Living in Light of God's Promise
Our passage this week compared and contrasted two men: Abram and his nephew Lot. Despite recent events in Egypt, both men were wealthy and life was good. Then conflict arose: the land they were living in was not fertile enough to support both their livestock. As the family patriarch and the one who had received God’s covenant, Abram could have taken what he needed and told Lot to go fend for himself. But instead, he allowed Lot to choose the seemingly better land and contented himself with God’s promises. The choices made by Lot and Abram revealed what they treasured.
In grad school, I attended memorial services for two different men who played mentorship roles in my life. Both of them died relatively young, of aggressive pancreatic cancer. One of them had been serving God for decades as a campus ministry leader, and his friends and family joyfully celebrated God’s work in his life even as they grieved. The other man was an engineering professor, renowned among his colleagues for his legacy of scientific accomplishments - and unwilling to accept a God who would allow the type of pain and suffering he had experienced at various times of his life. In the memorial services for these two men, it was strikingly obvious what each treasured in life.
The contrast presented in Genesis 13 challenges each of us with the question: Am I Abram or Lot? What is my treasure? Do I value wealth and possessions? Security? My reputation among my peers? A harmonious family life? Flocks and herds and tents? As Daniel reminded us, even the good things that God has blessed us with become a burden when they become our treasure rather than God.
At times when I am struggling to make ends meet, or dealing with stress at work, or thrust into the middle of family conflict, it is all too easy to think, “If I just had (fill in the blank) my life would be easier and I would be free to focus on spiritual things.” In another season of life, when God has blessed me like Abram with wealth (financial wealth, good health, loving relationships, etc.), how often do I find myself treasuring those things without treasuring the one who gave them, or holding them tightly in fear that God might take them away again? Like Lot, I am buffeted by the circumstances of life because I treasure the stuff I have been given rather than the giver.
A few months ago, we learned about the people of Babel, who built a city and a tower “to make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” In contrast, Abram never built a city for himself to live in; he built altars to bring glory to God’s name rather than his own and followed God away from his established home. Rather than making a name and a place for himself, he trusted God’s promise to make his name great and give him “all the land that you see”. We are heirs to those same promises, fulfilled in Jesus.
As we make him our treasure, we can proclaim like Paul in Philippians 4:11-13, “...for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, now and always
Thou and thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art.
~ Joanna Hinks