Wednesday, 2 October 2013
Is That Promise for Me?
I came across a promise in my Bible the other day. It wasn’t addressed to me, but is it still good news? Am I supposed to “claim” it? Or just add it to my cache of Bible trivia.
It all depends on which story I’m living in. You and I are always putting ourselves into stories. It was cute when we were kids. Batman might need to straighten out his pants before he chases the Joker. And Robin should probably take her thumb out of her mouth before she slides down the Bat Pole. But that’s not going to stop them from playing Caped Crusader all over the neighborhood.
Movies do that. They imbed themselves in our imaginations whether we’re kids or adults. Except once we’re grown, we no longer try to dress the part unless we’re headed to a party or a convention. If we do take our costume seriously, we’re no longer cute, we’re scary. Delusional. “Haha! Um…you don’t really think you’re Batman, do you?” Backing. Away. Slowly.
So what am I to do with promises in the Bible that aren’t addressed to me? Is it naive to count on them? Worse, is it delusional?
God Enters Abram’s Story…
The promise I read was in Genesis 12:1-3 and was made to a man named Abram. If I back up a paragraph, I get the back story. I see a man whose life has reached a dead end.
It didn’t start that way. The oldest of three boys, he would have been his father’s heir. Reading ahead I see he married a gorgeous girl, a real head turner, ten years younger than he. He was probably the envy of his friends. Now all he needed was children. Having a child wasn’t just a personal blessing, it was your future. Children would guarantee that you would be cared for in old age, and even more, that your name would live on through them. No children, no name. Your family line would stop with you. This was Abram’s private tragedy. At age 75 he was as good as dead.
Then God speaks to Abram. He enters Abram’s life story and changes it. He knows Abram’s private heartache. He knows Abram’s public shame. He enters Abram’s dead end life to bring him out of it and into something bigger.
…To Bring Abram into His Story
God first asks Abram to “go.” It’s extreme but necessary, because Abram must leave his old life to enter his new one. It’s not only a command, it’s also an invitation. “Go from” is what will enable him to “come to.”
Then God begins to pile on promises. These aren’t just incentives for obedience (if you clean up your room, I’ll give you a snack), these are personal assurances. “I will” is the key word. “I” means it’s personal, from the person of God to the person of Abram. “Will” means it’s certain. Future, but certain, because God’s will is always done. He says, “I will…
- show you the land”
- make of you a great nation”
- bless you and make your name great”
- bless those who bless you”
- curse those who curse you”
- bless all the families of the earth through you”
You may be familiar with these promises and know how they play out in the rest of the Bible. But take a minute to hear them like Abram might have heard them. God is speaking hope into Abram’s story: his property, his descendents, his name, his reputation, his family will be given. And blessed. This word answers Abram’s deepest hopes and most private fears.
But God doesn’t stop there. He enters Abram’s story to bring Abram into his story. The promises far exceed the private prayer list of this one man. In fact they are incomprehensible as mere privatized promise. They explode the limits of his 75 year old imagination. They point to not just to descendents, but to the Descendent, Jesus. They point not just to turf in the Middle East, but to “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
So Abram went. He believed the promise.
This Good News Sneaks Up On Me
God does the same thing with you and me. He enters our story, hearing our heartache, seeing our shame, knowing our secret sins and deepest hopes. He enters our story to bring us into his much bigger story, the story of Abram who received the promises. The story of Jesus who fulfills these promises.
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying,
‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’
So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9
When I believe in Christ, I get to bring my story into his story. I don’t have to dress up like Abram or wear a Jesus mask to play my part. I play myself, but now I take up his promises as my lines in the play. I “claim” them by
- believing them,
- acting on them,
- speaking them to myself on dark days,
- praying them,
- arguing them back to God.
I begin to search the Scriptures, not for Bible trivia, but to understand these precious and magnificent promises which go far beyond my wildest dreams.