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The Magnificent ObsessionEmbracing the God-filled life
By Anne Graham Lotz
ZondervanCopyright © 2009 Anne Graham Lotz
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLeave Everything Behind Genesis 12:1-13:4
The Bible doesn't tell us exactly what prompted Abraham's desire to know God. Perhaps the desire began when he witnessed the miracle of human birth and marveled, This baby is so perfectly and wondrously made, there must be a Maker somewhere. Or was it when Abraham observed the migratory habits of the birds and the way the sun came up every morning and went down every evening, and he reflected, These things must be more than just an accident or a coincidence. Was it when he entered into a business deal and refused to cheat even though he could have profited personally if he had? Did he walk away, shaking his head and wondering, What's wrong with me? Why did cheating make me so uneasy? How did I know that it was wrong even if I could have gained by it? Did he come away from the worship of idols empty and dissatisfied with his religion, restless in his spirit, increasingly convinced that it was as man-made as the objects of wood and stone on which it focused?
Although I don't know the tantalizing details that surrounded Abraham's launch into the adventure of knowing God, it's clear that somethingstirred in his heart. The small candle of his conscience must have been lit, his spirit must have sought to draw near to the one true living God, because God leaned out of heaven and invaded Abraham's life. Abraham was not some randoms election on a divine whim. He had been carefully chosen by God. Why? Why out of all the people living on the planet did God lean down out of heaven and call Abraham to follow Him in a life of faith? Was it just because? Because God loved Abraham? Because God discerned that Abraham, deep down in the secret recesses of his soul, longed to know Him "in spirit and in truth"?
It was that last assumption that captured my thoughts and resonated with my heart. Because deep down, in the secret recesses of my soul, I too long to know God in spirit and in truth. I yearn for God to fill my life, saturating me with Himself.
But how does a person today even begin to pursue knowing God? Does a person ...
Go to church every time the door opens? Do more good works than bad works? Meditate in a monastery in some remote mountain village? Walk barefooted over fiery coals? Pray facedown five times a day? Chant repetitious phrases in unison with others?
How does someone even take the first step in God's direction?
For me, the process began with a small desire in my heart, a small thought in my mind, a small light in my eye, a small turning of my spirit when I observed the example of someone else who pursued God. Nothing really big and flashy.
Like Abraham, do you want to know God? Could Abraham serve as the example for all of us? Has the magnificent obsession begun in your heart and mind and eye and spirit for the simple reason that you have chosen to read this book? Maybe the small spark of desire has been fanned into flame by what you have observed in the created world around you or by your conscience within you. I do know that if you and I ever truly know God, it will not be an accident. It will be because we have pursued with focused intentionality. It will happen when, like Abraham, we abandon every other goal, every other priority, and embrace the God-filled life until He becomes our magnificent obsession.
Leave Behind the Familiar
So who was Abraham? As I delved into his life, I discovered he was the son of Terah, a wealthy man living in the Mesopotamian city of Ur, an internationally recognized center of culture and trade. Terah was also a worshiper of idols, which makes me wonder what the trigger was that fired the faith for which Abraham has been so well known for four thousand years. And because it was his home, he must have been comfortable in Ur; it was very familiar territory. It was the land of his father, the city in which he had been raised, the values he had lived by, the culture that had shaped him, the attitudes he had adopted, the religion he had followed.
Ur was not only familiar to Abraham, Ur was a habit. To my knowledge, he had never known anything else. Yet when God called him out of that familiar place, Abraham leaped to obey, making the choice to take steps that began a journey that lasted a lifetime.
Abraham's willingness to leave everything behind arrested me, challenged me, convicted me. Would I be willing to do the same? Could I ever really know God if I didn't choose to leave everything behind? If I clung to some things, small things, hidden things, past things, anything?
What Abraham did in the Old Testament, the apostle Peter did in the New Testament. In response to Jesus' invitation, Peter climbed out of his fishing boat, put his feet on the surface of the stormy sea, and walked on the water to Jesus. As Peter stepped out in faith, we have to step out in faith.
As we begin this journey of faith together, let me ask you:
What is the familiar territory of your life?
What values have you lived by?
What culture has shaped your thinking?
What attitudes have been molded by your social or educational or political environment?
