A Man in a Tent: Abraham and the Simplicity of Knowing God

NOTE FROM RACHEL: I am on hiatus this week while I attend a conference and study for the next stage in our journey through Matthew. This week’s post comes from the newly released bestselling book Winning God’s Heart: A Biblical Path to Intimate Friendship with God, by my dear friend Carolyn Currey.

The record of those who have won God’s heart begins with a man in a tent. An elderly man with a wife who couldn’t give him children. He didn’t stand out in any way. In fact, at the advanced age of seventy-five he was still doing whatever his dad, Terah, told him to do.

Terah decided to head down toward Canaan, and the records say that he took his son Abram and daughter-in-law Sarai, packed up and headed out. They never reached Canaan but settled down partway along the road somewhere.

Abram was not anyone of significance. No great deeds. No calling on the name of the Lord. But there was something about him that God liked. Perhaps it was simplicity.

The first record of God’s interaction with Abram is very simple. A straightforward command:

The LORD said to Abram: “Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” . . . So Abram went, as the LORD had told him. (Genesis 12:1, 4)

That was all. The Lord said. Abram did. No questions, no fleeces, no excuses. Not even a conversation about how this would work or where he was going. He just went. Apparently his allegiance, obedience, and trust were already fixed long before God called him to go. Simple trust followed by straightforward obedience wins the heart of God.

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your offspring.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:7)

Once again that fascinating lack of questions. Abram doesn’t have kids. His wife is already too old. But when God says Abram’s children will have the land, Abram doesn’t argue or question. He builds an altar.

Building an altar was a sign that something of significance had occurred in that place. So God says a woman already sixty-five years old will have a child, and Abram makes a big pile of rocks to say, “You are God. I honor what you have said. I will not forget what you’ve promised me.”

At this point Abram is just listening. He can’t know much about God; there has been very little divine revelation to this point, and his family has worshipped whatever local deity seemed convenient. But he’s responding to God’s authority in obedience. He’s responding to God’s promises with honor and trust. He’s not demanding that God get moving and prove himself. He’s taking God at face value, believing that God is as God declares himself to be, and responding on the basis of that. Abram’s humility gives him a shortcut to God’s heart. God doesn’t have to spend years convincing Abram of his trustworthiness, his power, his heart of love toward Abram. They’re just getting down to business. God says, Abram does. God promises, Abram believes.

Lack of doubt is attractive to God. Doubt was the original foothold of sin on earth. Eve listened to the serpent whispering, “Did God really say?”, and she acted on that doubt rather than on what she knew of God’s character. The “did God really say” attitude is an affront to God. It puts up unnecessary walls and roadblocks, where well-placed hope would make the journey easy.

Abram did not respond with a serpent’s doubting heart. He evidenced plain hope and simply believed that God would follow through on his promises.

Hundreds of years later, Abram ended up in the “hall of fame” in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 11 says, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For our ancestors won God’s approval by it” (Hebrews 11:1–2).

If nothing else, right at the beginning of their relationship, Abram won God’s approval by his hope. But that’s only the start. After all, what kind of a relationship is it when the parties simply approve of each other?

So far God has been the one to seek out Abram. He has initiated the conversations. Now Abram takes his own step. When he stopped his journey between the towns of Ai and Bethel, Genesis says, “He built an altar to Yahweh there, and he called on the name of Yahweh” (Genesis 12:8).

Ai means “the ruin.” Bethel means “house of God.” Abram stands between them and takes the initiative to call on God himself. He is somewhere in the middle, just doing life. He’s not in a ruin, nor is he standing in the house of God. There has been no major disaster, no big revelation. In this moment, he’s just trudging through the sand, one day after another. But he takes this mundane moment, this in-between moment, to call on God. To call on his name. To align himself under his authority.

Those moments can seem like nothing to us. Washing dishes and calling on God. Praying in a car. On a walk. While clocking out of work. No major problems, no major blessings. No big reason to need God’s help, no seemingly big reason to thank him. These are the moments when we tend to ignore God, because why would he even be interested—and frankly, why would we put in the time when there’s no big thing to deal with and a million small things to capture our attention?

But it is here that Abram makes the choice to affirm that he is aligned with God. And like before, he makes an altar to say this moment is important. The mundane and the ordinary are important. Asking God to be in those moments, those everyday life moments, is life changing.

Time goes by, and Abram starts to wonder about God’s promises. He took God at face value at first, but so far there’s no land and no son. So he reminds God of his unfulfilled promise: “Look, you have given me no offspring, so a slave born in my house will be my heir” (Genesis 15:3).

