This article was originally printed and distributed as a booklet in 1996. The Audio sermon on which this article is based is AB 11. To listen click on: A Closer Walk with God
TEN STEPS TO A CLOSER WALK WITH GOD
A study of Genesis chapter 15
The story is told of a preacher who pastored a church in London, England. Though his office was at the church he often prepared sermons in his small study at home. One spring day he was at his desk, his Bible open before him, when he heard the sound of his young son playing in the garden with two of his friends. Their youthful conversation drifted through the open window to the pastor’s ears.
“My father knows a Member of Parliament,” boasted one boy.
“Huh, that’s nothing,” bragged the second. “My father knows the Prime Minister.”
The pastor paused and wondered what his son would say since he could number neither the Prime Minister nor Members of Parliament among his friends.
“Let me tell you something,” said his son. “You don’t know anything. My father knows God!”
The pastor smiled to himself, but then felt tears well up in his eyes. He moved over to a small sofa and knelt down. “O Lord,” he prayed, “how I long for that to be true. I want to know you and I want to know you more and more.”
I can relate to that pastor because that, too, is the prayer of my own heart. Yes, I do know him. But I long to know him better. Yes, I do walk with him – or seek to do so. But I could surely walk closer.
Do you have that longing?
This study is for those who want to know how they might walk closer with God and know him better.
The Psalmist longed to know God: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God” (Psalm 42:1,2).
The Apostle Paul did: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ . . . I want to know Christ . . .” (Phil 3:8-10).
The Patriarch Abraham did: In fact, God said Abraham was his friend, and each new encounter deepened that friendship and enriched Abraham’s knowledge of the One who had called him and blessed him.
What is God’s greatest desire for you and for me? We will hear it in Jesus’ prayer. Jesus prayed on the eve of the Cross, “Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
His greatest desire is for you TO KNOW HIM. And knowing him to make you like Christ. It is one thing to know about God. It is quite another to know him – personally, intimately, deeply. That is his desire for each of us.
Now let’s be honest, “knowing God” is not always the deepest desire we have for ourselves. Perhaps such a thing has never even entered our minds. We usually desire other things and then we pursue what we desire. Only infrequently is it the pursuit of a deeper and richer knowledge of God. For some of us it takes a lifetime to bring our priorities for ourselves into line with his.
Yet we learn with each fresh encounter that it is the sweetest thing we have ever known. Maybe gradually, maybe suddenly, the light dawns. The knowledge of God is the pearl of great price. Any other is flawed, counterfeit and ultimately unsatisfying. This is what we really need.
Since Abraham is given to us in Scripture as a paradigm of the life of faith will you focus with me on just one incident from his life, recorded in Genesis 15, that we may consider what steps are involved if you and I are to grow into a “Closer walk with God.”
1. BE RECONCILED TO GOD
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. v6
Before you consider any further steps make absolutely sure of this one. You cannot know God better if you do not know him at all – if you are still in your sins.
This great verse is quoted several times in the New Testament because it states the basic principle of salvation which the Bible reveals namely: that we can never be reconciled to God by anything we do, but only through believing and accepting the work which Christ has done on our behalf.
By nature, we have sinned against God and our sins have separated us from him. The Bible says we have made ourselves God’s enemies. Furthermore, no morality – however upright; no religious exercises – however devout; no good deeds – however noble, can ever take away our sins and reconcile us to our Maker. But God in his grace has made reconciliation through Christ for all who will come to him in repentance and faith.
That is how Abraham came. Of course, he did not know the details of the perfect life, the sacrificial death, and the triumphant resurrection of Jesus for Abraham lived nearly two thousand years before Christ came. Nevertheless – however dimly he perceived it – he knew God promised a deliverer and he believed God’s Word. Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
As you and I are reconciled to God through the Christ who CAME, so Abraham was reconciled to God through the Christ who was TO COME. There is no reconciliation except through HIM (John 14:6). Though a glorious event in the midst of time, the Cross stands above time because the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice are both backdated and postdated to save all who believe.
Are you sure of your eternal salvation?
