Abram was an old man. When he looked at the back of his hands, he saw dry skin with the lined look of old skin. When he drank water from a pool, the face that stared back at him was an old face. His wife had grown old along with him. If God were good, he would give them a few more years together, and then they would die.
Hopefully, Abram would not outlive Sarah by very many years. Without children, how would she survive? Who would take care of her? For that matter, if Abram got sick, how he would he survive? God had given them a good life—but he had not given them children. Without children, the rest of it didn’t mean much—without children to love—without children to take care of them in their old age—without children to carry on their name. No blessing was any blessing without the blessing of children.
So Abram was glad when the Lord appeared to him in a vision. “Don’t be afraid, Abram,” the Lord said. “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (15:1).
That gave Abram his opportunity. “Reward?” he asked. “What reward will you give me that can mean anything to a childless man? You speak of rewards, but I have no heir. My servant is my heir. When I die, the only person left to grieve me is my servant! What reward will you give me that will make up for that?”
But God responded, “(Your servant) will not be your heir, but he who will come out of your own body will be your heir” (15:4). Then he led Abram outside into the darkness of the night. “Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them…. So shall your seed be” (15:5).
Then God made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your seed I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (15:18).
What a promise! In one fell swoop, God had promised Abram a child, a great linage and a great land. Abram would have been well within his rights to say, “You’ve got to be kidding, God!” But instead, Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord “reckoned it to him for righteousness” (15:6).
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Abram was a man who believed God. Abram was a man who obeyed God. In the great “faith” chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, it says,
“By faith, Abraham, when he was called,
obeyed to go out to the place
which he was to receive for an inheritance.
He went out, not knowing where he went” (Hebrews 11:8).
That was the faith that God was rewarding. God had called Abram to leave his homeland and to go to a place that God would show him. Abram obeyed, even though it meant wandering in strange places for many years. He persisted, even though his reward was very slow in coming. He believed, even though he and Sarah had grown old without the most important blessing—the blessing of children in their home.
In our text today, God promises Abram that his reward will be a child, a great family and a great land. But he goes on to warn Abram that much of this promise lay far in the future. He tells Abram that his offspring will be slaves for four hundred years, but that they will become great. What a distant promise! How would you feel if you obeyed God and a major portion of your reward lay four hundred years in the future?
But God also promised Abram an immediate reward. He would have a child! How amazing! Here he was an old man—married to an old woman—and they were going to have a child.
Dale and I feel a great kinship with Abram and Sarah. I was 42 years old when David was born and 50 years old when Elizabeth was born. Dale, of course, was much, much, much younger. At any rate, we figure that Abram and Sarah don’t have much on us. Whenever we read this story of Abram and Sarah we say, “Well, we know how that feels!”
There are lessons for us in this story of Abram. One of the lessons is that Abram had continued to believe in God even though nothing much seemed to be happening. God had called him to go, and Abram went. However, not much happened. Abram didn’t become a great preacher. He didn’t attract great crowds. He didn’t hold great tent meetings. He wasn’t known as a great man. God called him to be faithful in small things—not large. That is often true for us as well.
Fred Craddock, a great Disciples preacher, says:
“We think giving our all to the Lord
is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—
‘Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.’
But the reality for most of us
is that he sends us to the bank
and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters.
We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there.
Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles
instead of saying, “Get lost.”
Go to a committee meeting.
Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.
Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious.
It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time.
It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory;
it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.”
God called Abram to be faithful in the little things, and he was. God also calls us to be faithful in the little things—attending worship—serving on committees—singing in the choir—teaching children about Jesus—taking the offering—serving communion—cooking dinners—sweeping floors—cleaning toilets. Little of it is glamorous. All of it is necessary. We can do all of it faithfully—and to the glory of God.
The second thing that we can learn from Abram is that God makes great people out of ordinary people who are faithful to him. Abram wasn’t especially smart. He wasn’t politically connected. He didn’t have charisma. He didn’t set the world on fire. All Abram had to offer was his faithfulness. And that was all that was needed.
That should be good news to all us ordinary people. God can do great things with us. S.D. Gordon, in his book, The Bent-Knee Time, says:
“We have nothing to do with how much ability we’ve got,
or how little,
but with what we do with what we have.
The (person) with great talent is apt to be puffed up,
and the (person) with little (talent) to belittle the little.
Poor fools! God gives it, much or little.
Our part is to be faithful,
doing the level best with every bit and scrap.
And we will be if Jesus’ spirit controls (us).”
Isn’t that wonderful! It doesn’t matter how much or how little talent we have. It matters only how faithful we are in its use. That opens all kinds of doors for us ordinary people, doesn’t it!
The third lesson that we can learn from Abram is that God gives rewards according to his timetable—not ours. God’s timetable is often slower than we would like, but the rewards are certain. God promised Abram a child, a great people, and a great land. Abram lived to see the child, but the great people and the great land didn’t happen until centuries later. But they did happen!
Sometimes, when we do something for God, we expect him to return the favor immediately. He doesn’t always do that. I am reminded of a story of an old missionary couple who had served Christ for decades on the mission field in Africa. When age and health finally forced them to retire, they boarded a ship to return to America. By coincidence, President Teddy Roosevelt was aboard the same ship, returning from a big-game hunting expedition.
When the ship came into the New York harbor, the missionary couple watched the fanfare that attended Roosevelt’s return. The mayor and other dignitaries had come to meet the President. A brass band played as Roosevelt walked down the gangplank. A limousine and driver waited to take him in luxury to his hotel. It was a splendid scene.
The missionary couple watched until the President and dignitaries had left. Then the husband turned to his wife and said, “It doesn’t seem fair. We have served in Africa on the mission field for thirty years, and nobody even met the ship to welcome us home. This man spends a few weeks in Africa on a hunting trip, and is met by the mayor and a brass band. It just isn’t fair!”
His wife tried to console him, but he remained very upset. She said, “Why don’t you pray about it!” The husband finally agreed to do that, and went into their cabin to pray. When he emerged, he no longer had an anguished look on his face. He was completely composed. His wife asked what had happened.
He said, “The Lord settled it with me.” He said, “I told him how difficult it was to see Roosevelt receive such a grand homecoming, when no one—no one—had come to welcome us home.” He said, “When I finished, it seemed as if the Lord had put his hand on my shoulder. Then I heard him say, ‘But you’re not home yet.'”
You’re not home yet! The Lord was saying, “Don’t worry! I will take care of you. I will reward you. You have seen a Presidential homecoming, but you haven’t seen anything yet!”
The next time that you chair a difficult meeting for Christ—or make a generous offering for Christ—or teach a Sunday School class for Christ—or sweep the floors for Christ—you will probably go home wondering if it made any difference. Did it help? Did Christ notice?
Be assured that Christ noticed! Be assured that he will bless your faithful gift—that he will make it make a difference. And he will reward your faithfulness. He might give his reward today—or he might give it tomorrow—or he might give it many years from now—but he will give it. If we are faithful to God with the little that we have, God will be faithful to us with the much that he has.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.