At our church recently we have been looking at the life of Abraham in some depth, and it is turning up a lot of discoveries, many of them fresh for a lot of people. It’s often all too easy to summarise the life of Abraham into one short sentence or phrase, and forget all of the intricacies and the weavings of his journeys.
And for me it has highlighted again some favourite verses, one of which I want to share with you. In Genesis 18, three guys show up where Abraham has camped, by the oaks of Mamre. His words to these apparent strangers, in particular to one who seemed to be the leader of the three, are arresting: “My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by.”
Evidently Abraham recognised that these were no mere strangers. We learn from this passage (as well as others like “some have entertained angels unawares” from Hebrews) that these were angels, and that one was possibly an incarnation of the Lord Himself. Often angels can appear as men, hence the ability to entertain them unawares. We have a story in our church of a lady who went out from us some years back to be a missionary in Africa. On the first day she arrived they showed her into this little mud hut and left her there with her bags, alone. As soon as she turned around a huge snake was winding its way slowly down from the roof, down a supporting pole, directly towards her. She was petrified, but moments later a large African man stepped in, grabbed the snake by the neck, and walked out with it! She ran out after him, but looking around outside, she did not see him.
I could tell many stories, but I’m just illustrating the point: these visitors to Abraham probably looked like ordinary men, but he had a tender heart – there was something of significance in this moment that he recognised. It was the Lord, and a couple of angels with Him.
And so he reaches out and says, if I have found favour in your sight, please don’t pass me by. That is the cry of a tender heart, in the moment when God visits you. If there’s anything in me that finds favour with you, don’t just pass by – come in and dine with me.
But, what do I mean by, when God visits you? Isn’t He around all the time? Can’t we call on Him all the time?
Yes. Without controversy, God is there for us ALL the time, and is able to answer the cry of every individual on this planet.
BUT there are times and seasons, when God VISITS a person or a people in a unique way, at a unique and often significant moment, when He presents Himself but doesn’t just barge in – He approaches, but not with the intent of just ‘sovereignly breaking in’ to the life or lives of those He is approaching.
Abraham is one example. Think of Moses: a bush was on fire in the desert, but wasn’t burning up. Many of us might just say, “huh, that’s weird,” and move on. But Moses recognised that God was in the bush, and approached, reaching out for the mystery that was being extended to him (see Exodus 3). God didn’t speak until Moses first drew near.
Think of the disciples in the boat, in Mark 6:47-52. Jesus has been on land, praying, but in the middle of the night He comes to them walking on the water – another mysterious visitation, like the bush, or these three funny men – but it says “He intended to pass by them”. What’s that cry again?
Or think of Israel in general at the time of Jesus! Just think on it – the very God they had worshipped for hundreds of years walked right in their midst, and most of them didn’t recognise Him. Jesus put it like this: they did not recognise the time of their visitation (Luke 19:44). It’s possible to miss God, even though He’s around all the time. Because, as I said, He visits us at unique times and unique ways, but without intruding – He positions Himself just outside, where we have to recognise it, and reach out, and draw Him in.
I could go on – Jesus says to the church at Laodicea, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20) This city already had a church even, so certainly God was present to a degree. Yet Jesus was saying that He was standing at the door knocking – and it was those with ‘open doors’ – open hearts – that He would come in and dine with.
This is so important to recognise, if we want to go deeper with God in our relationship with Him. Knowing that He is just ‘always around’ is one level. But in any relationship there are times and seasons where you go through different things, and so sometimes God waits outside the tent, sets a bush on fire, walks by the boat, comes in a form we didn’t expect, stands at the door – all positioned within reach, but we do have to reach – in order to draw us into relationship, and into what He particularly wants to share with us.
In all these cases it is revelation that follows, or a reminder of revelation. Abraham and Sarah are given the promise of having a son. Moses has the name of the Lord “I AM” revealed to him, and essentially told his destiny. The disciples too are told that the Lord is “I AM”, interestingly enough – when they are afraid at Jesus walking on the water, that is literally what He says. We know that for those who DID recognise the time of Jesus’ visitation it entailed probably the greatest revelation of all – the identity of Jesus, and the completeness of God’s character revealed in a person! And at Laodicea, the Lord wanted to dine with the church – and that was to share the bread and the honey of revelation with them.
Remember the one who said, “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening”? Samuel too was approached by God at a specific time in his life. God was around, if distant, in his day. Samuel ministered to Him already. Yet God approached him in a way he’d never known before, and he opened up to it, hearing the voice of the Lord, and became one of the greatest prophets in Israel’s history.
It looks different every time. God knows how to speak to you. The important factor is having a tender heart, to recognise Him when He draws near. Then the appropriate response is, “If I have found favour in Your sight, Lord, please don’t pass me by.” Ask Him to stay a while, listen, and see what He will speak. Don’t miss the day of your visitation.