The Late Bloomer
Scripture - Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram & said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Walk with me & be trustworthy.”
Have you ever wondered what God meant when he commanded Abram to be trustworthy before
him? The King James Version says be perfect & some of the modern translations still render it that way. Others translate the Hebrew as be blameless. Regardless of the translation, what did it mean for Abram? More importantly, what does it mean for us?
Understanding the original Hebrew word – tamim – can help shed light on that. The root word it comes from is used over 200 times in the Old Testament. And it is translated in a number of different ways such as complete, full, sincere, sound, undefiled, upright, whole, unblemished, & perfect.
So, what God seems to be saying is this: “Abram, I want you to be fully, completely, entirely, wholly devoted to me. I want you to be wholehearted in your love for me.”
Wholeheartedness. I think that is the idea that captures it best. Being wholehearted in our relationship with God, as opposed to being half-hearted. The Psalmist prays: Give me an undivided heart, that I might fear your name. That is what God is after in Abram – an undivided heart, a heart that is wholly devoted to him. Of course, this is what God desires for every believer. This is, in fact, the great commandment – to love God with all your heart & soul & mind & strength.
Isn’t that really the essence of holiness? Loving God with all your heart? John Wesley certainly thought so. In his booklet A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, you will notice that he says this again & again. “Scriptural perfection is pure love filling the heart,” he wrote, “& governing all the words & actions.”
But how do we come to a place where we love God wholeheartedly? Abram’s own life journey can help us answer that question. Through a series of events in his life, he was brought to a place of wholeheartedness in his relationship with God.
Notice that Genesis 17:1 says walk with me & be trustworthy. The idea of walking with God in Scripture implies a relationship with God that is dynamic, ongoing, & continuous – like being on a trip with someone. It was as he walked with God & before God in the journey of life that Abram was confronted with the issues that were preventing him from wholehearted love for God.
There was one thing in particular that God had to get Abram to come to terms with. I believe there are issues every Christian will have to confront sometime in his or her spiritual journey.
Abram had to be brought to a place where he was not willing to settle for ‘second best’ in his relationship with God. You see, 14 years before God called Abram to walk with him & be trustworthy, Abram & his wife Sarai had done something that they should not have.
Ever since Abram had set out on his adventure of faith, God kept promising him that he would be a father of a great nation. But after 10 years of promises with no pregnancy, Abram & Sarai finally decided to take matters into their own hands.
“Let’s get real, Abram,” Sarai said to him one day. “I’m 74 years old. There is no way I will ever get pregnant. Take my slave girl, Hagar. Sleep with her. God must want to fulfill his promise to you through her.”
Now there was nothing immoral about Sarai’s suggestion. It was not an indecent proposal. In fact, for childless couples back then, it was a culturally acceptable thing to do. So that is what they did.
And it produced results. Abram slept with Hagar, she conceived, & 9 months later Ishmael was born. Abram finally had a son & an heir of his own flesh & blood.
That was 13 years ago. Now Ishmael is a teenager. He has had his growth spurt. He is becoming a handsome young man. Abram & Sarai are happy & contented. Over the years, they have developed a deep, enduring affection for this boy. But now God comes to Abram & says walk with me & be trustworthy. And then God reminds Abram of his promise: I will give you many, many descendants. As for your wife Sarai… I will give you a son from her. Kings of peoples will come from her.
Yet when Abram hears this, how does he react? Does he jump for joy? Does he shout, “Yes! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! You are finally going to answer our prayers.” Nope. Not at all. Instead, he pleads with God: If only you would accept Ishmael!
Do you see what is going on? God says to Abram – now renamed Abraham – “I’m going to give you Isaac now. The child of promise. My best for you.” And Abraham’s response is, “What’s wrong with Ishmael? We do not need another child. Why can’t you bless Ishmael? Let him be the heir of the covenant.”
Have you ever done that in your relationship with God? Pushed for an Ishmael when he wanted to give you an Isaac? Have you ever been happy with God’s permissive will rather than his perfect will for your life?
There are lots of ways we might do that. Sometimes we do it in a similar way to what Abraham & Sarah did. We do it when we try to accomplish God’s will & God’s purposes in our own way, in our own strength, & in our own time instead of in God’s way, in God’s strength, & in God’s time.
That is essentially what Abraham & Sarah did. Paul writes in Galatians: The son by the slave woman was conceived the normal way, but the son by the free woman was conceived through a promise. In other words, they took things into their own hands. They said, “We will do God’s will, but we will do it our way.”
Do you ever find yourself saying the same thing? It is not that you want to be disobedient to God’s will. You just want to do God’s will your way & on your terms. And you want God to bless what you are doing.
To get Abraham to the place of wholeheartedness in his love, God had to get him to the place where he will not settle for Ishmael instead of Isaac. And even though God will one day redeem the mistake Abraham & Sarah made, bringing good out of the situation by blessing Ishmael, still there is a difficult day, several years after Isaac is born, when God says, “Get rid of Hagar & Ishmael. Kiss them goodbye. The inheritance belongs to Isaac.” And so early one morning, Abraham reluctantly but firmly sends them away.
Maybe God has brought you to a place like that too; a place where he is calling you to turn away from some Ishmael in your life, some second best, so that you inherit Isaac, the child of promise, God’s absolute best for your life.
That is what the Lord desires. God says to us, walk with me & be trustworthy. God desires you to say, with as much resolve as you can, “Yes, Lord, I will. Whatever that means – letting go of the second bests – I choose to walk with you. Make me wholehearted in my love for you.”
You may say, “I want to do that, but frankly I don’t know if I can keep that commitment.” Well, I have good news for you! I know you can’t! But I know someone who can.
I am El Shaddai. Walk with me & be trustworthy. This command to Abraham comes with the revelation of a new name of God. El Shaddai – the first time it is found in Scripture. It is associated with the almighty power of God.
God is saying to Abraham & to us, “It is because of who I am – the Lord strong & mighty – that I give you this command. It is because of my enabling power that you can walk before me & be trustworthy. You see, I will put my very own Spirit within you & cause you to walk in my ways.”
In response to your commitment, your surrendered will, God will work a sovereign act of grace. He will set your life on a trajectory, on a path, a highway of holiness, where because he is working in you, you can walk with him & be perfect.
The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians that he prayed that God would sanctify them wholly. He wrote: The one who is calling you is faithful & will do this.
That is what God is also saying to you. “I am calling you. I am El Shaddai. As you open your heart to me, I will do this!”
Let us pray. In the midst of our everyday lives, you come to us with ancient truths, God, reminding us of who we are & whose we are. You have called us & claimed us; we will not shut out the lessons you teach. Renew your covenant with us this day, that our lives may shine with the light of your covenant, & our souls may reflect the light of your love. Amen.