If you keep your destination in mind, you don’t have to detour

A few years ago a Syrian lorry driver boarded his truck in Turkey and set out for Gibraltar. Like most drivers in the twenty-first century, he typed his destination into his satnav, and set off. Sometime later he found himself at Gibraltar Point in Skegness, sixteen hundred miles away from his intended destination on the rock of Gibraltar.

No doubt the said lorry driver will look back on the escapade with a smile in years to come, but it is hard to believe that he or his employers saw the funny side when he landed in Yorkshire.

Confusion over destinations is not restricted to Middle Eastern lorry drivers. It’s been known to cause many a domestic argument. “Where are we going?” and “Where should we be going?” are questions that reach far beyond the route to a delivery destination or holiday location.

In Genesis 27 the events that unfold in the lives of Isaac. Rebekah, Esau and Jacob, might best be understood if we asked “Where were they going?” and “Where should they have been going?” The deception and ensuing disappointment that worked its way out in the events surrounding the passing on of Isaac’s blessing, had their roots in Isaac’s loss of direction.

Genesis 25.28 records:  Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob” and therein lay a wrong turn on the road to a faithfully fulfilled calling.

The psychological consequences of his favouritism would have been devastating enough in themselves. What made his favouritism even more damaging, was that Isaac was walking a path that was going in the opposite direction to the route God had given to him and Rebekah. Verse 23 of Genesis 25 reveals that God had made it very clear that Jacob not Esau would inherit the blessing.

If you want to keep on track with God’s purpose for your life or for His church, staying connected to your prophetic destiny is crucial. What does that mean? In another generation it would have been described in terms of obedience to the revealed will of God. Isaac somehow became disconnected from what God had spoken about his family.

The “taste for wild game” played a big part in this. This theme dominates the whole of chapter 27. Isaac thinks he is dying and he wants a meal of wild game before he dies. That takes Esau away from the scene and gives Rebekah and Jacob opportunity to execute their strategy – actually it was Rebekah’s strategy. That strategy involves trying to substitute the wild game with a goat. And then Esau, too late, returns. Isaac’s unbridled taste for wild game has led his family into permanent breakdown and division. It never was the same again.

When we lose our sense of God speaking, when we disconnect from His revelation, we end up in the flesh. In the New Testament, the church at Galatia did just that.The mind governed by the flesh, says Paul, in Romans 8.6, is death. Allowing the flesh to lead us doesn’t just bring pain on ourselves, it brings pain to those around us.

Eventually, Isaac reconnects with God’s purpose. In Genesis 28, he finally acknowledges that God’s hand is on Jacob and sends him off with his blessing.

God’s promise is that He will get us there in the end (Philippians 1.6). Whether that’s by way of a spiritual detour or not is largely up to us.

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Rewriting your future

In 1978 Harry Haslam, then the manager of Sheffield United, went to Argentina on a scouting trip. On one occasion he saw a teenager in action whom he considered incredibly talented. His club were prepared to sell their precocious youngster for £200,000. Haslam was desperate to sign him. However, the deal fell through. Sheffield United were in the old English second division and could only find £160,000. No deal. So instead they used the money to purchase another talented player. And the other teenager? Well, by 1986, Diego Maradona was considered the greatest player in the world.

Just think what might have happened if Haslam had been able to find the extra forty thousand pounds. Think of how history could have been re-written: “Sheffield United, European Champions – again” or  “Sheffield United double winners”.

Isaac, in Genesis 26 wasn’t in quite the same position as Harry Haslam. He wasn’t chasing the most talented player of his generation or a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. He found himself having to re-dig his father’s wells just to ensure the survival of his family and his flocks and herds.

Eventually he seemed to find and dig wells without much trouble wherever he went. But it did not begin that way. He had a lot of grief in the early stages of his well digging career. One of the earliest “digs” ended in a very tense engagement with the resident Philistines. The very next one resulted in a dispute which drove him to search for water elsewhere.

The events made such an impact on Isaac that he named the wells dispute and opposition (Genesis 26.20-21).

People who are serious about seeing God at work in and through them usually have one or two “well stories” to tell. Some well stories, if you will excuse the unintentional pun, do not end well. To see lives changed, churches grow, the kingdom come with power, carries a price tag.

