ďAt PeaceĒ†††† Genesis 21:22-34††††††† August 16, 2009
SI:† We are studying the life of Abraham, Genesis chapters 12-25.
Heís called the father of those who believe in Jesus Christ.
†† His life demonstrates the fundamental truths of the Christian life.
All your experiences as a believer, good and bad, joyful and painful,
†† were experienced by Abraham first.† They were part of Godís plan,
†† not only for his life, but for the life of all believers.
Knowing that helps keep you steady and balanced and able to see
†† more clearly the Lordís hand in all you are going through.
INTRO:† Several years ago I knew a pastor who was at a tough church.
This church seemed to have a very high number of critical people.
†† There was always a conflict over one thing or anotherónever big enough to split.
†† It was the church personality.† Every week he dealt with disgruntled people.†
He struggled with that, of course.† He struggled to keep a good attitude.
†† He struggled to keep a sense of Godís calling, purpose in work.
Sometimes he didnít do so good.
†† There were a number of Monday mornings he was overcome with self-pity
†† and typed a resignation letter.† But then later that day he would tear it up.
He stayed at the church about 15 years and it grew under his ministry, and he grew.
Then he took a call to another church, in another state.
I ran into him at General Assembly a few years later and asked him about his move.
†† A slow smile spread across his face and he saidóI love it.
He began to talk about his congregation.† How much the people loved each other.
†† How they overlooked weaknesses and faults and where just glad to be in church.
†† My wife and I canít remember a time our lives have been so peaceful.
I think that if you could have talked to Abraham at the end of this chapter and asked
†† him how his life was, he would have taken a breath of clean desert air and said:†
†† Peaceful.† Sarah and I canít remember a time our lives have been so peaceful.†
Think about the family tension they had lived with for 16 or 17 years.
†† The deep conflict between Sarah and Hagar,
†† and then between Ishmael and Isaac, with Abraham stuck in the middle.
We saw last week how all those jealousies and expectations boiled over
†† in that horrible scene at the party for little Isaac.†
Ishmael, 17 years old, chip on shoulder, full of animosity, mocking the little boy.†
Then Sarah going on the attack, defending her son, the rightful heir,
†† and insisting that Abraham cast out ďthat woman and her son.Ē.
In Mark Driscollís sermon on that story he says that the chaos in Abrahamís family
†† is so bad, itís like an episode of COPS.† He imagines Abraham saying:
†† ďOfficer, my wife and my girlfriend got into it at the kidís birthday party!Ē
All that family turmoil was gone.† Took an act of faith.† It was very painful.
†† But gone and Abraham and Sarah were enjoying peaceful years raising Isaac.
†† Can tell from later details, he was a obedient, compliant child.
Also, Abraham had always been ill at ease in the Promised Land.
†† He had lived as a pilgrim in the in-between spaces not occupied by Canaanites.
†† That meant he was always moving, looking for places for his flocks.
†† Looking for water and grazing, and then moving on when he wore out welcome.
He had to fight the Canaanites once.
†† Twice, he was sure he was going to be murdered so they could steal his wife.
†† He was wrong, God took care of him.† But felt like looking over his shoulder.
And now that sense of unease was gone.† This powerful Canaanite king
†† Abimelech wanted good relations with Abraham.† Swore friendship with him.
Abraham was straightforward and honest with Abimelech.
†† So he recognized Abrahamís ownership of a well and pastureland.
Beersheba, down there in the south, in the desert, became home for
†† Abraham in a way he had not known since he had left Ur decades earlier.
Did you notice that interesting little detail at the very end?† Abraham planted a tree.
†† A tamarisk tree, a shade tree.† You donít plant a tree if youíre moving soon.
So his circumstances had changedóhis family dynamics, his living situation.
†† It was more than that, Abraham had changed inside.†
His faith had grown.† His faith had matured.†
It had taken years.† It had taken some significant crises.†
†† It had taken experiencing faithful decisions and faithless decisions.
But through those things he was moving into a different stage in his walk with God.†
And so there was this divinely orchestrated coming together
†† of change in his circumstances and a maturity of his faith,
†† and those together ushered in the season of peace that we see him enjoying here.
I think this is a pattern for our lives.† Abrahamís experiences typical.
And since we canít change our circumstancesóthatís up to God.
