Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 12-6-04

 When Faith Falters
   Gen 12:10-13:4 (Living)

 

10 There was at that time a terrible famine in the land: and so Abram went on down to Egypt to live.
11-13 But as he was approaching the borders of Egypt, he asked Sarai his wife to tell everyone that she was his sister! "You are very beautiful," he told her, "and when the Egyptians see you they will say, 'This is his wife. Let's kill him and then we can have her!' But if you say you are my sister, then the Egyptians will treat me well because of you, and spare my life!"
14 And sure enough, when they arrived in Egypt everyone spoke of her beauty.
15 When the palace aides saw her, they praised her to their king, the Pharaoh, and she was taken into his harem.
16 Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her--sheep, oxen, donkeys, men and women slaves, and camels.
17 But the Lord sent a terrible plague upon Pharaoh's household on account of her being there.
18 Then Pharaoh called Abram before him and accused him sharply. "What is this you have done to me?" he demanded. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife?
19 Why were you willing to let me marry her, saying she was your sister? Here, take her and be gone!"
20 And Pharaoh sent them out of the country under armed escort--Abram, his wife, and all his household and possessions.
1,2 So they left Egypt and traveled north into the Negeb--Abram with his wife, and Lot, and all that they owned, for Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.
3,4 Then they continued northward toward Bethel where he had camped before, between Bethel and Ai--to the place where he had built the altar. And there he again worshiped the Lord.

Today, I want to speak about “How to Keep Your Faith from Faltering”.
 

Introduction

One of my favorite Hymn writers is Fanny Crosby.

Although she was blind, Fanny Crosby wrote over eight thousand hymns.

There is a great story behind how she came to write the Hymn titled “All the Way my Savior Leads Me.”

Story has it that Fanny was worried about money that she needed to pay bills.

She needed five dollars and she did not know where she would get it.

Instead of letting her faith guide her, she let her fear consume her.

As she was worrying about the situation a knock came at the door; it was someone who felt led to give her five dollars.

This person had no idea of her need, but felt led to give Fanny this amount.

To Fanny, this was a rebuke of her lack of faith and trust in the Lord.

It was out of a faltering faith that Fanny Crosby wrote “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.”

In the believer’s journey of faith there are going to be those moments when faith falters.

Just as Fanny Crosby had a faltering faith, today’s study of Abram will reveal a faltering faith.

And if we look into our own journey of faith, we too, will see moments where our faith faltered.

You could say that a faltering faith is inevitable, but it does not mean that we should not try to avoid it at all cost.

Any study of the life of Abraham is a study that can help us learn lessons that may help our faith grow.

This study may help us realize the attitudes and choices that can hamper our journey of faith and perhaps we can avoid those attitudes and choices when they come our way.

We must remember that the journey of faith is a process of maturity and that there are different stages within the process.

There are stages of great success and there are stages of great defeat.

And our faithful God uses both success and failure to mature us in our faith.

Abraham started his journey of faith in Ur, but along the way he was sidetracked and he and his father Terah settled in Haran.

But after his father died, he responded in faith to God’s call and continued on his journey until he made it to Canaan.

In our text today we find Abram in Canaan, the place where God wanted him to go.

You could say that Abraham is in the center of God’s will, but that would soon change.

It would change because trying circumstances would come to test Abram’s faith and Abram’s faith falters.

Abram’s faith will crash in our text, but the crash is not terminal.

God in his faithfulness will use Abram’s failure to bless Abram and grow Abram in his life of faith.

It is from these verses that God’s people can learn how to keep their own faith from faltering when they face trying times.

The first lesson that will help God’s people in their journey of faith is that they must realize that faith matures through challenging circumstances. 

Verse 10 of Genesis 12 informs us that “Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was sever in the land.” 

Sojourn is a word you may not be familiar with: it means to “halt,” “rest” or “stop over.”

The challenging circumstance for Abram is a famine in the land.

In fact, the end of verse ten tells us that this famine was severe.

The Hebrew word translated “severe” has the meaning of burdensome or difficult.

