Abraham has a unique place in the world religious history. Three major religions (Jews, Muslims, Christians) of the world admire and adore him. His influence on the believers of all ages is tremendous. Abraham was not a perfect man, he had his own shortcomings and failures. And yet his life shines as an example for us today. In this study, I would limit myself to four essential characteristics of Abraham’s life which I consider significant in the context of Christian leadership.
I) A Person of Extra-ordinary faith in God
Turn to Gen.12:1-3, Heb.11:8. Note that God did not specify where he was taking Abraham, nor did he give a detailed blueprint of his future. He was called to step out in faith and Abraham did exactly that. It required a large amount of faith in God for Abraham to do this. Not just the initial step, Abraham’s whole life was marked by actions of faith in God. Let me just point out one incident. In Gen.15:1-6 we read that God promised a son to Abraham and Sarah. It was not an easy proposition. Almost an impossibility. How could Abraham and Sarah have a son of their own at that old age? She was barren all the time. It was beyond human possibilities. In other words, it was matter to be laughed at. But Abraham believed that it would happen. And God counted that faith to him as righteousness. I think today there is a great need for people who exercise this sort of faith in God. Whether it be in our personal lives or ministry, we need people who would trust God in midst of impossibilities and mountain like hindrances. Unfortunately, we have so much pessimism going all around us. This is reflected even in our conversations and discussions. The often heard phrase is “No, it cant be done,” “it is impossible,” “Why think of it?” There are people who keep on sowing seeds of doubt and discouragement all over the place. This has to be change if progress has to be seen. Note this: Leaders who have done great things for God have been men and women of Faith.
Illustrations: Over in Burma, Judson was lying in a foul jail with heavy chains on his ankles and feet. A fellow prisoner said, “Dr. Judson, what about the prospect of the conversion of the heathen?”, with a sneer on his face. His instant reply was, “The prospects are just as bright as the promises of God.”
Likewise, It is said that when George Muller was burdened to start an orphanage in Bristol he had just a few shillings with him. But that did not prevent him. History says that Muller and his 2000 children at Bristol never starved even for a meal. Friends, never allow discouragement to destroy your life. Surround yourself with people who are optimists. Trust God. This is the secret of a successful Christian life.
II) A Person who learned the importance of Obedience
Faith and Obedience go hand in hand. “Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again – until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.” William Booth
Turn to Acts 7:2-4. God had a wonderful plan and purpose for Abraham’s life but it all depended on how he responded to the call. When God appeared to Abraham, he was about seventy and by all means he had a well settled life by then. The call was – to leave the familiar place, familiar people and familiar circumstances. If Abraham had to follow the true God who appeared to him, he had no other option but to obey him and take the first step.
Abraham obeyed but not fully. He started the journey from Ur but then halted at Haran (his aged father was with him). Oswald Sanders notes, “History was held up at Haran through an oldman’s prejudice and a youngman’s timidity.” Timidity was Abraham’s problem. There will always be something hindering us from yielding ourselves fully to God. It might be a person, a pet project, an ambition or a sinful habit. We need to give some serious thought about this. What is hindering me from yielding myself to God fully? When our lives are not fully committed to him, we would never be able to enjoy the richness of Christian life.
After his father’s death, God appeared to Abraham again (Gen.12:1-3) with the same call. This time there was implicit obedience. This was a turning point in his spiritual journey. The relationship between God and Abraham became intimate after this. God became his guide, his encourager, the promise giver, in sum, a friend. This is the blessedness of obedience.
F.F.Bruce states, “Disobey and you tread a path unlit by a single star. Obey, live upto God’s commandments, then you would see successive promises beam out of heaven to light up your steps, each one richer and fuller than the one before.” I think there are two reasons why we hesitate to obey God in our lives:
1) We at times think we know our lives better than God and hence we want to have our way. “One night an Admiral on a US Navy Battleship ordered a certain course. The navigation officer, seeing a light in the distance, reported that the battleship now seemed to be on a collision course with another ship. So the Admiral ordered his radio officer to send a message to the on- coming ship that it should change its course 10 degrees to the south. The reply came simply, ‘No. You change YOUR course 10 degrees to the south.’ After two more unsuccessful exchanges, the Admiral, now quite furious, came thundering into the radio control room, grabbed the microphone, and bellowed into it, ‘Do you know that you are talking to an ADMIRAL in the UNITED STATES NAVY!’ After a brief moment of silence, the even tempered reply came back, ‘Sir, do you know that YOU are talking to the lighthouse?'” We are like this admiral sometimes, so resilient to obey but friends God knows our paths much much better than we do. This thought should motivate us to obey him.
2) We doubt God’s goodness so we hesitate to obey him.
We need to know that if obedience brings blessings in our lives, disobedience causes great distress. Ex; Jonah, Saul
III) A Person who Followed a Distinct Life-style
Abraham to his credit never got himself entangled with the local people, never attended the vile gathering, he guarded himself against heathen inter-marriage, paid full market value for what he got – he lived in the world but not of the world. Abraham’s entire life was characterized by two things – Tents and Altars (Gen.12:7-9). What does Tent life symbolizes?
1) It symbolizes flexibility to God. Abraham was flexible before God – He was willing to move out at God’s command and settle down at God’s command. Living in tents made this possible. Are we flexible?
2) Tent life was a constant remainder to Abraham that he didn’t belong to the world eternally. What a perspective is this. We live in an age of material accumulation and extravagant consumerism. If eternity is not in our minds, the whole of our life would be spent for the temporal. Altars – Abraham built altars wherever he pitched his tent. This was an outward expression of Abraham’s priorities in life. Altar was the place Abraham met with God on a regular basis. He realised the importance of this. How about us? Do we have the habit meeting with God daily? Do we have altars that symbolise our relationship with God?
IV) A Person who was Wholehearted in his Commitment to God
Over the years Abraham’s devotion to the Lord continued to grow. As a result God’s blessings were overflowing in Abraham’s household. There came a time when God wanted to test Abraham’s commitment to him. We read it in Gen. 22:1-18. God demanded from Abraham his one and only son Isaac. Isaac was now a grown up child. Abraham’ love for his son is just imaginable. Now God wanted this son to be sacrificed. This is the last thing Abraham would expect God to ask him. I imagine the emotions. Abraham had no hesitations whatsoever. He starts his three day long journey to Mt. Moriah with Isaac. The conversation on the wayside is more disturbing. When everything was set for the final act, then he heard the voice of God. This act of Abraham really warmed God’s heart – Gen.22:16-18. Surrendering ourselves to God completely is a hard thing to do. We always want to withhold something for us. We have a few things which cannot be offered. What Abraham did is a challenge for us. He was wiling to give what he dearly loved. Friends, let me tell you – God did not withhold anything when he attempted to save us. He loved us so much that in order to deliver us he willing to offer his only begotten son on the cross of Calvary. It is this love of God that demands a total surrender from us.
Some one asked C. T. Studd, the great missionary of the early 20th century, How could you make so many sacrifices? Studd’s answer was: I had known about Jesus dying for me but I had never understood that if he died for me, then I didn’t belong to myself. When I came to see that Jesus Christ had died for me, it didn’t seem hard to give up all for him.
No wonder Isaac Watts, sang,
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride
See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
By Sam K. John