Good morning and welcome to Thursday’s podcast. I hope that where ever you are and how ever you engage that God is speaking to you through this resource. Today we reach the point in the story of Stephen when he’s arrested and accused and he stands to make his defence. His speech consists of recounting the story of the nation of Israel… Acts, chapter 7 v 1-16. Here is a small section of Stephen’s defence,
‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said [to Abraham] ‘and go to the land I will show you.’ “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran.
And I want to focus in even further today, to this, “God said… so he left”
“God said… So he left!!”
I have a friend – just the one – and he was asked by a Christian leader how he came to be living and working in Sheffield. My friend’s response was that he and his wife heard God tell them to come to Sheffield so they came. Now for them to do this it involved them uprooting their young family and relocating… from New Zealand! The Christian leader remarked that it was so rare to hear Christians talk like this today. It’s only a sample of one, but is this ‘God said, so I left’ more rare today than 20 years ago?
We read the stories of Jackie Pullinger buying a one way boat ticket around the world, waiting for God to tell her when and where to get off, and then how God used her powerfully in the walled city in Hong Kong. We can get to thinking that somehow this kind of crazy is reserved for special Christians with too much time on their hands!
…Or maybe this is how God wants to relate to all of us:
“God said… so we did…”
Abraham heard God say… so he left. Abraham left his family, his future – his inheritance – and his safety… and he followed God… When he set off, he didn’t have a clue where God was taking him.
A few years ago, a member of the church, Richie Wells, did a series of pictures as he and his church community completed a 100 day Bible challenge. Many of them are displayed around the church. My favourite depicts this moment in Abraham’s life. There is Abraham with his immediate family and meagre possessions and two arrows, one pointing forward which reads ‘Blessings’ and one pointing back which reads, ‘everything you’ve ever known.’
This is the truth of the matter.
God said… so he left… Abraham left everything he had ever known. But the promises and blessings of God lay in front of him.
For me, this throws up a couple of significant questions:
- Are we confident in hearing God’s voice?
- Are we ready to leave everything behind?
Are we confident in hearing God’s voice? I am leading our training year this year. In the first practical session of the year, Alannah led the team in a simple exercise to practice listening to God. She asked those in the room to write their name at the top of a sheet of paper and fold it over so it couldn’t be seen. She prayed and then we put our pieces of paper into the middle of the room. Each of us randomly took a piece of paper and wrote whatever we thought God ‘might’ be saying. When the papers had been written on and returned several times, Alannah called time and we unfolded the papers and gave them to the person with their name written at the top of the page. It was awesome to read the words that had been written on our sheets. All of them were relevant and in particular one word was highlighted, shared by someone who had no experience or confidence of doing this sort of thing. We all have the capacity to hear God speak. What we often lack is confidence and as a result we don’t try.
I have a wonderful wife, many of you know her. There are times when she asks me to do stuff… I make acknowledging sounds… and then fail to do what she has asked me to do. There are other times – when it’s really important – that she sits me down, gets me to put down my phone, or book, or switch off the TV… whatever I am doing and she asks for my full attention. She is then, and only then, confident that I have received and understood what she is trying to say.
Is life with God any different? To hear him, we need to put down the distractions and find space to give him our full attention.
Question 2 was “are we ready to leave everything behind?” Are we ready to listen and when we hear, take a step? “God said… so we did!” When we do, we know that Blessings lie ahead… he loves us, he will do us no harm and what can appear full of risk is the start of a beautiful adventure.
Father, speak, your servants are listening. Father please give us confidence to hear your voice. Help us to carve out times in our day to switch off all distractions and listen for your voice. And Lord, when we hear you, may we be quick to do what you ask… Show us your way Lord so we may walk in your path. Amen.
READING: Acts 7:1-16
Then the high priest asked Stephen, ‘Are these charges true?’
To this he replied: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. “Leave your country and your people,” God said, “and go to the land I will show you.”
‘So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. God spoke to him in this way: “For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and ill-treated. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,” God said, “and afterwards they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.” Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.
‘Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.
‘Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.