Was it simply that Abraham was looking forward to a different city, or was it something even more? Although Abraham finally arrived in Canaan, he never treated the land of his inheritance as if the property itself was the consummation of God's purposes regarding his life. In that way, Abraham never fully "arrived" in the promise of God but was continuously moving forward. He cherished his relationship with God much more than he did the Promised Land--a relationship that was active and valid whether Abraham was in Haran, Canaan, or Egypt. Since he did not own any land, nor had he personally received it as an inheritance, Abraham lived as a tent-dwelling nomad, moving from place to place. To Abraham the promise of God was as substantial as the realization; that is, God's word to him was the same as actually possessing what God had promised. Abraham was content in knowing that his children would grow into a powerful nation, and his faith in God enabled him to live in a land not his own as if he owned it already. Gen. 23:6 says that the landowners around Abraham saw him as "a mighty prince among us." In a land he owned no part of, except for the little field of Machpelah that he bought as a burial place for Sarah, he commanded the respect of the native people. Although he lived as a sojourner in the land promised to him but never possessed by him, he did not seem to grow impatient with the whole ordeal.
But how could he not grow impatient, is the question that has haunted me.
We live in a society that gets impatient if it takes too long for the coffee to brew in the morning, much less waiting four hundred years for escrow to close on our new house! Abraham went to Canaan possessing nothing but faith. He didn't know where he was going, didn't have a house when he arrived, didn't own any land to build upon, and didn't know anybody who lived there. He had no job, no prospects, no forwarding address, no inheritance, and of course no children to give the inheritance to even if he had it. With all that going for him, Abraham "when called . . . obeyed and went" (Heb. 11:8), because faith is being "certain of what we do not see" (v. 1). Apparently he didn't even give it much thought. The phrase "when called" indicated a quick response. In other words, while the call of God was still ringing in his ears, Abraham was packing his bags and moving west.
When was the last time we obeyed the word of God while the sound of His instructions was still in our ears?
I've grown accustomed to telling God what I think He really meant to say, hoping that He would understand my viewpoint and change His instructions to match the level of faith where I feel comfortable. By the time I get through arguing a point with God, I sometimes forget what the original instructions were, and then of course must start all over again. Too often Christians are guilty of giving obedient lip service to God, but when it comes to doing what they say they will do, they fall short of the mark. Jesus knew this to be the case for many of us, so He told a parable of two sons (Matt. 21:28-32), one of whom said to his father, "‘I will, sir,' but did not go." The true children of Abraham, all real disciples of Christ, obey in word and deed. In this spirit Abraham believed God and quickly obeyed. The author of Hebrews has reminded us that Jesus is the "source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (5:9). It is one thing to believe God's directives, and quite another to obey them.
There are times when, while His voice is still ringing in my ears, I have jumped up and obeyed at the quickest possible moment. The joy from that obedience is enough to make me say, "Ask me to do something else Lord; this is great!" There is a joy in faithful obedience that is found nowhere else. I will admit, however, that in at least one instance when I obeyed God's voice, the results of my obedience were not to my personal liking. The situation did not resolve itself satisfactorily (in my sight), and it is still not good (in my opinion). But my limited opinion isn't really the point. I obeyed and now God is in control of the results. If I had not obeyed but had kept the reins in my own hands, who knows where I would have ended up? By releasing the controls, I allow God to work in a way that is beyond my means, and I am set free from the burden of having to steer my own life. I believe that God's vantage point gives Him a better view of my horizon, so I trust Him to steer me in the direction that I need to go.
Just where do I think I am heading?
My destination is the same as Abraham's. The author of Hebrews tells us that Abraham was looking forward to a city (not a land or a country) with a foundation (not tent pegs) whose architect (from the Greek technites, meaning craftsman, designer, city planner) and builder (one who does the actual work) is God. This is the city planned, designed, and built by the Lord God Almighty. If that is our goal, how can we grow impatient simply because we don't possess a small piece of property west of our hometown? If, while pumping gas into my car, I hear God tell me that I'll one day possess the entire oil company, will I grow irritable and impatient because I don't own that single station today?
And so, with a better inheritance from a perfect Father in his sights, Abraham got on the road and traveled to a place unseen, not knowing where he was going.
We'll find, if we haven't already, that God will always test our claims regarding their authenticity. If we claim Him to be Lord of all our life, then He will challenge us in the areas in which He knows He is not yet Lord. If we believe God only provides the best for us, He may give us something inferior in our eyes to teach us to see the good that God sees in it. If we say we will go anywhere in the world for God, He may send us nowhere in order to test our obedience where we are. Besides, too often our willingness to go someplace is nothing more than a desire to escape the uncomfortable spot where God may have us now. God may call us and never fully explain to us His purposes in our life. He is sovereign in His grace, answering to no one's demands and being manipulated by no one's "name-it-claim-it" prayers. Our faith may direct us down unknown paths, into incomprehensible situations, to a life no one in our generation can understand. Perhaps God is establishing something marvelous for our grandchildren, and He is using us to lay the groundwork. Can we still believe, obey, and go? Does our faith show itself in works beyond our understanding, leading us to places unknown, leaving behind us all we held dear in order to grasp all that He holds dear for us?
In our journey of faith, let us be ready for an adventure.
Let us look ahead and be prepared to meet new people, see the Kingdom of Heaven grow, travel to new places, and inherit territory we never knew existed. But in our adventures we must be patient, for we may never see the fruits of our labors. We may only be the planters, while the watering is left for our children, and the harvest is left for our grandchildren. Finally, let us live in such a way that while God's voice is still ringing in our ears, we are up and moving. Let us be so confident in God's ability to lead us that we are halfway to our destination before we ask God, "By the way, where are we going?" Solomon taught us that "a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths" (Prov. 5:21). The Lord knows the way we should take. Do we trust Him to take us there?