Promises, Promises

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

— Genesis 12:2-3, NRSV

Good day, everyone! I hope this post finds you well, but if not, I hope it helps at least a little. The text above is the promise of God to Abram (later known as Abraham) that kicks off the dramatic series of stories that encompass the religious history of Judaism and Christianity. God’s promise to Abram is one that has a specific purpose and appeal, rooted in the ancient middle eastern concern for the continuation of the tribe or nation through childbearing.

The appeal of God’s promise has some carry-over for us today. Having kids is still very much “what one does.” If one is found to be infertile or otherwise incapable of having children, they are likely to pay an ungodly (pun intended) sum of money to somehow achieve that specific part of the human experience, whether by means of adoption or scientific advancement. Older generations look disdainfully at younger generations that don’t care to have children, and religious conservatives tend to discourage forms of contraception that interfere with God’s “intended purpose” for sex.

In reality, however, we are having fewer children, and that is probably a good thing. Looking at the small-scale, we already have too many children without homes, structure, or hope. Thinking bigger, our planet could use A LOT less of us hairless apes trashing it. With that in mind, it’s best to shift our focus from the literal appeal of God’s promise, as it can distract us from the universal truth of its purpose. If we do this, we find that God’s promise is for you, me, and all those who are open to hearing the call.

God promises us great things, we see that in the text in verse 2 (“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great”). The important part is what comes next, when God states His purpose to make Abram into a blessing. God indicates the intention that “all the families of the earth shall  be blessed” in the person of Abram. This is the first lesson I’d like to impart: Every gift, wage, or luxury in our lives is not just for us.

Just as Abram is charged with being a blessing to the world, so are we. If you are gifted with money, it’s intended to be used for the benefit of others. If I am gifted with the ability to interpret and write concerning the Scriptures, it’s intended to be used for the up-building of others. If one is gifted with a just or compassionate heart, charisma or influence, strength or the arts, healing or privilege, they are charged with utilizing those things for the benefit of the world, so that the One who gives those gifts may be known.

It doesn’t matter if the thought of giving to those you deem less deserving bothers you. That’s not part of the condition. Notice that God says nothing about deserving, only blessing. Following God, therefore, is a call to set aside prejudices and develop the practice of kindness and generosity, whatever the medium might be.

Abram fails at this pretty early on, like all of us have or will at one time or another. The big problem is when we don’t recognize our failures, like Abram doesn’t. Later, in verses 10-20, he uses the blessing and protection of God to fool Pharaoh, currying the ruler’s favor by putting his wife (and Pharaoh) into a terrible position as he acquires more goods, slaves, animals, etc. We often do this, making our gifts and talents into a means of gaining for ourselves as opposed to utilizing them for making the Kingdom of God into a physical reality. Such a trade is the very essence of sin, far from God’s intended purposes.

The other lesson I’d like to impart is that opportunities for being “a blessing” are more frequent than you and I might normally think. Abram didn’t blow a major opportunity by not donating all his goods to charity or by refusing to go on a mission trip to Sudan. He was intentionally deceptive and distrusting of God, using his wife to ensure safety from a perceived possibility of a threat and reaping the economic benefits, all of which amounting to a destructive discourtesy toward the very ruler who allowed him and those with him to settle in Egypt and be relieved from famine (12:10). This was a textbook opportunity to be a blessing, to be gracious, and he blew it. Let’s look at our own lives now.

Have you ever had to deal with a riled up customer, co-worker, friend, or family member? Have you ever blown by the car parked on the side of the road with the hazards blinking without a second thought? Have you ever reacted sharply to what amounted to a slight inconvenience? Have you ever violated your position, status, or relationships because of your inward focus? I know I have. These are all common situations in which we regularly contribute to the negative powers of the world. At least, that is one way to see them.

We could, however, also see them as opportunities, gifts in which we are able to showcase a different power at work in our lives. You see, what I am proposing is not that we show our spirituality through sweeping gestures that distract us from our everyday ministries. Instead, I submit that like Abram, we could all use the reminder that everything we have been given is intended for our daily use to make the world a better place. Those small situations that we encounter every day are a part of the ministry each of us is charged with, to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the knowledge of the God of grace who died for us. In those situations, our reactions and choices determine whether we are acting as disciples or not, and it is my hope that this post and this biblical text will help us all think a little more about how we react and utilize the opportunities, gifts, and talents that God has extended to us.

Every single one of us has a passion, a talent, a love, or a gift. There is something unique to you that God placed in your life for the purposes of His Kingdom. You’re very existence is such a gift, as God clearly thought the world needed one of YOU to make it more complete. This is a promise of God that is given to Abram, to you, and to me. If we can only become conscious of the fact that we and those we share this earth with are beloved children of God, we will find countless opportunities to enact our charge to be a blessing, and the promises of God will be fulfilled before our very eyes.

Peace be with you!