†† We need to focus what we can doómaturing our faith.
That way we will be ready to enter into and make the most of those seasons
†† of peace the Lord has in store for us, whenever they come.
Look at this under two headings:
1.† Preparing for seasons of peace
2.† Making the most of seasons of peace
†† First point will be longer than the second point.
MP#1† Preparing for seasons of peace.
Two things stand out in this story.† In order to prepare for seasons of peace
†† you must trust Godís word and pursue Godís calling.
If we could use one word to describe how Abrahamís view of God had matured,
†† it would be the word trust.
On the one hand we could say that Abraham had always trusted God.
†† He left Ur because he believed God would give him the promised son
†† and the Promised Land.† But there were many times he didnít trust him.†
He trusted God and didnít trust God at the same time.
†† Does that make sense?† Is it possible to trust and not trust at the same time?
Of course it is.† If you are a Christian, you know exactly how that works.
†† You believe and you struggle with unbelief at the same time.
Youíve given your life to Jesus Christ.† You believe he is the Son of God,
†† that he rose from the dead, that in him all your sins are forgiven, child of God.
And at the very same time you struggle to believe that he will keep
†† all of his promises to you.†
Like the man said to Jesus: ďLord, I believe.† Help my unbelief!Ē
Abraham had believed the Lord.† He committed his life God.
†† But you know that there were times he did not trust God.
In fact, the last time Abraham dealt with Abimelech he didnít trust God.
†† He was afraid that Abimelech would kill him and take Sarah.
†† So he lied and shamed himself and his witness.
And so here we have what seems like a minor storyó
†† a conflict over a well and a peace agreement between two men.
But Abrahamís response to the conflict reveals something significant.
†† It shows us that his trust in the Lord had matured.†
This was the sort of thing that in the past had rattled Abrahamó
†† potential threat and conflict with the Canaanites in the land.
But he dealt with it in a forthright and open manner instead of
†† in an underhanded or deceptive way like he had in the past.
Thatís because he had come to a deeper trust in Godís promise
†† to give his descendants the land.†
So he was able to approach Abimelech openly, confidently.
†† And then enjoy the peace that came when God worked things out.
You must grow in your trust in all Godís promises to you.
†† Thatís the only way you will fully enter into seasons of peace when they come.
If you are in a time of struggle right now,
†† and you are doubting God, and finding no peace in his promises,
†† then when your circumstances change, youíre not enjoy it as you should.
If you donít believe Jesus when he teaches you to pray:
†† ďGive us this day our daily bread.Ē
Or David when he said:
†† ďI was young but now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken,
†† or their children begging bread.Ē
Or Paul when he said:†
†† ďAnd my God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.Ē
Then when God supplies, you will still worry and fret and will be incapable
†† of fully entering into the season of peace he brings you.
Or what about when the Bible says:
†† ďWeeping will remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.Ē
†† Humble yourself under Godís mighty hand that he may lift you up in due time.Ē
If you donít believe those promises when you are depressedó
†† then when the Lord brings you out of the dark and into a sunlit place,
†† it will be harder for you to see it and enjoy it.
When Will was a little boy, he tended to be a pessimist.† (I got permission for this!)
†† He had a new toyóa plastic sword.† He took it to grocery store with Allison.
Later they realized had left it in the buggy.
†† When I got home Will was beside himself.† Mourning his lost sword.
I said:† Itís not lost, itís at the grocery store and weíll go get it now.
†† No, he said, itís lost forever.† Itís gone!† Itís gone!†
No, I said.† One of the clerks or bag boys found it, remembered you.† Itís at desk.
†† No, he said, some other child has found it and has taken it.†
No matter what I said, he responded with unbelief.† So we drove to Food World.
†† Allison got out while Will and I circled the parking lot.† Itís gone forever!
Allison came out, had her hand behind her back, trying to look sad.†
†† Will got very quiet.† Then she whipped it out with grinóand Will burst into tears.†
He was disappointed he wasnít disappointed.†
†† You have to trust Godís word, claim promises, so that you are ready to rejoice,
†† and fully enter into the blessings and peaceful times when they come.
And second, you have to purse Godís calling.
The Lord had given Abraham a special calling.
Through you will all nations on the earth be blessed.