But there is another way that we may consider what it means to be reconciled to God. Though the true believer can never lose his salvation; deliberate, willful, unconfessed sin will break his fellowship and stunt his growth. The Psalmist declares, “If I had cherished sin in my heart the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). When Abraham earlier left the place of God’s appointment and in a panic fled to Egypt, lying about his dear wife just to save his own skin, he had to be rebuked. Chastened and repentant he made his way back to the place of consecration and his precious friendship with his God was renewed and his growth in knowledge and grace revived (see Genesis 12:10-13:4).
Is there someone reading this who is cherishing a secret sin? What happiness has it brought you? Very fleeting, I suspect, with the pain of guilt and emptiness in its wake. Satan lures only to poison us. I lovingly but earnestly urge you to forsake that sin. Give your conscience peace. You will find the arms of your Heavenly Father opened wide to receive you.
Then with a clean conscience you may go on to the next step:
2. LEARN TO LISTEN TO GOD AND DIALOGUE WITH HIM
Let us turn back to our chapter and eavesdrop on one of many conversations Abraham had with God.
After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”
And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said: “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
He also said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I shall gain possession of it?” (vs1-8).
Is this not always how you draw closer to someone and deepen your relationship? You spend time with them and you converse together and share your hearts. When I was a young Christian, my pastor graciously agreed to meet with me on his day off and we would walk together in the countryside. I had many questions: theological and otherwise. Patiently he tried to answer them all and explain God’s truth. How I looked forward to those times. Gradually we began to talk about personal matters and he began to share with me some of the intimacies of his heart. He told me of his hopes and dreams, but also of his heartaches and sorrows, and I did the same. We became friends.
Abraham was God’s friend because he walked with him and talked with him and – more importantly – listened to him. May I ask you do you do that?
You might say: how do I do that? Answer: Bible study and prayer. I know no other way. That is God’s appointed way.
The Bible is God’s Word. It is through the Bible God has chosen to speak to us. Now there are two basic ways God speaks to us through the Bible:
a) When we hear it preached by one whom God has appointed and anointed. Be warned. Nourishing, practical and inspired preaching is not easy to find these days. There is a famine in the land. This is partly because we have not insisted that the pastor’s primary job, overwhelming all other duties, is to feed the flock committed to his charge (2 Tim 4:1-5). We expect our pastors to be CEO’s, fund-raisers, entertainers, psychotherapists, marriage counselors, and I don’t know what else. Too many preachers come to the pulpit ill-prepared for their most awesome task.
But the fault may lie within ourselves. It is possible to listen to preaching which is biblical and delivered with unction, but never hear God speak a word. That may be because, though the preacher has carefully and prayerfully prepared to preach, we have not prayerfully prepared to listen.
b) The other way to hear God speak is through our personal Bible study. Once again, I must offer a warning. Do you know, it is possible to privately read and study the Bible, and even be an expert in the contents of it, and yet never know God?
Once, when I was driving in South Florida, I tuned in my car radio to a talk show host. He clearly knew a lot about the Bible. I don’t know where or how he obtained his knowledge, but he certainly did not believe the Bible, nor was he a friend of God. In fact, I think he hated God. He ridiculed any caller who sought to uphold God’s Word.
Perhaps this will surprise you even more. It is possible to believe God’s Word – that is to define oneself as an Evangelical – and YET still never hear God speak. Such a person gains knowledge of the Bible but no knowledge of God.
I find it helpful to ask myself questions when studying my Bible: what is God saying to ME in this passage or verse? For example:
i Is there a revelation concerning the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit?
ii Is there a principle to follow?
iii Is there a sin to avoid?
iv Is there a truth to learn and believe?
v Is there a person to emulate?
vi Is there a promise to claim?
vii Is there a command to obey?
viii Is there a warning to heed?
You will notice that this does not center one’s Bible study exclusively upon oneself and one’s personal needs. God does speak to our needs through His Word, but the Bible is primarily a revelation of God himself.
What kind of friendship would my pastor and I have enjoyed if I had said, “Oh, I am not interested in learning about you or hearing what you have to say about yourself. I only want to listen and learn if you directly address my immediate problems.” Actually, I was always delighted and privileged when he would reveal to me his heart.
Some ministers of bygone years used to say it was good to read the Bible kneeling. I can understand why. Maybe then we come to it more reverently AND more ready to combine our reading with prayer.