You could say that the famine was very challenging for everyone who lived in the land.
It was not uncommon for this area in which Abram found himself in to experience drought.

The natural environment of that region was very fragile because it depended on the rains that came in the winter and spring months.

If these rains did not come at the time needed, or if it was less or more than expected, or if it failed to rain at all, then the planting and harvesting was negatively affected.

This difficult circumstance would become a challenge to Abram and a test of Abram’s faith in the Lord.

The challenge of Abram’s faith can be understood when we become aware of the nature of the summons to the life of faith given in the previous verses.

Abram first heard the call of God upon his life while he was in his birthplace, Ur of the Chaldeans.

Abram was to leave Ur and go to Canaan.

Canaan did not compare to Ur when it came to luxurious comfort.

Ur was port city, fed by two great rivers, and rich soil there brought about a great harvest.

Canaan, on the other hand had a very sensitive environment that could bring about famine in the land at any time.

The challenge to Abram’s journey of faith would be doubt concerning the will of God.

Can you imagine what Abram thought as he realized that the land that the Lord promised to him would not be able to feed him and his family?

I imagine that Abram was a lot like you and I, he probably started questioning the will of God for his life.

How many times have you stepped out in faith, and when you got to where you were going you faced difficulty, and you think, “I have made a mistake?”

That’s our tendency as humans, and that is often the challenge that we face when circumstances such as this come our way.

We begin to doubt the will of God, because somehow we got the notion that being in the center of God’s will means that we do not face challenging circumstances.

Quite the contrary!

God will often send us through challenging circumstances to mature us, and if we are going to meet the challenge and not begin to doubt the will of God, then we must recognize that challenging circumstances that come our way, come from the hand of a sovereign God.
 
The test to Abram’s faith is recognized when we remember the promises that the Lord gave to Abram in verses two and three.

God told Abram that he would take care of him and bless him as he set out on his journey of faith.

The test for Abram’s faith is found in his ability or lack of ability to put his total trust in the promises of God.

Challenging circumstances tend to cause fear, a fear that undermines our ability to trust God.

Fear causes us to question God’s ability to take care of us.

Fear causes us to question God’s ability to fulfill His promises.

The test for Abram’s faith, and the test for all who are on the journey of faith, in challenging circumstances such as this, is the ability to overcome fear with faith.

And when we fail to overcome fear with faith, when fear overcomes our faith, it is then that our faith will falter.

We Christians, who are on the journey of faith, must remember that we live in an environment that is challenging to the life of faith.

It is challenging spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Sin consumes the environment that we live in, and therefore this sinful environment will bring about many challenging circumstances for the Christian on a daily basis.

These circumstances come to test and try our faith, and if we respond to challenging circumstances with a wholehearted trust in God, our faith will not falter, but if fear overcomes faith, faith will falter.

Abram would not pass the test, but instead, his fear overcomes his faith, and his faith falters.

This brings us to the second lesson that will help us keep our faith from faltering: we must realize that the greatest enemy to the life of faith is fear. 

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

In the life of faith the only thing we have to fear when it comes to a faltering faith is fear itself, for fear is the greatest enemy to faith.


Now, fear can be a friend to faith when one let’s fear strengthen faith, but when one gives into fear it will overcome faith.

The remainder of the text reveals how Abram gave into fear and how fear caused his faith to falter.

The first thing to notice is that fear, if not overcome with faith, will begin to speak louder than the Father. 

In verse ten we are told that on the account of the famine in the land, Abram decided to leave the place where God commanded him to go and make his way into Egypt.

At first glance this seems like the wise thing to do, but when you take a closer look at the verse you notice that something is missing.

We know that the Lord brought Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans with his Father Terah.

We know from verse one of chapter twelve that it was the Lord who commanded Abram to leave Haran and go to Canaan.

What is missing in this journey is the voice of the Lord telling Abram to go to Egypt.

The absence of God speaking to Abram is no coincidence.

The absence reveals that Abram was letting his fear speak louder than the Father.

God’s promises at this point were in the background and now it was Abram’s fears speaking to him.