What religious experience has formed your concept of God?
My familiar territory is the southeastern United States, where magnolias bloom and NASCAR reigns and neighbors still know each other by name. I love the varied beauty of North Carolina, my home state. I love the friendly authenticity of the people who surround me. I love the down-home atmosphere that is still felt in even the larger cities. I love pig-pickin's and shrimperoos and Silver Queen corn and homemade ice cream. I love fried chicken and fried fish and fried hushpuppies and fried green tomatoes and fried anything, actually.
But my familiar territory is also the land of cultural Christianity. It's the buckle of the Bible Belt, where there's a church in every neighborhood and sometimes on every corner. It's a land where many people believe they are Christians because they were born that way, have gone to church all their lives, were baptized in the river at age twelve, have gone to church youth camp, and have even been on a missions trip. They can quote Bible verses, recite the Apostles' Creed, sing the second and sometimes third verses of most hymns from memory, and weep during the visiting preacher's revival sermon.
These are some of the familiar components of my home territory, my background, my "country." I love it here, and it's hard to leave. It's hard to shed the comfort of assuming that of course I'm a Christian because, after all, it's my culture. I'm a church member, and I'm a southerner.
Surely Abraham, after a virtual lifetime in Ur, must have felt just as strongly about his country and his culture as I feel about mine. So I can imagine the impact God's command must have had on him. "Leave your country" were the exact words that God leaned out of heaven and spoke into Abraham's life (Genesis 12:1). How they must have reverberated through Abraham's heart and mind, ricocheting off his attitudes, values, perceptions, culture, and religion until his entire world shook with the personal command: "Leave your country." In other words, "Abraham, you must choose to leave your comfort zone and your familiar territory."
A Personal Command
Seventeen times in the first three verses of Genesis 12, God used the personal pronouns I or you or your. I have no doubt that God was speaking to Abraham personally, commanding him to leave all that was familiar.
But I can't help wondering what Abraham was doing when God called him to embark on the magnificent obsession. Maybe he was running an errand for his wife, or striking a business deal for his father, or attending the funeral of his brother, or just sitting in the courtyard of his home, contemplating the meaning of life.
And then it hit me: God shows up in the ordinariness of our day, doesn't He?
He doesn't show up only when He parts the Red Sea with a powerful wind, or in the banquet hall with handwriting on the wall, or on Mount Sinai with thunder and lightning, or on the Mount of Transfiguration in radiant glory. He shows up in everyday situations, as we are going about our everyday responsibilities in our everyday routines.
Moses was shepherding his flock at Mount Horeb. Gideon was threshing wheat by the winepress. David was looking after his father's sheep. Elisha was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. Nehemiah was serving wine to the king. Amos was tending his flock and his sycamore-fig trees. Peter and Andrew were casting their fishing net into the sea. James and John were mending their nets. Matthew was collecting taxes. The Samaritan woman was drawing water from the well. Saul was in the midst of a "business trip."
All of these people were simply living their ordinary lives when God invaded, interrupted, and turned their world inside out.
When has God's Word come to you in a personal way? What were you involved in at the time? What difference has it made?
I remember when God spoke to me through His Word, calling me to step out of my familiar territory, teach a Bible class for women in my city, and begin pursuing Him through a life of obedient faith. I was riding in the front seat of our family station wagon, which my husband was driving from New York City to Hyannis on Cape Cod. His parents were in the backseat, and our three children were crawling all over the seats (long before the requirement of infant car seats or even seat belts). In the midst of the chaos, my sweet mother-in-law was reading the Bible aloud to no one in particular. Suddenly my ears tuned in to her voice. I asked her to pass her Bible to me in the front seat, and I read out loud the verses she had just read. As I read them, they seemed to be lit up with my name on them. No one else was listening, but I was: Anne, "I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name."
During the ordinariness of a family vacation, God leaned out of heaven and called me to leave the familiar territory of cultural Christianity, reject what seemed to be a mediocre pew-warming faith, and plunge into the magnificent obsession. I chose to obey-but also discovered there was more to the command. I had to leave my extended family and do something no other woman in my family had done. I had to be willing to break with family tradition.
