We are in the middle of a series called “God-Size Faith.” And this series is a God given gift with perfect timing because it fits very well with the crossroads and decisions that needs to be made in our church about our denomination. But it’s not a decision for us to make alone. It’s a discernment, which is a leading and a call from God. And to discern and to follow is going to require faith on our part. In fact, it’s going to require a God-Size Faith.
A God-size faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). A God-Size Faith is displayed when we step out in trust and obedience before the miracle even takes place. The Bible is full of examples of men and women who stepped out before the miracle happened or before they even knew what the miracle would be. And they did these incredible things, not because of the strength they had in and of themselves, but because of their great faith in God.
The first week of this series, we discovered that we often have to take the first step in faith in order to see God do amazing things within our lives. Last week, we were challenged to take your eyes off of your circumstances and place them on Jesus Christ. Today, we’re going to explore what it means to faithfully follow God when He leads us to go, whether He tells us exactly where that is or not.
My oldest son, Josh and I some time ago, got into hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail and staying on the trail overnight. Our first overnight hike was with one other person for three nights, four days. The three of us started out a little later in the day than we wanted, but we studied the map, felt like we knew where we were going, we were well rested and could go a little faster, so we decided we’d be fine. A few hours in, it started to get dark (Note: in the woods, it gets dark earlier than elsewhere by like 15-20 minutes at least depending on how dense the woods are). According to our map, there was a shelter not too far ahead that we could stay at for the night, so that became our goal. As it got dark, it got harder to tell how far we were going. We were new to hiking long distances and really didn’t know how far we could go in an hour or half hour.
So I, being the one in charge of the map, pulled it out and with my flashlight kept checking it and checking it. I wondered if I was reading it wrong? Was the map wrong? Was there really a shelter up ahead? Maybe it was at one time, but now it’s gone. Trails change all the time and I bought the latest edition, but a map is only as good as its latest update. So we thought, what choice do we have than to keep going and trust the map.
It was difficult to trust a tool even though that’s exactly what it was meant for. I kept wanting to second guess it, but sure enough, after a bit of stressing, we eventually arrived safely at the shelter, made dinner for the first time on the trail in the dark and got some sleep. The lesson learned that night, other than to leave on time, was that sometimes you have to put your faith in something more reliable than yourself in order to get where you want to go.
Isn’t that just like life? Many of us have found ourselves in situations and circumstances outside of our control and were unsure of what to do next. And it’s in those times that we must rely on God as our map to make it to the place He longs for us to be. To do this requires faith, although you should know, He has a plan.
POINT #1 – God Has A Plan For Your Life.
There is story after story within the Scriptures of God leading and guiding His people to new places and new tasks. And it’s always because God has a specific intention for those individual’s lives. God made them on purpose and for a purpose. The truth is that God has done the same with you. You were not created by accident (even if your parents thought it was an accident). God made you with a plan in mind.
The beginning of the Bible tells the story of a world that was created good and perfect, but was eventually stained by sin. At that point, all of creation spiraled out of control, and the author of the book, by chapter 11, wants the reader to ask the question: Will God do anything to make things right once again and restore His beloved creation? The answer to this question comes in chapter 12 through a man named Abram (later named Abraham).
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
God spoke to Abram about the plan He had for his life. God intended to use Abram and his family to bless the entire earth if Abram was willing to follow God’s lead. God was going to make Abram a great nation. He was going to make Abram’s name great. He was going to bless him. Why? For Abram’s sake alone? No. For the sake of a broken creation. So, no pressure, but he was being invited into a grand story that would change everything. Should he choose to accept it.
Notice that the stakes are high. Abram would have to leave his country, his people, and his father’s household. It was going to cost him something. And it wouldn’t be easy. And on top of that, he had no idea where he was going. God left that part out.
Why? Because following God is an act of faith. We don’t need to exercise trust if we know how the story ends. We don’t need to have faith if we can do it on our own.
For everyone who is here today: God has a plan for your life, but that plan may not be clear to you. God may have not told you all the details.
I think about Lexie, the missionary in training that we have been supporting. God gave her a list of the things she needed to do in order to prepare, He changed it more than once, and took her already to places that were out of her norm, stretched her faith and trust and then when she thinks she’s got it all figured out, when she’s leaving for the mission, He changes that again too. If she’s anything like me, a planner, that there can stress you out alone. But it’s a test of faith and trust and obedience.