So, Abraham frequently dialogued with God. We must do the same if we are to know him. Now –
3. DO EVERYTHING THAT GOD COMMANDS
So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abraham brought all these to him, cut them in two, and arranged the halves opposite to each other. The birds, however, he did not cut in half (vs9-10).
Abraham may have thought these commands very strange…a heifer, a goat, a ram, three years old…cut them in two and line them up on the mountain top opposite one another…a dove and a pigeon. He might have asked. “What’s this all about? I don’t see the point of it. You have not told me why.” Instead of arguing he just did it.
That will always be true of the man or the woman who is drawing into a closer walk with God. Whatever God commands he will do, even if he does not fully understand it. For example: Is it to be baptized? I have had people come to me sometimes in my churches and they have been questioning the whole matter of baptism. I understand that. We come from different traditions. I have never pressed baptism upon such people. However, I must be faithful and share what I sincerely believe the Bible teaches. But some people have said, “Pastor, I see that it is the Lord’s command, but I don’t see the point of it.” And I have replied “Well, I will try to explain to you the point of it, but I really do not think that is the issue. If you believe it to be the Lord’s command, isn’t it something you should therefore just obey whether you see the point of it or not?”
I also happen to believe the Bible encourages us to tithe. Not because we are under the Old Covenant Law but in response to the matchless love of New Covenant Grace. Tithing preceded the Mosaic law. Abraham tithed. When June and I studied the Scriptures and came to believe that tithing was God’s will for us then we had to do it. If we had started reasoning about it and arguing with it, and procrastinating by saying, “What’s the point of it?” or thinking we could not afford it, then we never would have done it. As Abraham brought to God what he asked for, so should we.
If God says it – just do it. Has God told you to forgive someone? Then go and forgive them. Don’t wait another day. Has God told you to quit a habit or break a relationship that is doing you no good in your life? Then quit it or break it. Don’t think about it anymore. As long as we ever say, “Wait, Lord….”, we will never make any further progress in our walk with God. Has God told you to take up a ministry or go to the mission field? Then GO. “Trust and OBEY!”
By the way: obedience to the Father and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ are the same thing and full surrender to the absolute Lordship of Christ is an essential prerequisite of increasing intimacy with the Father.
Obedience can be costly
Sometimes we flinch from obedience because it will be painful, involve confrontation or even sacrifice. However, obedience always brings joy and the blessing of God. What can compare with that? If obedience is costly, DIS-obedience is more costly.
Let me put it this way. I sometimes hear it said of a son’s relationship to his father, “They are very close.” That is also what God, our heavenly Father, wants of us his blood bought children – very close.
Suppose one day the father with that kind of relationship with his son expressed the wish that his son would do a certain thing. This was no trivial request. It was a definite, explicit command; unambiguous. But the son would not obey. He either downright rebelled and said, “No, father, I will not;” or he just found excuse after excuse to procrastinate. Now, do you think they would still be “very close?” Of course not.
The father would not disown his son, but he would be very disappointed and grieved. Until that matter was corrected there would inevitably be a cloud between them. So, with our heavenly Father. If we deliberately avoid obeying what we know to be his will how can we ever expect to grow close to him. It is impossible. He will not disown us for he has said he will never do that, but fellowship will be spoiled.
4. DRIVE AWAY HINDRANCES
Then the birds of prey came down on the carcasses. But Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting Abram fell into a deep sleep…(v11).
All day long Abraham had to drive away these birds of prey. This reminds me that it is not an easy matter to enter into a deeper relationship with God. It will require hard work. Many hindrances may come to distract, divert, or delay us. Just as Abraham had to fight those “enemies”, so we are in a warfare daily.
Hindrances from THE FLESH
Many Christians do not realize that prayer is hard, disciplined work. Jesus acknowledged that when he “…told his disciples a parable to show that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). What some call the “devotional life” is a work of faith. Because we see no apparition, hear no voice, feel no sensations, we must pray in faith believing God hears and answers. If you find prayer easy, then I can only tell you that most of us do not, but we know it is vital.
