Six Steps to Divine Blessing?

Trying to be holy — just like Abraham.

Guest Contributor / 4.26.22

This article is by Sean Nolan:

As a pastor, one of my greatest joys is being able to look at scripture and lift up the great figures of the past. While the saints of the past often leave footprints too big for us to fill, we can model our walk after them as a surefire way to procure divine blessing. In fact, one of the reasons the Bible gives us monolithic figures, like Abraham, is so that we’d duplicate their life choices in order to reap the same blessings. Here are six steps to inheriting the same blessings and favor that he enjoyed in his life:

1. Divert and distract during dicey interactions.

Perhaps you remember the dilemma. Abraham is about to enter Egypt. He’s 75 years old and his wife, Sarah, is 65. And the holy man that he is, Abraham concocts a genius idea. If these guys are suspicious of outsiders — as they’re wont to do — I’ll play the old, “did you see how hot my wife is?” card. Not surprisingly, they did, in fact, notice her beauty. So Abraham offers her up to the Egyptian king with the classic white lie, “this is my sister.”

The application to our modern lives is simple: maybe you don’t need to garner favor with a foreign king, but if you find yourself in a pickle it’s better (and biblical!) to do anything necessary to save your own tail. Blame, scapegoat, whatever. Is a bookie after you for gambling debt? Throw your wife under the bus. You don’t have to be faster than every tiger that chases you, just faster than the person you’re with. The first husband, Adam, had great success with this tactic in the Garden of Eden when God got under his collar asking about the forbidden fruit: “the woman gave it to me,” he replied. Of course, God was totally convinced (see point 6).

2. Name it and claim it.

Financial advisors will tell you that a wise investor diversifies his portfolio. Why should it be any different when laying hold of divine blessing?  God had told Abraham, “your offspring will be as numerous as the stars of the sky” (Gen 15:5), but Abe waited years with no return on the original investment of faith. The wise man knows he can’t sit around waiting on others — even God! — you’ve got to take matters into your own hands. Thankfully, he married up (did I mention Sarah was a hottie, even in her geriatric years?) and Sarah was as wise as she was beautiful. She concocts a genius idea: “Abe, my servant, Hagar, she’s still of child bearing years, what if she was a surrogate mother for your child?” She didn’t have to tell Abe twice.

Let the reader understand — whatever God promises may eventually come to pass, but God won’t lift a finger to do anything about it. Abraham knew that time-honored truth, that God only helps those who help themselves.

3. Old dogs don’t get old learning new tricks.

Offering his wife up to other men was a tried-and-true recipe for success. If it ain’t broke, as the saying goes, don’t fix it! So old Abe used the same tactic with King Abimelech of Gerar (Gen 20:1-3). You don’t get old by being foolish, so don’t abandon the wisdom of your youth if it’s working for you.

4. Assume the worst of your neighbors.

In the midst of explaining to King Abimelech why he deceived him, he includes this incredibly flattering excuse:

Abimelech also asked Abraham, “What made you do this?” Abraham replied, “I thought, ‘There is absolutely no fear of God in this place. They will kill me because of my wife.’ (Gen. 20:10-11)

Have you tried this approach with your neighbors? “I can’t be honest with you, because I know you’re pretty much a despicable human being.” It’s a surefire recipe for making friends and influencing people. If you treat people like the criminals they are, then they’re sure to reward you for your honesty.

5. Scare your children straight.

In the 70’s there was a movie called “Scared Straight” where they took troubled youth and brought them to a prison to interact with actual convicts to give them a glimpse of where their life could end up without intervention. Perhaps our world would be in a different place if more people gleaned this wisdom.

In the most well-known moment of Abraham’s life he brings his son, Isaac, up to the top of a mountain to sacrifice him. He doesn’t actually do it of course, but the effects are palpable. You wonder, did he ever forget to clean his room after seeing his dad holding that knife over his bound body? Doubtful. From that point on, there was no such thing as an empty threat. When Abraham warned Issac, “You better be home by curfew… or else” Isaac didn’t have to use an imagination to guess what “or else” meant.

Fear is a powerful motivator and the wise parent will wield it accordingly.

6. Negotiate with God like you’re smarter than him.

The wise man never takes no for an answer — even from God. When Abraham hears of God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18), he haggles God for an extended period of time to spare the city. Sure, in the end God still destroyed the city, but the precedent has been set. God’s willing to change his mind if given a compelling argument. The commandments might be written in stone, but a good PowerPoint presentation might move the needle on abolishing the 10th commandment.

*****

I share this “low light reel” from the life of Abraham to drive home an important point: you are much more than your lowest and most embarrassing moments (or your highest, for that matter). If you’ve been trapped or overwhelmed by a score-keeping Christianity offering you hope if you could “only keep these six bullet points to success,” look to Abe. But look past him to the one greater than Abe (Jn 8:58).To contrast these six ways Abe failed with the ways Jesus succeeded is almost too easy.

Jesus traded power for his unfaithful followers (Lk 4:6-8; Rev 21:2). We may scorn Jesus by the scores, but he “will never leave or abandon us” (Heb 13:5). He’ll never deny himself (2 Tim 2:13), and he also offers safety in a cruel and judgmental world (Ps 4:8). He covers our worst with his best — he has every reason to condemn us, but doesn’t (1 Pet 4:8). He is the only son sacrificed on our behalf (2 Cor 5:21). Finally, the wisest man who ever lived (Mt 12:42) deferred to God’s direction even to the point of sweating blood and going to a criminal’s death on a cross (Mt 26:39).

Abraham’s ungodliness underscores God’s sheer gratuity and undeserved mercy. The father of many nations was far from a model citizen. He who God reckons as righteous was manifestly unrighteous. But if Abraham might have epically blown it on multiple occasions, God was never finished with him. Or — thankfully — with us.

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