Then I think of Bob and Dolor, missionaries in the Philippines. They were there for over 30 years building God’s kingdom. All comes to a holt, they come back to America, and poor Bob just can’t handle it. It knows his calling, he felt his heart stirred and unrested. So he discerns and discovers, God wants him back in the Philippines for the very same vision that God gave him over 30 years ago. They are heading out next week!
See, you may not always be able to see God’s plan, but He knows it perfectly.
What’s God calling you to do? Is it something new, scary, big, hard? Maybe God is leading you to serve your church or community in an amazing way. Maybe God wants you to take some kind of risk for Him. Either way, it is highly likely that if you were to be obedient to God’s leading, you may be a blessing to someone or some place that you cannot see right now.
Are you willing to answer the call, even if you are unsure of where it might lead? Because let me reassure you….
POINT #2 – God Is Always Speaking. Are You Listening?
In order to live a life of faith like Abram did, we have to train ourselves to hear the voice of God. But what does He sound like? How do I know if He is speaking to me?
Throughout the Bible, God uses any means necessary to communicate to His people. He used a burning bush to speak to Moses about His plan to rescue His people. He used a donkey to speak to Absalom (ab·suh·luhm). One story of God speaking that I think gives us a way of hearing God’s voice is about a man named Elijah.
Elijah was an Old Testament prophet of God and was used by God to do amazing things. At one point in his life, he had a showdown with a group of prophets of a false god named Baal. Elijah called down fire in a dramatic show of God’s power and the prophets were consumed by the blaze. Though he was a hero, he fled to the wilderness to escape the vengeance of an evil queen named Jezebel. It is there, in the wilderness, that Elijah heard from God in a way that teaches us how to hear God’s voice and live with inspired faith.
1 Kings 19:11-13
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
It’s interesting that it is not until after all the loud and flashy things have passed that God finally speaks and comforts Elijah with His words. But rather than them coming in the wind, earthquake, or fire, the words of God come in a still, quiet, gentle voice.
Writer Charles Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days. He got nervous and tense about it. “I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions throughout the day,” he recalled in his book Stress Fractures. “Before long, things around our home started reflecting the patter of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable.”
“I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day. She began hurriedly, ‘Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin’ and I’ll tell you really fast.’ Suddenly, realizing her frustration, I answered, ‘Honey, you can tell me—and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.’ I’ll never forget her answer: ‘Then listen slowly.’” (Bits & Pieces, June 24, 1993, pp. 13-14)
Like Charles Swindoll, we live in a world that is always listening to the loudest and most emotional voice. We are consumed by it through television, internet, and social media. But what if we are so busy and overstimulated that we are missing the still small voice of God all around us?
I believe that in order to have faith to follow, we must retreat to places of silence and solitude and listen slowly in order to hear God’s leading. This may mean you have to clear your schedule. You may have to say “no” to things, even good things. You may have to make intentional space for prayer and contemplation. This is contrary to the American way of life. But to live the life of faith is to live with our ears tuned to the voice of God. Then we have to…
POINT #3 – Be Willing To Go.
Back to Abram. After God gave Abram instructions to leave and follow, even though the destination was undefined, it is worth noting that Abram did go. He was obedient to God’s lead, and he became the father of the nation of Israel!
4 So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. 5 He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.
7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
Who are those descendants? We read about them two weeks ago, when Joshua lead them across the Jordan River into the Promise Land, about 800 years later.
It is one thing to hear God’s plan, but it is another thing altogether to step out in faith and go where He leads. God chose a man named Abraham to bring about His plan of rescue for all of creation. In order for that plan to take effect, Abraham had to be willing to follow God. And to follow God, many times, will mean to take steps of faith without actually knowing the ultimate destination.
There are countless people who have been transformed because someone was willing to listen and follow God. There are stories of whole communities that have been impacted by a single person who took God seriously when He called.
In the 1800’s, there was a great missionary named Hudson Taylor who founded the China Inland Mission that’s still around today. He was known for his great faith and risks taking. He said this: “Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits (our deeds or acts) for God, there is no need for faith.”
God wants to reveal to you His plan so that you might join Him in making all things right once again. May we accept the invitation from God to take a risk for the sake of the Gospel. Because it is an honor to be a part of His work in the world.
Pray for God to lead you to the place He wants you to be, then listen intently for the still, small voice of the Father, and muster the courage and obedience to follow Him wherever He leads, even into the unknown.