Some of us tend to put it off or turn to other duties which we find easier. I know that as a pastor many times I would shut my study door knowing that, since this was morning and the prime time of my day, I must make it my priority to get alone with God to read, to pray, and to meditate. But I would no sooner open my Bible than I would think, “Oh, there is that phone call to return. I will just do that first.” Or, my eyes would spot something on my desk and I would think, “I must just check those letters. I think they need ‘urgent’ replies.” I would think: I will just do this or I will just do that. In fact, I was tempted to do almost anything I could think of rather than get down on my knees and spend time with God. I had to fight those birds of prey that came from within. Do you ever find that?
Hindrances from THE WORLD
In this context I mean the distractions that keep us from cultivating our walk with God. Especially that intrusive instrument, the telephone. We must drive away these birds of prey by being somewhere where we cannot be disturbed. I realize how difficult that can be for some people. For example, what about the mother with small children? Of all people with a good excuse, she has the best. But is there not a “nap time” when at least part of it could be devoted to this great enterprise?
Now I know how easy it is to lay a guilt trip on busy Christian people with challenges about Quiet Times and prayer life, and I do not want to do that. God will not abandon you because you do not pray. He loves you anyway. He loved you before you ever opened a Bible or uttered his Name. He will always love you whatever you do – or don’t do. But we are talking about knowing him and knowing him better and closer. Alas, some have time to gossip with friends but no time to talk to their Heavenly Father; time to read magazines and novels but not the Word of God.
You know our prayers do not have to be long. Jesus said that we are not heard for our many words. Most prayers recorded in Scripture are short. Think of the Lord’s Prayer for example. One or two verses of Scripture, prayed over and inwardly digested, may bring us closer to God than trying to meet targets of x number of chapters read each day.
Hindrances from SATAN
As the old hymn puts it, “And Satan trembles when he sees The weakest saint upon his knees.” (William Cowper 1731-1800)
Yes: we wrestle not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
I have been reading again the book of Nehemiah. What a wonderful and interesting book it is. I think Nehemiah was one of the greatest unsung heroes in the history of the world. But when he set about the task of leading the Jews to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem along came Sanballat and Tobiah and Gershom – the three stooges. Stooges of Satan. Full of ridicule and criticism. Trying to stop the great work. Eventually he had to post men on the walls with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. Thus C.H. Spurgeon called his church magazine, “The Sword and the Trowel,” because the Christian life as well as church life is like that: building and fighting. Fighting off the enemies that would divide, distract, destroy the work. Keeping away those birds of prey that would seek to disturb the sacrifice of our consecrated hearts or keep us from a closer walk with God.
5. EXERCISE PATIENCE
As the sun was setting Abraham fell into a deep sleep. (v12)
Abraham had done everything that God had told him to do, and yet nothing had happened. God had not come. There was no special vision or some amazing event and he went all through the day, waiting and waiting and waiting, and driving away those birds. Abraham was obviously exhausted. Step number five: if you and I would know God we must be patient. It doesn’t come easily. Sometimes God calls on us to wait.
We want everything instant these days, don’t we? Instant coffee. Instant meals (we have our microwaves). Even instant answers. “Give me the bottom line,” we say. In other words, “Don’t take too long. I don’t have time for a long answer. I am a very busy person you know.” I have even been asked to explain predestination, “in just a few words!”
I am constantly having to check myself for impatience. At the grocery store check-out. “Oh no! He hasn’t even got his money ready…Oh my! She’s going to write a check…We’ll be here all night!!” Then a voice inside me (or beside me!) says, “Harry, Harry, what’s the hurry. You are not going anywhere. Be patient.” Or at the traffic lights. I am second in line at the traffic lights and the lights are red. They have hardly gone green before I am thinking, “Well, come on, man, get the car in gear. Let’s go. Let’s go.” The driver behind me is even worse than I am, he’s actually honking his horn. I raise my arms in a gesture of resignation as if to say, “I think this driver has passed away!” Then comes that inward voice again. “Patience, Harry!”
When we lived in the United States we had “Drive through” at the bank, “Drive through” at the fast- food chains, and other means to avoid having to get out of the car – anything to save a few seconds. I used to wonder, “To do what?”
God can sanctify and use each of our personalities but for those of us who are wired to be always “on the go” to “get things done,” we need to be aware of the dangers and make time to “switch off the engine” and just be quiet.
