This week I was reminded of the time, many years ago, when my
family and I were preparing for a move to Venezuela from our home in Wisconsin.
In those days, I identified with Abraham more than any other Bible
character. Like Abraham and his family,
that time in our lives was one of sojourning for us.
In order for us to make this move, we first were required to
make many visits to churches in order to build a team of support. In the course
doing this, we traveled many thousands of miles, staying in many different
hotels and in many homes. We often spent long weeks living out of our
suitcases. This is often the case in the life of a missionary.
After traveling to several parts of the United States, when we at last had enough support to begin our work, we still had one more step we had to make before we could depart for Venezuela. We were next required to attend language school in Costa Rica.
While living in that Central American country,
we had our first chance in a couple years to stay in one place for more than a
couple of weeks. We lived in a rented house in that country for some eight
months, and even came to feel quite comfortable there. In many ways, we made it
Nevertheless, because we knew we were not to be there for a
long and extended period, we could not come to the point where we felt
completely settled. In some ways, our thoughts were also always directed to the
next step we were to take.
Eventually, we did make it to Venezuela. However, even after
arriving there, we could not immediately find a house where we would eventually
settle. Even when we finally made it to our new country of residency, our
sojourning continued. We first stayed in another house temporarily with a
month-by-month rental agreement until we could at last find and settle into the
house that would become our permanent home – at least as permanent as we were
to be living in that country.
Dealing with Discouragement as Sojourners
The life of a sojourner has its own special challenges,
especially for ones like our family who had previously been accustomed to a
settled kind of life and growing deep roots.
Sojourning can be disheartening, and, in more ways than just the living
situation, sojourning can be unsettling. Things can sometimes happen over which
we have no control, situations that would not happen if you were in a permanent
place of residence. One sometimes wonders when he will again be able to allow
himself to feel completely at home. It
was like this for Abraham, and so it was at times for us.
However, the application is wider. All of us, if we are God’s children, are
sojourners, even if we do not actually realize it. There are some ways that none of us are able
to allow our roots to sink deep in the soil of this world. There are unsettling
things that happen in this world over which we have no control. These things
have a way of discouraging us, making us wish that life could be better. However,
the reality is, we will never be completely at home until we are in the home of
I think it is safe to say that all of us, as sojourners in
this world, sometimes feel discouraged.
Abraham knew discouragement dwelling in tents. He often wished that his
situation could be better. But he dealt with those times by looking ahead to
what the writer of Hebrews calls, “the city which has foundations, whose
architect and builder is God” (Hebrews
How do we as believers and sojourners deal with the discouragement of not feeling settled? If we are to take an example from the life of the sojourner Abraham, four times in his story as we have it in the Bible, do we find Abraham “lifting his head.” I think these times are very instructive in teaching us how we, too, can handle this discouragement when it comes to us.
Abraham Lifts His Eyes to See the Land
Abraham had left all he had known to follow the Lord’s direction. He had left not only his home, but also even his home region and most of his family. The only family he had with him was his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot. The first time we read of Abraham lifting his eyes is after Lot had separated from him to move down to the Jordan valley.
So Abraham said to Lot, “Please, let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9 NAS).
I think this was a time of discouragement for Abraham for two
reasons. He and Sarah were saying
good-by to the only real family they had, the only one with whom they could
share a common and large portion of their lives.
Also, Abraham must have felt discouraged concerning some of the yet unfulfilled promises that God had made
to him. God had promised Abraham a homeland in which to live, and an heir for
him that would grow into a multitude of people – a whole nation. Now with Lot
leaving and separating himself from Abraham, he saw even less evidence than
before that these promises would be fulfilled.
When God saw his downcast demeanor after Lot had left, God renewed his promise and said to Abraham,
“Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered” (Genesis 13:14-16 NAS).
God reminded and reconfirmed his promise of a homeland for Abraham.
Abraham Lifts His Head to See the Stars
The second time we find Abraham lifting his head is similar to
the first in some ways, but in other ways it is not. The first time that God
told Abraham to lift his eyes was so that he could see that land that he
promised to give him. Now, by this second time, even though God had abundantly
blessed him materially, Abraham found himself wondering if the promise of an
heir would ever come. He and Sarah had had no children and they were getting
beyond the years to have them.
