July 6, 2014

Who Had Led Me by the Right Way

Passage: Genesis 24:34-49, 58-67, Psalm 45:10-17, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Service Type:

Then I bowed my head and worshipped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.

I hear it when I am at wedding receptions during the speeches of brides and grooms; a belief is expressed that there exists in the world a person made for them. They want to affirm “you are the one for me.” “I have found “the one” I was made for.” I hear a similar idea expressed among Christians as well—the tagline for the dating website ChristianMingle.com is “Find God’s match for you.” And this idea isn’t just in regard to finding a spouse but to the broader concept of finding God’s will for my life. It is not only personal but extends to church life; here at Central we are seeking to discern God’s direction for us.

Now, Rebekah was Isaac’s match all right. From what we can determine from Biblical story Isaac is a man of quiet and contemplative faith. He is reserved and thoughtful; not in a hurry to make decisions. Rebekah is high-spirited. She is a driver and gets things done. See how readily she engages people openly speaking to the stranger she meets at the well. Note her sense of adventure ready to say yes to a future in a new place. She is eager to get away from home and ready for the challenge of making her mark a home of her own. This match may have been made in heaven but it had to be lived out in earth.

I invite you to reflect with me today about knowing or determining God’s will in our lives. When it comes to seeking direction for the momentous choices of life we would like to hear from God. We want some sense that the road we are embarking on is the right road. We want to be able, like Abraham’s servant, to look back and thank God for leading us in the right way.

1. First, God is interested in the details of our lives; God welcomes our inquiry regarding the choices we make for our lives. To be sure, for the believer, it is part of our obedience to God to seek his will. It is the exercise of faith in him that we look for his leading. We know that God wants our good; He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? (Romans 8:32) To inquire after God is to seek what is best and blessing.

The story of the marriage of Rebekah and Isaac is strange to us and our cultural sensibilities. Generally speaking we don’t want our parents all that closely involved in the choice of a life-mate. I wonder if we sometimes feel the same way about asking God in these matters. Are we unsure of God? Perhaps we just want God to approve of our choices; like we expect from our parents—here is my choice now can I have the check for the wedding please.

Seeking God’s will in our lives is first and foremost an attitude of heart and mind. It is borne of love; love for God. God has shown us in the cross of Christ that love is a self-forgetful self-giving. It involves a dying to self and living for the greater purposes God will work through our lives for his glory; such glory always includes our blessing.

Now some may say that God was interested in Isaac because of his place in salvation history. Since the promise of God to bless the world was through Abraham and his descendants it is rather important that Isaac marry and have children. So God pays attention to this. It is further thought, then, that the direction of the lives of “ordinary people” may not be so crucial. We understand that God has a plan in mind for Isaac but for my life things could be a little more fluid with respect to unfolding detail.

Consider that the descendant of Isaac through whom God would bless the world was Jesus of Nazareth. There is a lot of unfolding detail in the lives of generations of people until we come to Mary, the mother of Jesus. All of this God has in mind. Consider also that through Jesus God would redeem the lives of countless believers—including yours and mine. All of these details God is able to hold in his heart and mind and is loaded into this story. It bears witness that God is interested in and able to hold all of this detail of peoples’ lives in his heart and mind at once.

God is weaving a great tapestry of salvation that includes our lives as well. Our place in that may seem unimportant to us but we need to leave that to God and trust that his purposes call for our best and will be for our blessing. God is interested in the details of our lives and lovingly leads us as we call upon him.

2. Second, you have to make the choices. God’s leadership of our lives never absolves us of the responsibility to make choices and for the choices we make. God does not violate nor run roughshod over the will he has given the human to exercise. You will notice all through this story people have to act. The servant was only able to say in hindsight that God “had led me in the right way.”

I wonder sometimes if we Christians want to “know the will of God” for our lives because we don’t want to make choices or are afraid to take action. Maybe we want God to send us the road map for life so we can have someone else to blame for our choices. Why didn’t God tell me that house prices were going to skyrocket so I could have added more wealth to my holdings? Further we hold this belief that if we have God’s choice everything will be blissful. If we have God’s choice in a spouse wedded bliss will follow—seemingly with no continuing effort on our part to make it that way. If we can only discern what God wants us to do as a congregation people will be knocking down the door to get in. You will note that the text tells us this of Rebekah and Isaac’s marriage—“and he loved her.” (Genesis 25:67) It does not say that she loved him.

A 19th Century Scottish theologian named Marcus Dods in reflecting on this story of Rebekah and Isaac wrote: “The object of God in declaring His will to us is not to point out particular steps, but to bring our wills into conformity with His.

Note with me what this servant of Abraham prays. “I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, ‘Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,’ and who will say to me, ‘Drink, and I will draw for your camels also’—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.”

Now anybody could find the house of Abraham’s kin—a child living in that area could have pointed that out. Why does he go to the well? He knows that this is where the women of this clan come to draw water and he wants to meet her first before the family. Deeply seeded into these eastern cultures was the value of hospitality; the welcome and care of the stranger was considered sacred duty. “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink” was no idle question—he wasn’t thirsty. He is asking for hospitality. Her willingness to draw water for the camels as well is an act of this sacred duty of hospitality that would tell him much about her character. What he asks God to do is confirm his actions in making a choice.