Although God is not fond of doubt, he doesn’t have a problem with Abram’s questions. He knows Abram doesn’t have much to go on. It’s not like he can sit down with a Bible and half a dozen biographies containing stirring accounts of God’s faithfulness through the ages. He has no proof of the future or history of the past. So when the promises don’t show and Abram questions, God is ready to give assurance where there is none. He simply states that the slave won’t inherit Abram’s goods; the promised son will. He doesn’t give times, dates, or explanations. He just says it like it is, giving the reassurance Abram needs.

Abram’s response is famous: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Once again, that simplicity. Nothing external had changed. But that wasn’t necessary to keep Abram’s hope alive.

Any believer knows that God loves righteousness. Generally when we think of righteousness, we think of doing good things. Sending money to feed starving children in Africa. Not yelling back at the irritating relative. Paying your taxes and not cheating. Helping out at the church. All this stuff is good, but we’ve missed the point somewhere along the way. Righteousness applies to how you handle your situation, whatever it may be. Abram didn’t do. He just believed. And God said that was righteousness. Righteousness was nothing more than Abram affirming God’s character as faithful and aligning his own life with it, staking all his hope on God’s faithfulness.

God decides what righteousness looks like. It’s worth asking what righteousness looks like in your circumstances right now. The answer may be surprising, because God wants relationship far more than he wants acts of service.

I’m really good at the hurry-up-and-do-all-the-things gig. My list is always long, and there’s never enough time to get it all done. When I look at it, it’s all good stuff! It’s all directed toward advancing the kingdom of God, and yet the King doesn’t seem nearly as interested in my list as he does in spending time with me. As a dancer and co-director of a performing arts ministry, I’ll fill my day with production details, choreography, rehearsals, tour promotion, writing, and travel plans. But when I stop and listen, he’s saying, “Come sit by the water with me for a little while and leave the work behind.”

Whenever I answer that beckoning voice, I’m reminded of how much more fulfilling the time with him is. It’s almost a surprise every time. We talk about things that have nothing to do with the workday that a moment ago seemed so pressing. I trust him with all-the-things and give him the time he wants. It turns out that time is exactly what I need, and for some reason, me leaving my list to have a chat pleases him. He calls it righteousness. Seeking him first. Not the list. Just him.

It’s not that I never get any work done. But God himself is the priority. Some time ago he told me, “Don’t fill every hour of your day just so you can feel busy and accomplished. Busy is not equal to righteous.” In our overworked society, being busy all the time seems important. If you’re not run off your feet, you don’t have a life. It’s time to shift the culture. It’s time to move our identities back toward who we are and not what we do.

Abram allowed himself to be defined by his relationship with God, giving him an unusual identity for his time. While his contemporaries bowed to idols or tried to appease unknown deities, Abram spoke with God. God was known to him.

Abram talked with God about his descendants, who didn’t exist yet. He and the Lord had conversations about things that would happen hundreds of years later. He accepted the new name God gave him—Abraham—and was known by it for the rest of his life. He made dinner for God and a couple of angels: bread and butter, milk and meat. He was called a friend of God (James 2:23). He even negotiated with God.

Abraham’s negotiating story, found in Genesis 18, has some fascinating moments. He’s just served dinner to God, who has reconfirmed the promise of a son for Abraham. Now he’s walking with his guests, three men who are not mere men, on the road to Sodom. So far nothing has been said or asked about their business. But it seems God can’t keep it to himself any longer.

Then the LORD said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham?” (Genesis 18:17)

The answer to God’s question was no. God wanted to talk with Abraham about what he was doing. Think about this for a moment. God has things on his heart—things he’s doing in your neighbourhood, your city, your country. He doesn’t want to do them on his own, and often he won’t.

Psalm 115 says, “The heavens are the LORD’s, but the earth He has given to the human race” (Psalm 115:16). When God gave us authority over the earth, he desired partnership with us in governing it. Once again, it comes back to relationship. In working together on something, God adds another layer to his relationship with us. This desire is reflected in his conversation with Abraham.

Sodom has become a really wicked city, God says, and he is on his way to destroy the whole thing. Abraham thinks about this a minute, and since his nephew lives in Sodom, he’s concerned. So he negotiates and makes an appeal to God’s character.

Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? . . . You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Genesis 18: 23, 25)

At this point in his life, Abraham is not on the level of begging God to please do or not do such a thing. He knows God in a more personal way by now, and he is making an appeal based on what he knows about God’s nature. He knows him as a supreme ruler but also as a righteous judge. So he essentially asks God to remain true to his character.