God, in His infinite kindness, knew that Abraham needed something tangible with which he could identify – a constant reminder of the promise of God. He took Abraham outside and had him lift his head and look at the multitude of stars in the clear sky. Then God said to Abraham,
“Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5 NAS).
I think there were many nights after that, in times when something was bothering Abraham and when he could not sleep, that he would slip outside and look up into the night sky. It was a reminder so that he could remember the words that God had spoken to him. “So shall your descendants be.”
Abraham Lifts His Eyes to See a Time of Testing
The third time we read of Abraham lifting his head is very
unlike the first two and even a little surprising. It came not in a time of reconfirmation of a
promise, but instead in a time of testing.
When God’s promise of having a son through his wife Sarah had not been
accomplished quickly, Abraham decided to fulfill the promise on his own by
taking Sarah’s servant girl and having a son with her. This was when the boy
Ishmael was born.
But Ishmael was not the son of promise. He was the son of
Abraham’s own determination. The son of promise would be one that was given to
this old couple by a wondrous deed of God.
It was only after many years later that Abraham had learned to
stop trying to fulfill God’s spoken word by his own strength. It was only then that the true promised son had finally come
through the power of God to him and Sarah in their old age (the writer of
Hebrews in telling of this event, to make a point, said that Sarah and Abraham
were “as good as dead”).
When this son Isaac, whose name meant laughter, was a young lad and a delight to his father, God asks of
Abraham the supreme test. God instructed
Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice on an altar on the distant
mountain of Moriah. As far as we know,
God gave no reason or rationale to Abraham in doing this. Abraham did not know why he was to do this, he had only the
directive to do it. Nothing more.
For three days, the two, father and son, walked together. The laughter of Isaac’s name was gone as they
made the journey in silence and solemnity.
I think most of the way, Abraham must have looked down at the ground in
front of him, but on the third day, “he raised his eyes, and saw the
place from a distance” (Genesis 22:4).
This time Abraham lifted his head not to see the
reconfirmation of the promise of an heir, but to see what would be its
death. This supreme test of Abraham’s
must have been impossible for him to understand, and yet, in his years of
sojourning he had learned two vital things that we all must learn: to believe God and to obey.
Gone were the days when Abraham would try to place his own reasoning and abilities above those of God. As the father of Isaac raised his eyes and saw the mountain of his great test, he knew had come too far in his spiritual sojourning to return to the point of trusting only in his own understanding.
Abraham Lifts His Head to See Salvation
The last time we read of Abraham lifting his head comes at the
very point when he is about to perform this very act about which for three days
he could not bear to think. He stretched
out his hand, took the knife, and knew that the time had come in which he must
slay his son.
In his ultimate anguish, as he was about to plunge the knife
into the son he loved, Abraham suddenly heard his name being called once again
by the voice of God, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do
nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld
your son, your only son, from Me.”
Abraham then lifted up
his eyes and looked to see a ram that had gotten himself entangled in a
thicket. This last time Abraham raised his eyes and saw the provision of the
Lord. This ram was to be used as an offering in place of his son. So meaningful was this to Abraham that he
called the very place Jehova-jirah,
“the Lord will provide.”
“In the mount of the Lord,” he said, “it will be provided”
Lifting our Heads in Our Sojournings
These four times that Abraham lifted his head are important also
to us as we sojourn through this life.
We must not always have our vision downcast on the things of this earth,
but daily we must lift our eyes and be reminded of the promises of God in our
lives. We must even allow God to give us
a constant reminder of His promises, as He did with Abraham.
Our testing may never be as excruciating as Abraham’s were,
yet there are times when God calls each one of us who are redeemed by the blood
of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to a test of obedience. Like Abraham, if we mean to move forward in
our spiritual lives, we must lift our heads and recognize the test, yet
continue forward in obedience.
Because of his obedience, Abraham was finally able to lift his
head and see that the Lord provides in ways that he would never have
guessed. If you are presently living in
a time of testing for you, lift up your head, believe God and obey. In
the mount of the Lord, it will be provided.