No microwave maturity
I will tell you this: there is no such thing as microwave maturity in the Christian walk. There is no press button holiness. There are no short cuts to a deeper knowledge of God. We cannot surf through Scripture and still expect to hear God speak. We must be patient.
Said the Psalmist,
Be still and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10).
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret(Psalm 37:7).
I waited patiently for the Lord. He turned to me and heard my cry…(Psalm 40:1).
What does the man or woman do who knows the blessing of God? “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) What do some of us in this frantic society know about meditating upon God’s Word? Not much I suspect.
This may mean setting the alarm a little earlier; or getting to the office in the quiet of the morning before anyone else; or taking a walk – even in a crowd; or going to bed early before sleep is the only option; or sitting on the porch alone for a while; or utilizing that precious moment of rest when baby is asleep. Closeness is worth working at. God is worth waiting for. But if you will be patient he will come and whisper your name and it will be the sweetest whisper you have ever heard.
6. SEEK HIM IN THE DARKNESS
As the sun was setting Abraham fell into a deep sleep and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him….(v12).
We tend to associate God’s blessings with good feelings. However, God may be just as present with us when we feel low as when we feel high; when we are down as when we are up; when we are depressed as when we are walking on air. Indeed, I would suggest, we come to know him more deeply through adversity than prosperity because we seek him then more earnestly. Says God, “You will seek me and find me when you seek for me with all your heart ” (Jeremiah 29:13); and that “he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Some years ago I came across the following poem by Robert Browning Hamilton:
I walked a mile with Pleasure. She chatted all the way.
But left me none the wiser, for all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow. Ne’er a word said she.
But, oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!
Maybe. But sorrow itself does not sanctify. Sorrow can make us resentful, whining, self-pitying and bitter. And bitterness leads to Godlessness. It is important that, when we know dark times, we seek after God – not explanations.
When Elijah triumphed over the prophets of Baal he was certainly on “a high”. The Spirit of the Lord so came upon him that he probably broke a world record running before King Ahab’s chariot the eighteen miles to Jezreel. But the expected national revival never came. Ahab pursued Naboth’s vineyard, Jezebel pursued Elijah, and Israel went back to business – Baal business.
The disillusioned prophet fled into the desert; faith having given way to fear, determination to despair, and hope to self-pity. Alone and suicidal he collapsed exhausted under the paltry shade of a desert tree. Then “all at once an angel touched him.” Oh, what a touch. And the tender, loving care of God’s minister led to Elijah having a memorable and revivingly fresh encounter with God at Horeb. With new instructions and renewed faith, he went back to an ever more fruitful ministry in his golden years. That is how God turns our darkness into light.
Moses also knew dark times and learned more of God through them. So did Jeremiah and David (read his Psalms), and the Apostle Paul. Martin Luther was given to depression. So was John Calvin and George Whitefield. I have had the privilege of speaking with a few of the great Christian leaders of more modern times and they have known dark times also. Some are even given to depression. Maybe some of you would be shocked if you knew who, but others of you would be greatly comforted because you would realize what good company you are in.
If we but knew, it may well be that those whom God anoints the most are those who sometimes find themselves walking through the dark valley.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” Of course, the sheep cluster closer to the shepherd when it’s dark. And that is what we are talking about, getting closer to the Shepherd.
A Personal Testimony
Some years back, June and I passed through a very dark period in our lives. Satan’s attacks were fierce, unrelenting, and cruel. Darkness enveloped us.
I was tempted to despair. What could we do? Why, just what the Lord wanted us to do. Turn to HIM when there was nowhere else to turn. During the long watches of the night, I prayed. During the hours of daylight, we turned together to the Psalms and on our knees side by side cried to the God of all comfort to hear us and help us.
The Lord spoke to us more lovingly and loudly than ever before as promise after promise was claimed. Speaking personally, I can say I came to know God through that experience more closely and vividly than the rest of my days as a believer added together – or so it seemed at the time. I would like to have come into that closer fellowship some other way, but perhaps there was no other way. Pride and self-reliance had to be removed. I had to be brought to the point where none but God, and God alone, could reach me with comfort and healing. That is what he did, and he brought us through.