Thousands of years earlier, Abraham had perceived the same call. God commanded him to leave "your people and your father's household" (12:1). If leaving his country and familiar territory was hard, it must have been even harder to contemplate leaving his loved ones behind.
And it is hard. While I didn't have to physically leave my family, I know from personal experience how hard it can be to leave them in other ways-psychologically, emotionally, and culturally. When I began the Bible class in my city, both of my parents opposed what I was doing. Although my grandmother was a trained nurse, the traditional role of women in my family had been one of stay-at-home mother. My parents gave me loving, firm counsel; they commended my desire but stated clearly that my role was at home as wife and mother.
My husband also resisted my efforts because he knew how tired I stayed throughout the day tending three children ages five and younger. He couldn't imagine my taking on added responsibility. He also knew that by nature I'm shy and have an inferiority complex. How could I possibly train and disciple leaders, much less stand in front of hundreds of women to give a forty-five-minute weekly lecture?
At that point in my journey, I did not recognize that I was embracing the magnificent obsession. All I knew was that I wanted to fulfill the potential God had for me. I wanted everything He wanted to give me, and I knew I was missing something. I instinctively knew that what I was missing was an authentic life of faith. I wasn't living it. At least I wasn't living on the cutting edge of it. And that's what I wanted. At the time, I described myself as being homesick for God as I had known Him as a little girl. Because of the busyness of young motherhood, I had neglected Him and I wanted Him back in the center of my life.
It was hard to shed the comfort of assumptions: Of course I'm a Christian; after all, it's my culture; I'm a church member; I grew up in the church; I've been baptized. And yet I felt a deep, compelling conviction that if I wanted to really know God and experience all that He had for me, I had no other option but to leave that comfort zone.
A Radical Promise
Abraham walked out of Ur of the Chaldeans not only challenged by God's personal command but also encouraged by God's radical promise to saturate him in blessings. Five times in Genesis 12:2-3 God distinctly promised to bless Abraham. Thousands of years later, we see how those promises were fulfilled:
"I will make you into a great nation."
Today's Jews and Arabs descend from Abraham.
"I will bless you."
At one hundred years of age, Abraham fathered Isaac, the longed-for desire of his heart.
"I will make your name great."
No name in all of human history is greater than the name of Abraham, except the name of Jesus Christ.
"You will be a blessing."
Abraham not only longed to receive God's blessing, he began to long to impart it to others ... and he has for the past four thousand years.
"I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse."
God would so fill Abraham's life, so identify with him, that the way others treated him God would consider to be treatment of Himself.
God blessed Abraham's friends and destroyed his enemies.
"All peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
Through Abraham's descendants, God gave the world the sacrificial system and the ceremonies that instructed people on how to approach Him and reconcile with Him. He gave the law that taught people how to live a life that not only worked but would be pleasing to Him. He gave the historical record of His interaction with His people that revealed not only the glory of His character but also the fact that He was involved in the details of their lives. He gave the prophets, whose writings revealed He was in charge, working out a divine plan for His people that would climax in the coming of the Messiah. And ultimately, He gave the Messiah, His own Son, as the sacrificial Lamb who died to take away the sin of all people and open heaven to forgiven sinners. God's blessings were poured out on Abraham in order for him to be a channel of God's blessing to the entire world.
These were God's radical promises. They were promises to enlarge the scope of Abraham's life beyond anything he could have thought to ask for.
God desires to enlarge each of our lives, usually beyond what we can imagine, if we are willing to let Him. I could never have envisioned how God would enlarge my life. But as I look back over more than thirty years since that first BSF group, I realize the size and scope of my life have grown beyond imagining.
It's also important to understand what is meant by "God's blessing." God's blessing is not the same thing as wealth, health, prosperity, and a problem-free life. I know this personally too! My son has had cancer and has been through a devastating divorce; my daughters each have painful and chronic physical problems; my husband is struggling with the long-term effects of adult-onset diabetes, including increasing blindness, renal failure, neuropathy, heart disease, and much more. Yet in the midst of it all, I know the blessedness of the presence and peace and power and provision and pleasure of God in my life.
Excerpted from The Magnificent Obsession by Anne Graham Lotz Copyright © 2009 by Anne Graham Lotz. Excerpted by permission.
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