The story continues with Abraham negotiating with God to spare Sodom for the sake of fewer and fewer people. The negotiation is never haughty or demanding. Abraham knows who he’s talking to, and he gives the respect that’s due every step of the way. And God is okay with this. Abraham is exploring the depths of God’s mercy, and God wants to be known as merciful. So he has the conversation. Perhaps it is this exploration into unknown territory—a deeper understanding of the character of God—that gives Abraham the trust to face the ultimate test of his life.

When Abraham is one hundred years old, the promised son, Isaac, is born, just as God said. God is proved as faithful. His character is upheld, no matter how impossible the proof must have seemed. But years later, God makes an unthinkable request of Abraham: “Take your son,” he says, “Your only son, Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.”

Once again, there is simply silent obedience. As he has done his whole life, Abraham obeys when God speaks. Yet the short conversations in the story show that Abraham still has full confidence in the character of God.

He tells his servants to stay at a distance while he and his son go to worship, “Then we will come back to you.” His son Isaac asks where the actual sacrifice is, and his father replies that God himself will provide the lamb for the offering. In the face of this incredible test, Abraham never wavers.

Hundreds of years later, we are given some insight into his mind by the book of Hebrews:

By faith Abraham when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He received the promises and he was offering his unique son, the one it had been said about, “Your seed will be traced through Isaac.” He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead, and as an illustration, he received him back. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

All the way up the mountain, Abraham is clinging to the promise that his line will continue through Isaac. Isaac has no children yet; therefore today can’t be Isaac’s day to die. Or at least, to stay dead. Again, remember that Abraham has no history to go on.

At this point in history, we have precedent for God raising the dead. In Abraham’s time, such a thing had never happened. But Abraham believed that it could and would have to, simply because God is faithful and does not lie. So for God to make good on his promises, Isaac would still have to be alive at the end of the day.

In his willingness to sacrifice his heir, we also see Abraham’s priority. Abraham’s relationship with God is more important than his relationship with even this loved and long-awaited son. His attitude is one of open-hearted generosity and trust toward God. This is what makes such an incredible relationship possible.

Abraham is not a perfect superhero. He messes up a lot. He lies, and his wife ends up in the local king’s harem. Apparently he’s okay with that because his own skin is saved. In fact, he pulls that particular trick twice! He doubts God’s promises, sleeps with a servant, and tries to help God out by getting a child through her rather than his wife as God had promised.

He’s human. And yet through it all, Abraham identifies himself as belonging to the Lord. That never wavers. He knows God is involved in his life, and he wants to be in cooperation with that (even when his mode of cooperation is questionable).

When Abraham was called, he had nothing to give except a yes. That was all God was looking for. Abraham was desired by God for his own self, not for anything he could contribute.

Abraham’s hope was characterized by action. If he had not believed God, he would not have obeyed everything God told him to do so readily. Some of those things were more than a little outlandish! But the bedrock of his life was that when God said, Abraham did. No question. By his great faith, he left a legacy for many generations.

Abraham was a man after God’s heart as much as he could be in his time. Each man and woman following Abraham in walking with God built on that foundation with more passion and extravagance. Abraham was honored because he had little external evidence to go on, little information about the past to tell him God was faithful and worth loving and obeying, yet he sought God wholeheartedly.

His was a time of leaning on the character of God—revealed through personal encounter and God’s words and promises—above everything else, because there was nothing else.

It isn’t God’s design that people should walk alone or in isolation. This is why he’s placed us into his body, the church, with himself as the head. This has the capacity to be the closest community on earth!

However, there is also an element of aloneness in any walk with God. We are each called to a secret relationship with God—one that is cultivated by times alone speaking with him. This takes time, determination, and a willingness to be misunderstood by others.

Those who would outpace their generation in seeking God will often walk alone, simply because they are not satisfied with the status quo. They have run on ahead because they are not satisfied with just a little of God. These people are found throughout the pages of Scripture: Enoch, Noah, Jacob, David, John the Baptist, Paul, and many more.

For each one, their life of faith involved an element of walking alone. They were given double honor for their willingness to do this. The same invitation is extended to us. There is so much more to God than you know now. There is so much more available in relationship with him. He has extended the same invitation to you that he extended to Abraham: Come and know him. Come and talk with him. Come and learn his character and faithfulness.

Whether you experience this kind of relationship with God will depend on whether you say the simple yes that Abraham did. God says, you do. God promises, you believe. God invites, you run toward him. Nothing complicated is required.


This post is an excerpt from Winning God’s Heart: A Biblical Path to Intimate Friendship with God by Carolyn Currey. You can get it from Amazon here.


Photo by Caylee Betts on Unsplash







One response to “A Man in a Tent: Abraham and the Simplicity of Knowing God”

  1. Zakes Maaya Avatar

    Thank you so much Rachel with an amazing story I will try and buy that book to read more

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