Will God really take care of me?

Is he really going to bless me like he said?

These fears and doubts would begin to chip away at his trust in the Lord.

Abram’s fears would begin to overshadow the promises of God.

When fear begins to speak louder than the Father it distorts reality and causes one to lose sight of God.

But, let us not be so hard on Abram for letting fear speak louder than the Father.

There are other times in the Bible were God’s people let their fears speak louder than the promises of God.

One only has to go to the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the book of Numbers to see God’s people letting their fears speak louder than the promises of the Father.

God commands Moses to take leaders from the twelve tribes of Israel and send them into the land of Canaan.

These twelve men spent forty days spying out the land and then they came back to give a report.

In the report they gave, they declared that the land had much to offer, but ten of them were scared to go in.

They said that the people were to great to defeat, and therefore they should not go in.

Two of the twelve, Caleb and Joshua said they should go in.

Needless to say, the ten who were afraid, scared the rest of the people and they did not want to go in.

The problem with the report given by the ten is that they forgot that God had already told them that He would take care of the people in the Promised Land.

The Lord promised to give them the land.

Their fears spoke louder than the Father’s promise.

When fear begins to speak louder than the Father, faith will be begin to falter, and when our faith begins to falter, we will often fall into the same temptation that Abram fell into: fear can cause us to take things into our own hands instead of trusting the Lord to take care of us. 

On account of Abram listening to his fears instead of having faith, he begins to take the initiative in his journey of faith instead of following the Lord’s initiative.

Notice that in verse one it is God taking the initiative to summons Abram back to the journey of faith.

It was on his own initiative that Abram “went down to Egypt and sojourned (stayed a while)” not God’s initiative.

Abram is taking things into his own hands.

The reason is simple: his faith had faltered on account of his fears.

Abram takes things into his own hands and leaves God out of the equation.

Abram’s sojourn into Egypt was a clear indication that Abram was operating on his own terms and not the Father’s.

There are a few times in the Bible where we see the Lord commanding or allowing his people to go to Egypt.

We see this truth with both Jacob, and Joseph, the adopted father of Jesus.

But for the most part, when Egypt is mentioned in the Bible it is usually referring to that which is of the world.

When Egypt is used in this sense it often refers to that which God’s people are to avoid allegiance to.

To go to and rely on Egypt is symbolic of relying on human resources rather than trusting in the Lord.

When God’s people find themselves in Egypt it is usually because their faith has faltered, and now they have taken things into their own hands and are trusting in human resources instead of Divine resources.

When a child of God’s faith falters in this manner it usually has a downward effect.

The lack of faith on the part of God’s people usually leads to more sin committed by God’s people.

That is exactly what happens to Abram, he continues on this downward spiral of sin.

When a faith falters it can cause God’s people to do things in the flesh. 

When you see the actions of Abram in verses eleven through thirteen you begin to think that Abram never responded to the summons to the life of faith.

Abram’s actions in these verses are no different than an unbeliever’s actions.

Abram is acting totally apart from God and totally without any trust in God’s ability to protect him.

It was the fear of the famine that caused Abram’s faith in God’s ability to provide him with daily sustenance, to falter; and it was the fear of the Egyptians that caused Abram’s faith in God’s ability to protect him from danger, to falter.

Therefore, Abram would resort to scheming and deception for the purpose of protecting his own life.

Notice the conversation that takes place between Abram and Sarai just before they enter Egypt, “And it came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and it will come about when the Egyptians see you, that they will say ‘This is his wife;’ and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.”

There are several different understandings of how Abram knew that the Egyptians would kill him on the account of Sarai of which we will not get into.

How ever Abram came about this knowledge, it seems that Abram knew that if he told the Egyptians that he was Sarai’s brother then that would buy them time to escape, because the Egyptians would negotiate with Abram for the right to marry his sister.

But if they knew that Abram was Sarai’s husband then they would just kill him.

Therefore, Abram, trying to buy time and to protect himself, would deceive the Egyptians by telling them a half-truth.