Friend: if you would know God, do not despise the dark times. He has a loving purpose in allowing you to pass that way. Have you lost a loved one, or your job? Is it loneliness or disappointment? It may be sickness. It may be an unhappy marriage or a wayward child. It may be the hatred of enemies or the desertion of friends. Or it may have no rational or circumstantial explanation. But the skies are dark aren’t they, your spirits are low, and maybe at present God seems far away. Do not despair. He loves you and will come to you. Seek him in the darkness.
Never run from him, will you. Run to him.
Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn” – the word is very strong, it means to feel deep sorrow – “for they will be comforted.” It seems almost an oxymoron. How can you be happy and feel deep sorrow? It depends on what you think constitutes true happiness. For the man or the woman who wants to know God and walk closer with him, holiness is happiness. We mourn for our sins and find the comfort of his Grace; and we mourn for our sorrows and find the comfort of his Presence.
This leads me, if anything, even deeper
7. BE PREPARED TO DIE
As the sun was setting Abraham fell into a deep sleep and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him… (v12)
My scholarly books tell me the words “a thick and dreadful darkness” is an expression that is sometimes used for death. It is almost as if he went through an experience of death, it was so dark and horrific. We are all called upon to die. We are called upon to die to self.
That does not mean that we are somehow to live in such a trance-like state that we are unaware of our own existence. That sounds more like Eastern mysticism to me. As I understand this teaching it means two things:
i Though, as a human being, my natural instinct is to think first and foremost of myself, a higher power within me will help me to live a life overcoming self-centeredness so that I might live first for Christ and (when appropriate, under his direction) second for others.
ii That new life and new power is Christ living in me by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Wrote Paul,
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
There is so much ego in us, is there not. It is our human nature. Me. My will be done – on earth and by Heaven. And sometimes with some of us it never gets any further than myself. Me, me. I have been wronged. I have been unfairly treated. I have been hurt. I need this and I need that. What is the church going to do for me? Instead of, “Not I, but Christ,” it is “Not Christ, but I.”
Sadly, today there is too much preaching and writing that panders to that. The appeal to self-indulgence. Such is not authentic Christianity. If we are to know God and walk more closely with him, we must take our focus away from ourselves and onto Christ and, “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
8. BE WILLING FOR THE FIRE
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen a smoking brazier with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces (v17).
The smoking brazier speaks to me of the refiner’s fire which he uses to burn up the dross which floats to the surface and then is skimmed away. “He will be like a refiner’s fire; He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” Trials are one of the things the Lord uses to refine us as silver and gold.
Speaking of trials Peter writes to the scattered brethren,
These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes, even though refined by fire may be proved genuine and may result in praise and honor when Jesus is revealed (1:1:7).
You see, the refiner would refine the gold in the fire, getting away the dross, until he could see the reflection of his face in the molten metal. And God says he wants us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. He wants to see the character of the Lord Jesus reflected in our lives, and it may take the fire, the brazier.
Writes James:Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything (1:2-4).
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (1:12).
9. BE READY FOR THE LIGHT
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking brazier with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.
The brazier was the refining fire. The torch was the light. God’s light is God’s truth. When you walk with God he will reveal things to you. He will talk with you. Read verses 13-16 and 18-21. On this marvelous intimate solemn occasion the Lord revealed new things to Abraham, his friend. And that is what he will do for you. That is what my Pastor did as we became close and got to know one another as we walked together. He began to share his heart with me and reveal things to me. They were very precious, intimate things.
Things to Come
God revealed things to Abraham about the future. There is much in God’s Word about the future. Some of it is in picture language and Bible students sometimes differ in their interpretations of these passages. Because of that it is wise not to be too dogmatic about details. We may hold to our own views of course, but we should always respect those of another equally devout, and be willing to listen and to learn. The Lord may show us new things as he did Abraham.
However, I believe there is another danger today. It is that – perhaps because of the differences of interpretation over details mentioned above – we will ignore the Bible’s teaching about the future altogether.
Do you know the focus of the Bible is not this world but the next. The center of gravity of the Christian’s hope is not his retirement to the seaside but his home in Heaven. And beyond that the New Heaven and the New Earth.
