Abraham is a perfect example of someone who learned to relate to God by faith, and everyone who sets out on a faith venture follows in his footsteps. Abraham's venture falls into four phases. The first is a call from God.
I. Called to separation
The Lord initiates every spiritual faith venture, and that venture begins with a divine call to separation. God called Abraham to separate from his former way of life. Genesis 12:1 says, "Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you'" (RSV). The author of Leviticus wrote, "You shall be holy to me; for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine" (Lev. 20:26).
Spiritual decisions cannot be based on location, nationality, tradition, or economic considerations. They are to be based only on God's call.
One afternoon, a supervisor in the boiler room of Southern Seminary casually gave some excellent advice to ministerial students. Members of the student maintenance crew were discussing after-graduation plans. Most wanted to return home for ministry. "Men," he said, "you can never go forward looking backward." God calls us to new life and a new way of life. He called Abraham to "the land that I will show you." This call involved a different way of life. To complicate the decision, Abraham couldn't see where he was going until he left the place where he was living. This always is true of faith ventures.
II. Called to service
God calls us to service. The Lord said to Abraham, "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great" (Gen 12:2-3).
Like Abraham's descendants, we tend to hear the words "great" and "great name" but have difficulty understanding God's concept of greatness. Our concept is position, prosperity.
Jesus' disciples argued over which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom. He said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant . . . even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve" (Matt. 20:25-26, 28).
God did not call Abraham because he was great; God called him because He was going to make him great. Paul recognized this process in his life. He wrote, "I was made a minister [servant] according to the gift of God's grace" (Eph. 3:7; see also Col. 1:25).
We are called to be servants of others for Christ's sake.
III. Called to security
God calls us to separation, service, and security. God promised to take care of Abraham. He declared, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse" (Gen. 12:3).
Abraham may have assumed that God's call meant his life would be easy. It wasn't. Security is not tranquility and ease; it is stability in the midst of life's storms. A long series of events in Abraham's life clearly demonstrates that God's protection does not shield us from all of life's harsh realities.
When Abraham reached the promised land, he discovered that it was populated by a large number of tribes and plagued by famine. Famine drove him to Egypt where, because of his and Sarah's fear for his life, they agreed to be dishonest about their relationship. They agreed to tell anyone who might be interested in Sarah that she was his sister. That was true. She was his half sister, but she also was his wife. They told the truth, but only a half truth, which always is a lie. The lie was discovered, and Abraham was forced to leave the country.
Sarah, and perhaps Abraham, grew weary waiting on God to fulfill His promise of a child. Therefore, Abraham fathered a son, Ishmael, by Hagar, Sarah's maid. Finally, when Abraham was 100, Isaac was born to Sarah. Conflict erupted between Sarah and Hagar over the children. Hagar and Ishmael were dismissed from the family, even though it distressed Abraham (Gen. 21:11). Later God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, which he was willing to do (Gen. 22:2). At last Abraham watched his beloved Sarah die (Gen. 32:2).
Does that sound like God might not have been watching over Abraham? He was - every step of the way. Through every problem, God proved faithful and kept Abraham safe. God never let Abraham go, even for a moment.
God delivered Abraham from Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt. Abraham was victorious in a battle with four kings from the East, who had defeated and looted the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God brought Abraham through a crisis with the Philistine king Abimelech. In time, Abraham became the wealthiest man in the land. God blessed him with a son in his old age and made of him a great nation.
God does not call us to a life of luxury and ease. He calls us to separation, service, and security in a trouble filled world. Jesus promises us: "I will be with you always" (Matt. 28:20). The question is, Will you say yes to God's call in your life?