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.

Take Care Lest You Forget

“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you–with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant–and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Deuteronomy 6:10-12 (ESV)

Before the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land, they paused.  Moses had one last set of instructions to give them.

This would have driven me crazy. When I am poised to enter a promised opportunity or path the Lord has shown me, I don’t generally want to wait around.  I want to rush in the minute I am aware that the Lord is beginning to move me in that direction, full of my own expectations of what is ahead, not bothering to be still, wait and listen to His instruction.

Which is precisely why I have been disappointed so many times that I now cringe whenever the word “promise” comes up.  Not that He is unfaithful to His word.  But I run out the door before He has even finished His sentence, thinking I know what He has in store because I caught a few words, confident that my overactive imagination can supply the rest of the plan.

But it’s all in the details with God.  It’s the ONE thing He puts in front of us, the ONE person He asks us to minister to, the ONE attitude He asks us to change.  It’s never everything at once.  We never see the big picture right away.  And His way never involves fudging the corners, putting a shiny cover on it and shrugging it off by saying it’s “close enough for jazz.”

In Genesis 4:3-5, Cain’s sacrifice was not acceptable.  It looked like a nice sacrifice, but his heart was not in the right place when he put it together, so God was not pleased with it.

In Leviticus 10:1-2, Aaron’s eldest two sons were burnt up with holy fire because they got creative on their first day on the job in the Tabernacle and decided to offer incense in a way not specified by God.

In 1 Samuel 2:6-7, Uzzah was killed because he reached out his hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant; they had missed the detail where you don’t load the Ark on a cart.

So why do I think I can skip the details, or add my own expectations, or assume there’s nothing more to it than what my eye can see?  Why do I think I don’t need to seek Him for further instructions once the first clear word is spoken?

To make matters worse, those vital last instructions are usually nothing like what I’m expecting.

And so it was with the Israelites.  You would think the instructions would simply be not to fear, to fight well against the giants, to build a temple once they got there — some tip about the winning the impending battles, at the very least. And those things were covered, eventually, but Moses’ first instruction in this address, after He covered loving the LORD first, and after reminding them to teach this to their children, was that they needed to be careful not to forget where they came from and Who it was that rescued them from it.

Because the LORD knows us, and He knows that a little prosperity can instantly go to our heads, and that we very quickly fall into an attitude of entitlement.  So before it even started, He wanted to make sure they understood the dangers inherent in the blessing.  He wanted to make sure that they remembered that they didn’t plant those vineyards and dig those wells and build those cities, because the minute they started to take credit where credit wasn’t due, they would think they could turn their eyes from Him and worship more convenient, portable gods.  The cool gods that “everyone else” was worshiping.

When poised on the brink of something new, I’m so concerned about whether my expectations are going to be met.  I’m so sensitive about my agenda not being considered, about being disappointed again (conveniently forgetting that I made those expectations up out of whole cloth in the first place). Rather than trying not to disappoint me, however, the LORD is far more concerned that I not spoil the blessing He has prepared for me.  He is far more concerned that I remember His mighty works, that I remember that he has defeated my enemies and moved them aside and that there but for the grace of God go I. Because like the Israelites, if I lose hold of gratitude, if I forget that I got where I am because of His hand and that I can claim little more than somewhat nearsighted and reluctant obedience as my contribution to the situation, I will get my eyes off Him and start to look for the short-term thrill, the enticing quick fix, the controllable pleasure.

There are giants in the land, yes.  But the ones with which I need to concern myself the most are the ones inside my own foolish heart.