†† That was ultimately a reference to Jesus Christ.
†† How through Jesus all nations blessed with salvation.
But it also referred to Abraham himself.
†† He was called to be a blessing to the nations.† And sometimes he did that well.†
†† Think of the way he interceded with the Lord for Sodom.†
But there were other times when he failed in that calling.
†† He was sometimes so fearful of the Canaanites, and so concerned about
†† his own security that he wasnít a blessing.† He wasnít even honest with them.
Thatís why this story shows such growth in Abraham.
†† The way he deals with Abimelech is different and itís a blessing.
†† Yes, Abraham says, Iíll enter into a treaty and covenant with you.
Then Abraham brought up the matter of the disputed well.
†† And without fear, but in a way that was respectful and generous,
†† and expecting the best from Abimelech, he stated his case.
And the men left on good terms, and Abimelech left
†† with a positive view of Abrahamís God.
Why did Abraham respond so differently?†
†† Part of it was his maturing trust in the Lord.
†† But part of it was this matter of his calling.
I think Abraham was seeing more clearly that he was Godís man on earthó
†† and that his calling was to be a blessing to the nationsóblessing to all people.
And it was knowing that, knowing his calling, and pursuing it,
†† that took away his fear.† How can you be afraid of people if you know
†† that the Lord has called you to bless them?†
How can you be afraid to speak the truth honestly and openly?
†† How can you feel sorry for yourself if people donít appreciate you?
†† You canít Your calling is too great.† Youíve been blessed by God to be a blessing.
And the more you pursue that calling in the difficult times,
†† the more prepared you will be for the seasons of peace.
The pastor I mentioned at the beginning is an interesting case.
His struggle wasnít his health.† It wasnít his finances.
†† His struggle was people.† Critical, hard, people he had to deal with every week.
And sometimes he didnít do so well.†
†† As I mentioned, he responded with self-pity.
†† There were some church members he feared.
The natural response was to withdraw, to shut them out,
†† to avoid saying what needed to be said because of the fear and discomfort.
But what got him through, besides trust in the Lord, was a sense of calling.
†† He believed God had called him to that congregation.
Thatís why he stayed there 15 years and was such a blessing,
†† and learned what it meant to speak the truth in love.
And because he pursued Godís call, when his circumstances changed,
†† and God led him to that loving church, with those gentle Christians,
†† he and his wife were able to enter fully into that season of peace.
They didnít go there still lugging their fear and self-pity.
†† They had learned that they were blessed to be a blessing.
†† They had done that in the hard times, and it paid dividends later.
One more story along these lines.
A Christian man once told me how he and his wife were enjoying
†† a season in their marriage that was so sweet, so happy, that it caught off guard.
They had two rocky decades and lots of conflict.† Unpleasant marriage.
†† Even though she was a hard woman to live with, he had pursued his calling.
†† He had loved his wife like Christ loved the church.
And then there was this surprising season and there he was, ready to enjoy it.
†† What it he had grown bitter in the hard times?† He would have missed it.
But it was this knowledge that God had called him to love her,
†† that not only helped him in the hard times, it set table for season of peace.
Now, my personal question to you is:† Who are your problem people?
†† What are the hard relationships in your life right now?
†† Itís so easy to respond in fearófear of pain, rejection, criticism.
The Lord has blessed you so that you can be a blessing.†
†† And he has called you to be a husband, wife, parent, boss, employee, student,
†† teacher.† Ultimately, you didnít choose those roles, he called you to them.
And it is there, as Bible guides, that you are to work out your callings.
†† Pursue them in the hard times, and you will enjoy seasons of peace.
So Abraham entered into this season of peace.
†† Might be as much as 30 years between end of chapter 21 and beginning of 22.
How did Abraham spend those peaceful years?
†† That brings us to the second point:†
MP#2 †Making the most of seasons of peace
Last summer I read William Manchesterís biography of Churchill.
†† One thing that Churchill said that stuck in my mind was thisóparaphrasing.
The hardest thing to do is prepare for war in time of peace,
†† and to prepare for peace in time of war.†
He was talking about how easy it is to ride the tide of public opinion and feeling,
†† but it takes true leadership to look ahead and prepare for what is to come.
Itís kind of funny that Churchill said that because he was talking about himself.