The people around us who are unsaved live as if this life is all there is and sometimes as if it will go on forever. The Christian should be very different from that. God has revealed to us glorious things which await us in the hereafter prepared for us by our Savior who has gone before. One day older is one step nearer Home. For the believer the best is always yet to be. We should, like Abraham, be “looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.”
We need to hear MORE, not less, about the Bible’s teaching on these things to lift our eyes Heavenward to eagerly await the Return of our Lord Jesus (as true Christians always should – 2 Tim 4:8). I am aware of the old quip that “some are so Heavenly minded they are no earthly use.” I think if you will read the biographies of God’s great men and women you will find that those who have been of most earthly use have been those who have been most Heavenly minded. It is still the case.
God revealed some very personal things to Abraham. He still does so to those who walk closely with him and recognize his voice. There are many inward voices calling to be heard. There are human impulses and even demonic voices. We have to be very careful to know that we are tuning in to the voice of God. How can we know?
Do you have a favorite preacher who you watch on the TV? What if you lost the channel? No problem; you know the voice so well that all you would have to do is surf channels until you hear again that familiar voice and then lock in. It will only be if you have heard it many, many times, and you know it from all the other different voices that there are over the airways. So it is with God’s voice. That is why we must know our Bibles so very thoroughly. Then when we hear the inward whisper speaking in accordance with his Word we know – we just KNOW – it is the Lord. Everything he speaks will be agreeable with Scripture and must be checked by it. But he does speak. What if your Heavenly Father had some very personal message for you but you never recognized his voice? Are you ready for the light?
I think those to whom God really speaks, in the intimate sanctuary of their souls, tend to keep those impressions very carefully to themselves – and share them only rarely. They are very precious, you know.
Now finally, Step Ten:
10. GO IT ALONE
Here is the tenth and last step. Go it alone. We do not read of any servants there in this experience. We do not even read of Sarah with him on this occasion. There comes a time when a man or a woman must get alone with God. Jesus loved to have people around him, and sometimes even on special occasions he would take his disciples and say, “Can you watch with me?” But he also had those times when he got up early and went out to be alone with his Father. What a man or woman is, is ultimately what he or she is when alone with God.
Down in the valley there was another believer called Lot, Abraham’s nephew, with whom Abraham had once had fellowship. But Lot had chosen to settle in the well-watered plain with the bright lights of Sodom and Gomorrah. I sometimes wonder if he looked up on that particular evening from down there and saw his uncle silhouetted against the evening sky. I wonder if Lot said to his wife, “What is old Uncle Abraham up to up there? Whatever is he doing? He’s been up there all day. What has he got up there, the birds have been hovering and he’s been driving them away. He must be losing his mind, the senile old man.”
No, Lot, you do not know anything. You have chosen the bright lights. You have chosen Sodom and Gomorrah. One day you will regret that choice. Your uncle is meeting with God. He is engaged in a business you know nothing about. He’s not mad. Or, if he is mad, then it is a Godly madness.
I may be addressing only one heart; one pastor, one pastor’s wife, one worker, one Christian. Maybe God led you to read this article. Are you prepared to go it alone? And even if your friends, those on whom you have relied, your brothers and sisters in the Lord, say you are mad, you know you are not mad because you are seeking God, and you intend to go on seeking God, no matter what.
You are willing for the fire. You are watching for the light and you are listening for his voice. However long it takes you will be patient, and if it means darkness, even depression and sorrow, you will seek him and patiently wait. And you will drive the birds away until he comes.
I will go back to where I started. You may not personally know the Prime Minister or a Member of Parliament. If you are American, you might regret that you can count no member of Congress or the President among your circle of friends.
But I will tell you this; you can know personally the One of Whom the Scripture says, “He sets up kings and removes kings.” He is the Lord God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth before Whom every ruler of the earth must bow and Who holds their every heart-beat in his hands.
It could have been put on Abraham’s tombstone: “This man was a Friend of God”
Abraham did not say that, God said so (Isaiah 41:8). I have no greater longing or higher ambition than that God might one day say the same of me. What about you?
This is eternal life that you might know the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son, whom he sends (John 17:3).
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:14-15).