errant chord within me. I felt like it was pointed in the wrong direction, like God wants to bless you, but you aren’t ready to receive the blessing yet because you aren’t desperate enough, or broken enough, or needy enough. This harkens back to my frustration with the picture of “The Angry God” that many of us have inherited from our authoritative interpreters. This idea that God really wants to bless us but he’s going to withhold until you learn some lesson. Then you spend all of your time trying to figure out the lesson that you sorta give up on God. How does that accomplish anything?
When I look in scripture, I see God saying something different, I see God saying come to me, rest in me, trust me, let me do what I want to accomplish in you. Basically, he invites us to surrender. Here’s just one example, which you should never build a theology on just one scripture, but here it is anyway. After David has his affair with Bathsheba and murders her husband to cover it up, the Lord sends the prophet Samuel to him to deliver the word of the Lord, it’s found in 2 Samuel 12:8-9:
8I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? (2 Samuel 12:8–9)
What if we have to wait because we refuse to surrender?
What we have to wait because we refuse to let our egos die?
What if our waiting is just the time it takes us to move towards God instead of remaining fixated on ourselves?
What if our waiting is the time it takes to give up our expectations, to set aside our rights, and surrender our demands?
What if our waiting is the time it takes for us develop our ability to trust?
Is the waiting useless then, of course not!
I believe that God can use our waiting for redemptive purposes. While we wait, it can give us time to inspect our true motivations, we can build and develop patience, we can see our character transformed, and finally during our waiting many of us can develop a more intimate relationship with God as we become more dependent on him. But I really don’t believe that God requires it, God can certainly use it, but I don’t think God needs it.
This bring us to this exchange between Abram and God found in Genesis 15:1.
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
God opens with a phrase that will be repeated over and over again in scripture:
Do not be afraid. Fear threatens our ability to trust. Fear threatens our ability to have faith.
Why has fear cropped up in Abram? He just won a decisive battle. He just had this powerful encounter with God through the priest Melchizedek. So why is Abram afraid? Why is God reassuring him? Maybe it has to do with Abram’s fears and doubt. Maybe it’s also his ego at work.
If you’ve ever been told that doubt threatens your faith, you may want to disregard that message. Our doubts aren’t the problem, you remember doubting Thomas right, we know his story because of his doubts. It’s our desire for certainty that’s the problem. This again goes back to the ego, it’s all about me and what I want. I want to be reassured. I want to be comfortable, and certainty provides that, faith, not so much.
Abram is afraid that God won’t fulfill his promise. He wants an heir. If Abram had lost that battle to rescue Lot that would have been the end of the story–no fulfillment of the promise. So Abram’s getting antsy, he really wants to make sure that God comes through with an heir. He wants what he was promised, he wants to become a great nation. He’s so afraid that God won’t do what he promised that Abram is again taking matters into his own hands by coming up with his way to fulfill the promise of God. My servant will be heir, Abram says.
2But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:2–3)
The Lord replies to Abram by making another promise, your heir will be your own son, from your own body.
4Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4)
Abram’s effectively asking God, “How are you going to bring life from death? Sarai, my wife, is barren, so she can’t produce an heir for me, so Promise Giver, what’s the plan?How are you going to do what you said you would?”
God answers by making another promise, your offspring will be like the stars in the sky, count them if you can.
5He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be. (Genesis 15:5)
We can imagine that it would have been simple for God to demonstrate his power and authority to accomplish what he promised, but that’s not what we see in this exchange, instead, what God does is extend the promise. This isn’t what I would expect God to do here. I think Abram is surprised too, so decides to believe the Lord.
6Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
We develop our trust in God by accepting that what he says is true.
We develop our trust in God by having faith in God’s ability to come through.
We develop our trust in God by believing that God is competent.
We develop our trust in God through the testimony of others.
Let’s stop here.
Let’s practice spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God by trying to experience every moment as a gift of God. As we increase our awareness of God in our everyday, this allows us to become aligned with God.
This week, try using fixed hour prayers to alert you to God’s presence with you.
A brief case for The Divine Hours and how it may help with daily prayer:
1. It is a manual for prayer. A manual! Something that shows you how to do the thing you want to do, step by step. 2. It makes use of the Psalms in manageable portions. 3. It employs some dynamite prayers. Like the Lord’s Prayer. 4. There is an artist’s hand in selecting and combining readings, refrains, and prayers. The payoff, when you get into the rhythm of this thing, God talks to you through these psalms and refrains and readings, like he’s just been waiting to get a word in edgewise, and now that you’re giving him half a chance, he’s got some things to say.