†† How he stood against the tide in England for years, all through the 30s,
†† that said Peace, Peace, Peaceóhow dare you talk about war.
Churchill kept saying, itís coming.† War is coming.† Other voices too, not just his.
†† But mostly people didnít even want to think about war.
That struck me as so true on a spiritual level.
And, in fact, weíve been talking about preparing for peace in time of war.
†† How do you prepare for seasons of peace the Lord has in store for you,
†† when you are right now struggling.† Things you need to do.
But now letís look at something also hardóthose times of peace.
You look up and things are peaceful in your lifeó
†† your home is happy, your workplace fulfilling, your church is sweet and loving.
Youíre healthy, your bills are paid on time, children doing well.
†† Spiritually you feel that you are walking with God, walking obediently.
Let me ask you a Bible question:† What happens to Abraham in the next chapter?
†† Donít peek.† Weíre going to have a pop quiz.†
†† What was the greatest trial of Abrahamís life?
It was when God told him to sacrifice his son Isaac.†
†† And that happens in the next chapter, right after his longest season of peace.
Listen to the way James Montgomery Boice sets this up:
†† ďAbraham must have thought of this period as the autumn of his life and of Beersheba as his Golden Pond.† He had lived a long time.† God had been faithful.† Isaac had been born.† What could he have expected but a peaceful continuation of these blessings in his declining years . . . Abraham could not have known that the greatest trial of his life was yet to come and that from a clear sky a thunderbolt was about to fall, threatening to destroy all his happiness at a single stroke.Ē
Abrahamís Golden Pondóthatís good, isnít it.† Thatís what we want.
†† The good, peaceful times to continue forever.† And thereís nothing wrong
†† with wanting that.† But Abraham didnít misuse those days of peace.
How did he use them?† Growing closer to God.
Described in two ways:† First, called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God.
†† Only three times in Abrahamís story this phrase used:
Called on the name of the Lordóitís a reference to worship.
†† Associated with Abraham building altars and offering sacrifices.
Abraham was devoted to the means of grace.† Worship, prayer.
†† Instead of getting soft in his devotional life, he became more intense.
In fact, this name for the Lord, the Eternal God, El Olam, is used for the first
†† time here.† Itís Abrahamís expression of the trustworthiness of the Lord.
†† How his promises and character is never changing.
So we see that Abraham did not slack off in this time of peace, continued
†† to grow and participate fully in public worship with believers of his house.
Other thing we are told is that he planted this tree.† Already mentioned that.
†† This is important.† Not just for shade.† It was planted in commemoration
†† of the peace treaty with Abimelech that secured this well and place.
Deeper than that, was a memorial to him of the faithfulness of God.
†† Every day he watched that tree grow over 30 years, sat under shade
†† with Isaac, remembered the faithfulness of God.
So that when Abraham came out of that season of peace,
†† faced the greatest trial of his life.† He leaned on God he knew well, passed test.
When you are in a time of peace and prosperity.† When things going well.
†† Donít neglect church.† Donít forsake public worship and prayer.
Do the opposite.† Make use of this time of peace to affirm for yourself and family,
†† that the Lord is good and faithful.† Do all that you can to remind yourself daily,
†† that the peaceful time you are enjoying is not your doing, the Lordís.
Plant a tree if you have to.† Watch it grow and praise the Lord.
The Apostle Paul uses a different image:
†† ďPut on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand
†† your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.Ē
When is the time to put on your armor, strap on your sword?
†† Before the evil day comes.† If you are asleep in your tent saying peace, peace,
†† and the trumpet sounds, you wonít be ready.
Whatís the armor of God?†
Itís the promises of the Gospel applied and brought home to your soul.
Itís what Abraham was doing when he called on the name of the Lord,
†† the Eternal God during those many peaceful years in Beersheba.
And when the day of evil cameóhe was able to stand.
†† Weíll see that next Sunday.
Are you in a season of peace?
Prepare for war.† Youíre still living in a fallen world.
†† Draw close to the Lord, make use of all you have, all the means of grace,
†† to push home the Gospel promises.
Are you in a season of war and conflict?
Prepare for peaceóLook to Godís promises, ponder your calling, and pursue it.
And when your night of weeping gives way to the morning of rejoicing,
†† you will enter it fully and praise the Lord, your eternal God.