What is that price? Sometimes it is just the price that Isaac had to pay. Spiritual conflict is a given if you are after spiritual breakthrough and blessing. It’s just the way it is. It’s the way it was for Jesus. One moment He was basking in the sunshine of His Father’s love (Matthew 3.16) the next, He is being led into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4.1). Once you pull on the uniform of the kingdom of God, you are a target. If you are going to be a successful well digger, learn how to battle in the unseen realm.

And there are disputes. One of the biggest dangers of disputes is the potential for offence. People get offended for all sorts of things. And people give offence by being insensitive or just plain rude. The key to overcoming offence is to reduce our capacity for taking offence and raise our awareness level of what might give offence. Whether we can ever reach the place where we  are “offence proof” – either in taking or giving – is hard to say, but we can at least keep ourselves steeped in grace.

Isaac pressed through his contention and his quarrelling and eventually breakthrough came. The price that he paid in those early escapades became a downpayment that secured his future.

Not for one moment should we downplay the demands of spiritual conflict or the emotional price of working through offence, but there are rewards at the other side. Perhaps, like Isaac, it is just a case of survival. Then on the other hand, it might just be the possibility of re-writing your future.

Second Generation Faith

In 1901 German author, Thomas Mann, wrote a novel entitled Buddenbrooks. It tells the story of a family that grew very wealthy and then, over three generations, went into decline. So powerful was the story in describing generational decay that some economists talk about the Buddenbrooks effect when they are describing a family or institution that has gone into decline. History is littered with examples of families, businesses and even empires that have succumbed to the Buddenbrooks effect. Somewhere along the line, someone is tempted to cash in the family silver instead of stewarding it for the next generation.

Stewarding the spiritual family silver is just as big a challenge – if not bigger – as stewarding its counterpart in the natural realm.

Isaac was someone who faced that kind of challenge. He was a second generation of faith. He inherited a material fortune from his father Abraham; Abraham had been blessed in every way, the Bible explains (Genesis 24.1). He was a man of faith. A pioneer. He had seen the hand of God at work. And Isaac himself was the result of God fulfilling His promise in a most extraordinary way.

The time came, however, when Abraham died. Isaac was now left to carry on what his father had begun. How did he do that? How would he steward the spiritual family silver? How should we?

To steward faithfully and effectively the spiritual inheritance he had received, Isaac had to make his father’s faith real for himself. A number of incidents show how God gave him the opportunity to work an Abraham like faith into his life – and those opportunities were in the shape of challenges his father had faced.

Firstly, he had to discover God as the God of breakthrough. According to Genesis 25.21, Rebekah was barren, just like Sarah. If the family line was to continue and God’s promises fulfilled, Isaac needed a child. He prayed and Rebekah became pregnant. Isaac had breakthrough. You can inherit examples of breakthrough from another generation, but you cannot inherit the experience of breaking through in believing prayer. You have to learn that by experience. There is no short cut.

In Genesis 26.1-6, we find another area of challenge, again one that his father faced: the challenge to believe God in a time of famine. Abraham failed this test. He went to Egypt instead of believing God. Isaac stayed put. In a time of difficulty, he believed God. What you do in a time of difficulty, you will only know when you have a time of difficulty! Do we believe – like Isaac? Or backslide – like Abraham?

Genesis 26.7-11 reveals a third area of testing. Life’s circumstances sometimes reveal our own brokenness. Sometimes that brokenness is a carbon copy of our parents’ brokenness. That was true of Isaac. On two occasions Abraham had pretended that Sarah was his sister, because he was afraid that a foreign king would kill him and acquire Sarah as his wife (Genesis 12.10-20 & 20.1-8). It was quite a tribute to Sarah that Abraham should consider her so beautiful! In Genesis 26 Isaac does exactly the same thing out of fear.

We are all a highly complex combination of nature, nurture and grace. If Isaac had leaned more on grace than the weakness of his human nature, he would have avoided some trouble. In the end, God preserved him and Rebekah. If you want to be an effective steward of spiritual riches, you have to learn to lean on grace and take your weight of your own fallible nature. 

The Buddenbrooks effect is not an inviolable law. It’s not set in stone. And if we are prepared to take a steer from Isaac, we will find it is not an unalterable spiritual effect either. If we will make our spiritual forefathers’ and spiritual parents’ faith a reality in our own lives, the spiritual family silver will be preserved  for a future generation.

If our own weakness is what threatens our inheritance, then most assuredly it is God’s grace that protects it: My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12.9, The Message)