There were other females in this clan. The servant asks that the Lord’s appointed would be confirmed through this discernment process he has thoughtfully undertaken.

3. Which leads us to this third point, obey God in what you already know to do. God’s will in these larger matters is discerned in obeying him in the things you already know to do; in the things he has already made clear to us by his word.

I invite you to hear Abraham’s charge to this servant about finding a wife of Isaac. It is in the earlier portion of this 24th chapter of Genesis that we did not read; it sets the stage for what will unfold in the particular choice of Rebekah.

It sounds strange to us but in these ancient Eastern cultures it was the duty of a father to secure a wife for his son. For Abraham this duty has all the special impetus of the promises of God to make a great nation of his descendants through whom God would bless the world. Listen to the charge he gives this servant. “Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, ‘Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac. The servant said to him, ‘Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land; must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?’ Abraham said to him, ‘See to it that you do not take my son back there’.” (Genesis 24:2-6)

In finding a wife for his son Isaac, Abraham insists on three things. The woman is not to be from the daughters of the Canaanites but from among his own kindred. God had promised that it was through his family that the world would be blessed so Abraham discerns that Isaac’s wife needs to be from this broader family connection. Further under no circumstances is Isaac to be taken back to Mesopotamia to find a wife. He was not to go back to the land God called him to leave behind and he was to stay in the land of promise—the one God had showed him. Abraham discerns these things as consistent with God’s call on his life.

In short, when it comes to a choice of a wife for Isaac he begins with what he already knows to do. He endeavors to obey the word of God to him in all these matters of life—including finding Isaac’s spouse.

The servant has further reflected on his task. He knows something about Isaac and perhaps thinks Isaac needs a woman who will light a fire under him and so looks for a woman, within the parameters of Abraham’s guidance, who has a lively character. The bible says of Rebekah that she was “very fair to look upon.” What I point out to you is that within this normal course of a very human choice God guides this servant and Abraham. Guidance came as they did what they already knew to do.

Friends, consider this great book the Bible and all that God has already disclosed to us as his will for our lives. We know, for example, that it is God’s will that we love one another as he loved us. His love is self-forgetful self-giving. As we endeavour to seek the best for others in our relationships in life God will guide is the joys of our human relationships. In another example, consider that God has called his church to worship Christ and make Christ him known. I believe that if we will dedicate ourselves to do what we know to do—make our worship the best we can, for example—the specifics of how that is to look in our generation will emerge. We have been praying for discernment; it will come in the midst of obeying what we already know to do.

God’s leadership of our lives never absolves us of the responsibility to think through the things he has already made clear and discern how to act consistent with these things in our world and time. Looking for God’s specific will is often like choosing among good options. I heard the call of God on my life to serve him in the pastoral ministry; the specifics of denomination and choice of school for education and church to serve were an emerging matter made obvious in a variety of ways. But all of it emerged in obedience to a call to serve.

4. Fourth, pray for God’s specific will. It is acceptable to ask God to clarify the way forward. The servant’s prayer had this sort of tenor; “Lord I’ve done all I know to do to obey you in this matter please show me the woman you have chosen for my master’s son.” Our prayer sometimes needs to be, Lord, is there something else I need to obey you in. Still, God invites us to ask for his specific will.

The servant is overwhelmed with the delight of surprise that God answered his prayer. It is often thus way with us. Excitedly he tells others of how he prayed and of the way things were confirmed. However, like this servant, when we tell others of our experience they are naturally wary. Rebekah’s brother and father said “The thing comes from the Lord; we cannot speak to you anything bad or good. Look, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.” They are both good with sending Rebekah (they saw the gifts the servant brought); such a family alliance could only bode well for a prosperous future.

Further, when the Lord confirms something specific of his will in our hearts we are the one who knows it. There is a personal aspect to such interchange with God. When people ask me about the call of God on my life to ministry I find it hard to explain; but that it is hard to explain doesn’t make it any less clear in my heart and mind.

Please note the important place of prayer in all of this. Knowing God’s will is discerned through prayer.

5. Fifth, discerning God’s will in specific matters sometimes means we have to wait. Wait on God to make it clear. We often see Isaac as an idle bystander in all of this. I am sure that Abraham has discussed this project with him. At the moment when he meets Rebekah he is out in the field at the evening of the day looking for the servants return. No doubt, he has been praying for the servant’s success. God’s timing is important; Rebekah needed to be of age and disposition to be ready to go, for example.

6. Sixth, notwithstanding a time of waiting, at some point you have to act. When God made it clear to this servant that Rebekah was the one he took action. He gave her the gifts of golden bracelets and nose-rings (perhaps akin to our earrings of today). He comes to her home and meets her brother Laban and father Bethuel. He negotiates for Rebekah according to their customs. He doesn’t want to delay in getting back and so when Rebekah says she is ready to go they go. No opportunity for cold feet.

I wonder how often we miss out on God’s blessing because we hesitate to act. We say “I am waiting on God” as an excuse to do nothing. I believe that taking action in the things you know to do prepares you to take action when the specific is confirmed. When I heard the call of God to ministry I had to take action. Study and preparation were ahead.

All of this is captured the is wonderful promise of our Lord’s saying: “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8).