There is some truth in the statement that Abram is Sarai’s brother because we are told in chapter twenty that Sarai is Abram’s half sister.

Why would Abram resort to deception and half-truths?

At this point it was all about him.

He wanted it to go well with him, and he did not want to die.

Therefore, by taking things in his own hands and doing things in the flesh, he thought he had made a plan that would bring protection to him and also help the Lord keep his promise, by him staying alive.

Abram’s plan was to buy enough time to escape with his family and fortune in tact, but his plan would fail.

We read that “It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw the woman was very beautiful. Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.”

Abram was correct in saying that they would see that Sarai was very beautiful.

Abram was also correct that if they thought that he was Sarai’s sister that it would go well with him and his life would be spared.

But Abram was incorrect in thinking that he would have enough time to negotiate with the Egyptians, and it was this false calculation that would put both his wife and his marriage in danger.

This is where his planned failed.

Though Abram experienced the blessings given to him from Pharaoh, these blessings are not divine blessings, but instead they were blessing that came about through human initiative.

Just because a believer is being blessed materially, it does not indicate God’s approval.

In the case of Abraham he prospered materially, but spiritually he was bankrupt.

Furthermore, God’s promise to make Abram a great nation and bless all nations through him was based upon the seed of Abram, a promise that was now in jeopardy because of the faltering faith of Abram.

You could say that Abram left one problem only to find himself in another problem.

He left a physical famine and found himself in a spiritual famine, a famine that came upon him on the basis of his faltering faith in the Lord’s ability to take care of him.

When our faith falters and we take things into our own hands, you can be assured that our problems will not be solved.

We only exchange one challenging circumstance for another challenging circumstance.

The greatest enemy to the life of faith is unhealthy fear.

Fear can either draw us close to God or draw us far from God.

It is the latter that is the greatest enemy of God.

When fear begins to draw us away from God it does so by speaking louder than the promises of God.

When fear speaks louder than the Father then we will be tempted to take things in our own hands.

When we take things into our own hands we will do things in the flesh.

All of this is a result of fear that causes our faith to falter.

But all is not lost when our faith falters.

We must also realize that when our faith falters we can be assured that our faithful God will not.

In verse seventeen we see the faithful Lord intervening when Abram’s faith falters.

Here’s what it says, “But the Lord sent a terrible plague upon Pharaoh's household on account of her being there.”  

“But the Lord…”

Those three words are a declaration of God’s faithfulness.

In fact, this story of Abram’s faltering faith is more about a faithful God than it is about a faithless servant.

Although Abram’s faltering faith would jeopardize the promise of God, God’s faithfulness to his word would bring the promise about.

In making sure that His promise would be fulfilled, we see God’s faithfulness revealed in three different ways.

The first thing we see is God’s faithfulness to intervene and discipline the faltering faith.

Our passage stated, “But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Then Pharaoh Called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife?’”

If we are tempted in any way to think that the Lord approves of Abram’s behavior, then these verses should dispel any such notions.

Abram left one challenging circumstance and found himself in another.

It would seem that trouble was on the horizon.

Abram was helpless to be able to save his wife Sarai, but God was not.

God would intervene by first bringing discipline upon Pharaoh and then by using Pharaoh to discipline Abram’s faltering faith.

We are told in verse seventeen that the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with a plague or disease.

Without any question, Pharaoh understood that the disease was the consequence of taking Sarai into his household.

In the ancient world the assumption was that when disease or sickness occurred it was always a direct result of displeasure on the part of a god.

The pagan religions saw disease and sickness as a direct result of sin.

The Lord revealed to Pharaoh that Sarai was Abram’s wife and as a result the Lord struck Pharaoh and his household with disease.

Pharaoh then calls Abram to him and he begins to rebuke him for his faltering faith, but don’t think for a minute that the source of the rebuke is Pharaoh.

It is the Lord using a pagan ruler to rebuke his servant.

Twice Pharaoh asks Abram why he lied to him.

This rebuke is indicative of just how far out of fellowship with the Lord Abram is.

