Hungry Chaplain has been a bit busy (preparing a sermon, and lots of other chaplain duties), so in light of continuity from last week's reflection of Abram's time in Egypt, here is a reflection I wrote and shared in Facebook in 21 August 2019. It's a reflection of what happened to Abram after he left Egypt and Lot was separated from him, which leads from last week's post. There was an opportunity for Abram to seize God's promise by himself, and yet he doesn't. And it is in this act of faith that Abram finds his great reward. Hope this reflection will be a blessing to you all! *Kosher Food Challenge update will also resume next week!
There comes a time in every Christian's life when one must ask if they must continue the journey of faith, especially when the road ahead is narrow and unknown, when the path is marked with suffering and abandonment, and when obedience is designated with earthly and untimely failure.
The instruction from God's Word: press on. The compulsion from the heart: stop and go back. With the spirit willing, and the body weak, we often find ourselves at our Gethsemane and the forces that have battled our soul rages on to seize us and demand us for an immediate answer.
I was doing a Genesis Bible Study in ACS Oldham Hall, and as we studied Scripture together, we came to Genesis 14-15. Abram, having received the promise from God that he will be made into a great nation, had set on his own journey of faith.
Having left his comfort zone and the familiar path of success, Abram pressed on, holding on to the promise of God. He had just gone through Egypt, where his wit and shrewdness may have gotten him wealth and temporal safety in exchange of holding on to a lie, but this wasn't God's promised land. God revealed the truth, and Abram journeyed out and journeyed on back to the wilderness.
After quarrelling was found with his nephew's and his own men, it was yet another time to part ways with what may have been Abram's "Plan B" should God not fulfill his promise and instead let the promise of becoming a great nation continue with his nephew.
Two choices lay before him: the better well-watered plains or the dry desert path. The old man Abram had just let his nephew Lot choose first, and Lot chose selfishly. Perhaps Abram thought that the promise was to go to Lot, as he was old and without children. But in the midst of having to stay in the land where the grass was not greener, God returned with a reminder of His promise: descendants and possession of the land.
God wasn't done yet.
Lot gets kidnapped because of a war of kings in the valley where Lot chose to go. There must have been some guilt in Abram's heart as he prepared his rescue squad. Maybe he should have chosen the greener plains. But should their positions be switched, would Lot have come to his rescue?
A great victory had followed - Abram rescues his nephew fighting against 4 kings. God's priest came to bless Abram as God's hand was evident in the victory. The King of Sodom then offered Abram the opportunity to share in the reward of the battle.
Genesis 14:21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”
Here was Abram's chance, what some of us today would even call breakthrough. Finally, the miracle moment. God promised Abram that he will be a mighty nation! The opportunity to be a powerful nation was in front of him - he can share in the spoils of the same battle that he had fought hard in and won. Abram can be his own political power. Perhaps this was the way God would fulfill his promise.
Instead, Abram refused to take any part in the spoils offered to him, because of a promise he made to God to not receive anything from the King of Sodom.
Genesis 14:22-24 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”
Abram walked away from what may have seemed to be an opportunity of a lifetime of wealth and power. The other kings must have laughed at Abram's refusal because of his oath to God. Here he was leaving empty handed even after all the hard work and risks he had to undertake simply because he stuck on to his promise to God. In his sacrifice, he allowed the men who he had put to risk to still be fed and take their share, but he himself stuck on to his promise to God.
And it is after all this that God reveals himself in Genesis 15:1 with one of the most wonderful verses in the Bible:
Genesis 15:1 NIV 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. ”
What does it mean when God said that He was Abram's shield and great reward?
God became personal to Abram - this wasn't just about repeating His promises anymore. A shield can only be effective if it locates itself at a place to block the path of attack to protect its bearer. God was offering the peace that comes with His presence, and more than that, God was offering the fullness of His person as Abram's reward: "I am your very great reward."
As I continued to reflect on Scripture, I placed myself on Abram's shoes. Abram was feeling insecure after letting so many things go. First, the comfort of home (journey out of Ur). Second, the comfort of the familiar ways of success in business (Egypt episode). Third, the comfort of authority (Lot chooses first). And now, the comfort of justice (Giving up on rewards because of obedience to God). This journey of faith was not easy as one by one things that would have built a man's security were being pushed aside and left with God's simple promises.
And perhaps that is why God presented Himself as Abram's Shield and Great Reward - because God's person and presence is greater than any home we can ever make for ourselves. God's truth is greater than any lie we can use to profit ourselves. God's provision allows us to not rely on our own wisdom and authority to provide for our daily needs. God's faithfulness allows us to experience the grace that comes with obedience in the face of quick and easy solutions to our problems.
So for the weary Christian who is struggling to walk on the journey of faith and obedience, I encourage you also today, God is your shield and your great reward. The world may scream failure, but we don't need our souls to be downcast and defeated. Put your hope in God as we run the race with perseverance. We are being called to a victory that is won not by measures of our wit, nor our human energies, nor our speed, nor our wealth and entitlements but in our obedience, our hope, and our faith in a God who is able to keep us safe, secure, and satisfied. Reflection Questions: 1. Have you ever experienced loss or pain because of unwavering and uncompromised faithfulness to God?
2. For our Christian readers, have we lived a life as a 'comfortable' follower of Jesus? In what ways can we experience a deeper understanding of God's promises in our lives? 3. In your own journey of faith, how have you responded to the different challenges that have come your way? Cheers, Hungry Chaplain
Bonus Content: Prayer Before Meals
I've been reading Rachel Marie Stone's book, Eat with Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food! For those who are big fans of food theology, I strongly encourage you to get a copy of her book! Her reflections are deeply insightful and it's a casual-down-to-earth reflection of how we can approach food today in the light of God. In the weeks to follow, I will share some of the "Prayers before Meals" that Rachel had compiled in her book. Do use them in your meal prayers!
May this food restore our strength, giving new energy to tired limbs, new thoughts to weary minds. May this drink restore our souls, giving new vision to dry spirits, new warmth to cold hearts. And once refreshed, may we give new pleasure to You, who gives us everything. Irish Blessing
Rachel Marie Stone and Norman Wirzba, Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).