Promises and Plans

Just when we think we understand God’s plan for our lives, He sometimes takes us the opposite way than we would expect.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Gen. 22:8 (NIV)

“Now there was a famine in the land… The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.” Gen. 26:1-2 (NIV)

The Lord had promised an heir to Abraham and had miraculously brought it to pass.  But He made it clear that even though Isaac was a key figure in His plan, and even though he was the long-awaited fulfillment of a promise, it still was not all about Isaac. Flying in the face of logic, which would dictate that the precious promised one should be protected at all costs, the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice him. When Abraham, in faith, went through the steps of doing so, right up to the last second, the Lord stopped him and reiterated His promise to bless the world through his offspring.

Fast-forward to the time when Isaac was an adult, married with children — the seed of the promise and the carrying out of God’s plan. Once again, logic would dictate protecting them and providing for them in whatever way was practical.  But when famine came to the land, the Lord instructed Isaac not to take the prudent course of taking refuge in Egypt, but to stay in the land where He had told them to live. When Isaac obeyed, He again reiterated the promise of blessing through the offspring.

Abraham and Isaac both seemed to understand an important concept here — it was important to keep listening to the Lord even after He had delivered on His promise, and even after He had set His plan in motion. When He promises us something, and especially when that promise or that plan involves a period of waiting, our faith can be built by the process as we learn to trust Him.  However, if the focus of that faith shifts off the Lord and onto the promise, or the plan, then we can be in danger of going astray after its completion.

This is usually right at the point where we think we are “safe.” The long-awaited answer to prayer is delivered, or the wheels finally begin to turn on the new ministry or venture, and things appear to be just as they should be. This is not the time to get complacent, though. Just as Abraham needed to understand that he could not hold on to the son for which he waited such a long time, and just as Isaac needed to understand that his safety lay in obedience to the Lord and not necessarily in what he thought was the best course of action, we need to understand that the important thing in our lives is our relationship to the Lord, not the circumstances we have so longed for.

It’s never about the promise or the plan; it’s always about the Promiser and the Planner.

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Broad Places

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Genesis 26:19-22 gives the account of Isaac’s herdsmen quarreling with the Philistines over some wells he had dug. He named those wells “Esek,” or “Dispute,” and “Sitnah,” or “Opposition.”  When he finally dug a well that they didn’t quarrel over, he named it “Rehoboth.”  One might logically suppose that this name means something like “peace,” but it doesn’t.  It means “room.”  After he named it, he said, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”

This brings to mind two thoughts — one is that sometimes you move on from battles instead of trying to win them.  It’s better for everyone that way, even though you may be giving up some of your “rights” in doing so.

The other is that open spaces seem to be symbolic of blessing and prosperity in Scripture.  Why is this?  Why does Jabez, in 1 Chron. 4:10, ask for his boundaries to be enlarged?  Why do Psalm 18:19 and 31:8 and Job 36:6 use the image of “broad” places to symbolize rescue, deliverance and prosperity?

According to Isaac, when we have room, we can prosper.  The point to him in digging the well wasn’t that he had outwitted his opponents.  It was that he had room to flourish.  Herds need room — more room than just what they can stand in.  They need to move around.  Apparently, so do we.

Which brought me to the conclusion that when we hem ourselves in with self-inflicted boundaries, we prevent our own growth. Narrow thinking, disbelief, strongholds of misunderstanding, ignorance or offense, unforgiveness, pride and stubbornness, instead of being the walls that protect us from harm, become the straight-jacket that keeps us mired in our misery. We become our own opposing herdsmen, fighting with ourselves over things from our past that simply need to be acknowledged, named and then left behind. We need to move forward into wide open spaces.

When we leave behind the contention we can open our hearts and minds to the possibility that God’s view of our lives is much farther reaching than we can imagine. We see that He wants only our good, only to bless us and to allow us to participate in the work He is doing.  We see that He has prepared good works in advance for us to do and that those works might very well lie in an area into which we have never ventured before.  When we live in the freedom of trusting Him to protect us, to deal with our past, to handle the things over which we have no control, then we start to see how much room we have to move.  Then He can truly prosper us.  Then He causes His life to spring up within us and flow out of us.  And then we understand the value of accepting his daily bread, His “now-blessing,” rather than reaching for something that may not be His plan for us and may not be worth fighting over in the first place.

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:19