Before Abram left for Egypt the Lord was speaking to him personally, the Lord was appearing to him, and Abram was worshiping and calling upon the name of the Lord.

But in Egypt the Lord is silent and worship is absent, and the Lord will use an ungodly man to rebuke the man of God.

Listen to Pharaoh’s questions once again, but this time see them as coming from the very mouth of the Lord, “Why did you not tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife?”

The Lord is confronting Abram on his faltering faith, and if Abram is honest with God, he would have to say that he lied because his faith faltered back in Canaan.

He lied because he failed to trust God.

In the Promised Land, he took things into his own hands, and he resorted to doing things in the flesh to try to take care of himself; when really all Abram had to do was to trust the Lord in the land of promise.

This rebuke on the part of Pharaoh and ultimately on the part of the Lord is God’s faithfulness to discipline his straying children.

God is intervening in the life of his child because His Word is at stake.

God is intervening on the part of His child because his character is at stake.

The Lord deals with all of His children the same way he deals with Abram.

He is faithful to discipline when His people’s faith falters. 

 Faithful to Deliver

Verse twenty shows us that not only is the Lord faithful to discipline, but he is also faithful to deliver, “Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.”

It's amazing, Abram puts himself and his wife in a predicament; one that could bring harm on both of them, and the Lord delivers them both unharmed.

This is God’s faithfulness to deliver his people.

But we must be very careful when we understand God’s deliverance.

God delivered Abram from the consequences of his faltering faith, but God does not always do that.

We can be assured that the Lord will deliver us spiritually by providing forgiveness and cleansing of our sins, but God often times does not deliver us from the consequences of our sins.

We see that taking place time and time again with the people of Israel.

We especially see that taking place in the life of King David.

David, committed adultery and murder, the Lord forgave him, but he did not deliver him from the consequences of his sin.

A while back, a story came out about a pharmacist who was watering down chemo treatments for the purpose of making money.

Come to find out, this pharmacist was a Christian man who was trying to make money to pay off taxes and a financial commitment he made to his church.

This Christian brother confessed his faltering faith and the Lord has forgiven him, but the Lord has not delivered him from the consequences of his faltering faith, which is prison time. 

The final observation we notice about God’s faithfulness when faith is faltering is found in the first four verses of chapter thirteen: “So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he and his wife and all that belonged to him, and Lot with him. Now Abram was very rich in livestock in silver and gold. He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.”

What is taking place in these verses is God’s faithfulness to direct the faltering faith.

We are told that Abram went as far as Bethel.

Bethel means “house of God.”

Furthermore, we are told that Abram went back to where he was in the beginning.

That is, Abram went back to where he was before his faith faltered.

Compare this with verse eight of chapter twelve: “Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an alter to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.”

God was faithful to forgive Abram’s faltering faith and direct him into full fellowship once again.
 
Abram has come full circle, his faltering faith has led him away from the Lord, away from worshiping him, away from calling upon him, and listening to him, but the Lord is faithful, and He leads Abram back to where he started.

The Lord leads Abram back to the place he should have never left: the presence of the Lord.

A pastor went to visit one of his church members who happened to be a farmer.

When he got out of his car he noticed an inscription on the farmer’s windmill.

What he saw was the words; “God is faithful,” inscribed in the farmer’s windmill.

The pastor asked to farmer, “Is that to mean that depending on what direction the wind is blowing God is faithful?”

The farmer said, “Absolutely not!  I put that there to remind me that no matter what the direction the wind blows or whether the wind blows or not, God is always faithful.”

The lesson for keeping our faith from faltering should not be centered on the faithlessness of Abram.

If we are truly going to keep our faith from faltering, then we need to focus on the faithfulness of God that is revealed in this passage.

When fear comes our way, we don’t need more faith, but instead we need a greater understanding of the object of our faith, that the Lord is always faithful, in feast or famine, when the wind blows or does not blow.

Because our God is absolutely faithful, when challenging circumstances come our way, and when fear is creeping at our door, we can be assured that the Lord is faithful and he will take care of us.

Amen!


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