“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” (Hebrews 11:8)
Abraham is called to a great act of faith in the Lord. He is commanded to leave and begin a journey to a foreign land but is not given the destination by the Lord beforehand. How did Abraham leave and journey with such uncertainty in his walk of discipleship? “By faith Abraham…obeyed, and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” Rarely in life will we fully see the final destination of the Lord’s will at the beginning of that journey. That’s just fine because our responsibility is simply to walk by faith, just like the example of Abraham.
Abram had left Ur of the Chaldees and was now living in Haran (Gen. 11:29-32). God then calls Abram to leave his comfortable surroundings – “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house” (Gen. 12:1). God asks Abram to do a very difficult thing, leave his family, his homeland, the familiar surroundings of his father’s house and to take a journey. Where do you want me to go, Lord? “Get thee…unto a land that I will shew thee.” Abram is called to take a journey, not knowing the final destination but is given a promise that when he did arrive, God would shew it unto him.
It’s our nature to want to know the full scope of our pathway before we undertake the journey. However, Abram is called to leave all that he knows and to begin a journey with an unknown destination. Keep in mind that Abram and his wife, Sarai, are no spring chickens, not necessarily cut out for an intriguing, mysterious, unknown destination journey. Abram is 75 when he left Haran and Sarai would have been around 65 years old. Abram and his wife certainly could have come up with plenty of excuses to not follow the command of God, but instead “Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him” (Gen. 12:4).
In our natures, we generally want to have all the information. To know all the possible doors, routes, scenarios, twists and turns so that we can try to prepare accordingly. Uncertainty and the unknown breeds doubts and fears. It’s natural to have a little anxiety when our vision is somewhat limited to what or where the Lord is calling us to. In spite of those very natural limitations, we are told to “walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Even though we might not have a clear vision fully through to our destination, we are still commanded to “walk” by faith.
Faith is active, depicted here by “walking” in faith. Not to “sit or stand” by faith, not to wait afraid to act unless you think you hear the Lord speak to you audibly or give you some sign, but to get busy and walk with a trust in the Lord’s guidance by faith. Now, there’s certainly a time and place to “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord”, but generally our faith should be characterized by action, by “walking by faith” (because faith without works is dead, right? James 2:14-20) Even though Abraham did not know where the Lord was ultimately leading him to, he left in faith, trusting the Lord to guide him. It takes great faith to follow the Lord, not knowing his ultimate destination or how the Lord’s will shall ultimately guide us, but actually that is the requirement for every one of us as well – to follow the Lord in faith, even if we do not know where he is leading us, trusting the Lord for a better outcome than we could devise on our own.
We don’t have to know the full itinerary of our pathway to walk by faith, but we should trust that God will give us just as much light as we need to take the next step. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Ps. 119:105) A lamp does not shine out very far, but it should give just enough light for your feet to take your next step. God’s word is not a spotlight that will shine and give us clear vision all the way to our destination, but we can find that lamp’s light in the scriptures that gives us just enough illumination for our next step. Then, the lamp will give us just enough light for the next step, and then the next one after that, and so on. God’s lamp of the word does not give us clear vision all the way to our final destination, but God is faithful to give us just enough enlightenment to our feet to take our next step by faith, trusting in the Lord. Abram did follow the command of God to leave his homeland and many of his family members, and begin an open-ended journey, not knowing where he was going or how long it might take or what dangers or difficulties he might encounter on the way. However, none of that uncertainty prevented Abram from walking by faith and not by sight.
It’s important to understand that God does not leave us in the dark regarding our destination indefinitely. God did call Abram to begin his journey with some degree of uncertainty, but he did promise to show him when he arrived at his destination – “Get thee…unto a land that I will shew thee.” Abram walked by faith, and God fulfilled his promise. Even though Abram started out not knowing his destination, God made it abundantly clear when the time did come when he had reached his final destination of the promised land. After Abram had entered into Canaan, “the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land.” (Gen. 12:7) He began his journey in faith, but then when the appropriate time came, the Lord gave him perfect clarity of the final result of his walk of faith.
There are some things in life when someone might give some give advice about how you know that situation is of the Lord, and they will counsel a young person that “when you know, you just know.” Speaking from experience from one side of that conversation, I felt like that was the ultimate cop-out because most likely what I was inquiring about, I was in a position where the appropriate time had not come yet, and I “did not know” yet. However, now having some experience being the person relaying that advice, that “when you know, you just know”, there are some things that is true where that is about the only way to explain it. How do you know you are called to preach? There are a lot of factors to consider, but “when you know, you know”. How do you know where to pastor, what job to take, where to move? Is the Lord in this decision or not? I have now felt the leadership of the Lord in many situations when the only legitimate advice I can give is that “you’ll know when it’s right.”
Can you imagine Abram’s interactions with his wife, Sarai, and then his nephew, Lot, during this seemingly indefinite journey? “Lot: Uncle Abram, are we there yet? (like an impatient child in the back seat on a road trip) How much longer yet? Abram: No, we’re not there yet, and I don’t know how much longer it will be. But I will tell you when we get there. Lot: Yeah, thanks a lot, that’s what you said last time.” But there finally did come a time when Abraham was happily able to announce – “We are here. This is where the Lord has been leading us to all this time. He showed me and told me this was it. We’re finally here.” And all of Abram’s family said “Amen” (and “it’s about time”!)
Even though, like I said, “you just know” might seem like a nebulous answer for the inquisitor who clearly doesn’t “know yet”, I believe if you asked Abraham how he knew where he got to the promised land, when he finally reached his destination – how did you know, Abram? I just knew. The Lord shewed it to me (Gen. 12:1). The Lord told me (Gen. 12:7). Abram walked by faith, and that faith was rewarded. God did clearly reveal to him after he had reached his destination. We cannot let uncertainty and lack of long-term vision hinder our diligent walk of faith in discipleship. Using Abram as our example, we trust in the Lord, walking by faith, even if our vision is dim for the time being, with a confident expectation and hope that the Lord is leading us to our own promised land, the abundant life in following the will of God.