November 21, 2021 – “Long Obedience to God’s Dreams” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

First Reading – Joel 2:25-32

25I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. 26You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 27You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.

28Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. 30I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 32Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

Introduction

This is the final sermon in our series about dreaming with God. Last week we talked about moving from a dream to a plan to intentional action. And this week we are going to talk about long obedience to God’s dreams. Much of the time, God’s dreams take a while to come about. And that means our faithfulness isn’t a one time choice, but as pastor Eugene Peterson says, “long obedience in the same direction.”

The Bible is littered with examples of people who had to wait a long time for God’s dreams to come to fruition, but Abraham had to wait longer than most. Just to remind you of his story, Abraham started as Abram until God gave him a new name. We’ll hear in our text today how God promises him that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars and they will inherit this sacred land.

What a great promise! Let’s hear God’s covenant with Abraham – who was still called Abram at this time.

Sermon Text – Genesis 15:1-6, 12-18

1After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 13Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; 14but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates

It’s a Long Race

I was scrolling through my news feed last week and I came upon a quote from a musher. She said that if she falls of the sled, the dogs will finish the race without her. The hard part is getting them to stop! If you don’t know, a musher leads a team of dogs pulling a sled in races like the infamous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska. The Iditarod is about 1,000 miles covered over 8-15 days, and is thus considered one of the toughest races in the world. It has also become controversial because the dogs have to run so far and so long in such difficult conditions.

It’s a long, hard race. Not to mention the years of training humans and animals must put in to get ready for the event. Each team must manage their speed so the dogs don’t get too tired. They must manage the calories so dogs and humans can keep going. They must manage their route, their sleep, their rest. Planning and discipline are of the utmost importance.

By way of contrast, did anyone watch any of the races at the Olympics? Or maybe you’ve seen an NFL combine where they run the 40-yard dash? Tell me – do sprinters stop in the middle of the 40-yard dash or the 100 meter race to fuel up and rest? No! They run hard all the way through the finish line!

There’s a different strategy if you’re going to go short and fast or long and steady.

This is a lesson Abraham and Sarah learned the hard way. When God originally gave his promise to Abraham, they were super excited! Sarah had been barren for years, so this was such a blessing! One problem, though. Just a teensy, weensy, little problem. Abraham was 75. Sarah was 65. Not exactly childbearing years.

So when they heard this divine pronouncement, they expected God to work quickly. But he didn’t. They waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, they thought God must’ve been using a metaphor when he said descendants, so they named his household manager, Eliezer, the heir to his estate. But God said, “Nope, that’s not the plan!” So then they hooked Abraham up with one of their slaves named Hagar. She bore him a son named Ishmael. But God said, “Nope, that’s not the plan!”

Finally, after 25 years of waiting – and those two false starts – God delivered on his promise and Sarah bore a son named Isaac. And she was only 90 years young when it happened. But she was still pretty spry – must’ve been doing jazzercise or pilates or something.

Abraham and Sarah thought God was going to move quickly. When God didn’t move quickly, they tried to move quickly. But they only made things worse. God’s dreams typically play out more like a marathon or the Iditarod than the 40-yard dash.

God’s plans are like a brisket that you put into the smoker at 3am so it will be seasoned and cooked and ready by dinner. God’s plans aren’t usually microwaved – they’re slow cooked.

Have you ever become impatient with God’s dreams like Abraham and Sarah did? Have you ever wished that you could hit reheat on God’s microwave instead of waking up at 3am to slow smoke some brisket?

Daily Rhythms > Heroics

A Christian author’s wife once remarked to him, “I know I would die for Christ. If I were put in front of a firing squad and commanded to renounce Christ or die, I know I’d say, ‘Shoot me!’ That would be easy. The hard part is living for Christ, not dying for him.”

And she’s right! One act of heroism is far easier than little decisions every single day for a lifetime! A single heroic act would be a sprint. But our actual lives are even longer than the Iditarod. So living for Christ – every day – requires a very different strategy than doing one big thing.

So what are your daily rhythms of faith? How are you slow cooking God’s dreams for you every day? If you think you would die for Christ rather than renouncing him when threatened, how can you die a little bit for Christ every day?

Our daily rhythms outweigh a heroic moment.

It’s kind of like those retirement savings charts. The biggest take-away? The earlier you start saving, the better you are because of compound interest. In a similar way, the sooner you develop daily rhythms that help you walk toward God’s dreams, the sooner you will see God’s dreams realized in your life.

So a regular rhythm of prayer outweighs the perfect prayer at the perfect time.

A regular rhythm of reflecting on the Bible outweighs the perfect Bible study or class.

A regular witness of living a Christ-like life around your friends who don’t intentionally follow Jesus outweighs a wonderful description of the Gospel some evening.

A regular habit of arranging your schedule to place God first instead of giving God your leftover time outweighs one amazing mission trip where you use a week of vacation.

A regular rhythm of Sunday worship outweighs one or two amazing worship services a year.

I used the example of diet last week, so let’s go with building strength today. I want to build my strength, so I’m going to copy Chris Hemsworth’s muscle building workouts he used when training to film Thor in the Marvel’s superhero movies. That dude is swoll! So I think I can look exactly like he does by doing his exact workout twice a year. Maybe three times. Is that going to work? No way! A regular rhythm is needed to build strength, not two or three amazing workouts a year.

So too with our faith. Abraham and Sarah had to be in it for the long haul. It was their daily choices – good and bad – that drew them toward God or caused them to drift away from God.

What regular rhythms of faith have you developed? And how are they doing right now? Do you need to recommit to any rhythms you previously had humming along?

Are there any new rhythms you need to start developing? Praying beyond just making requests? Reflecting on how God wants to guide you through the Bible? Serving others expecting nothing in return? Being a witness to Christ through your visible life choices around friends? Giving God the first and best parts of your time instead of the leftovers? What new rhythms do you need to build yourself toward God’s dreams for you for the long haul?

Tools for the Long Haul

Now, this might feel overwhelming. When God’s dreams require long obedience in the same direction, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or just lose your gusto. So here are a couple of tools to help cultivate the daily rhythms and the long obedience rather than bursts of obedience to God.

Sarah and Abraham had to wait 25 years to see God’s dream fulfilled, and they didn’t know ahead of time how long it would take. That’s a long time to wait. But do you know how 25 years happens? One day at a time. One week at a time. One month at a time. One year at a time.

So you don’t have to figure out what obedience looks like for the rest of your life. You just need to figure out how you can be obedient to God tomorrow. Figure out what it would look like to come back here next Sunday, look back on your week, and know that you were obedient to God. Or think about January 1. What would it take for you to look back on your December and say, “I was kind of obedient to God that month?” Or what would God want to see from you over the next 90 days?

If you can think out a bit, think about what God wants from you at some point over the next 90 days. If that’s too much, shrink it down. What would God want from you over the next month? If that’s too much, shrink it down. What would God want from you over the next week? If that’s too much, shrink it down. What would God want from you tomorrow?

If you add up seven tomorrows you get a week. If you add up four weeks and some change you get a month. If you add up twelve months you get a year. If you add up enough years you get long obedience in the same direction. But it starts with a single day of obedience. A lifetime of prayer might seem overwhelming, but can you pray for guidance tomorrow? Or this afternoon?

God’s long obedience might also feel defeating just because it’s so long. Have you ever been in a boat that goes beyond sight of the shore? Or have you ever paddled across a large lake? When you start out on the journey, the shore is receding behind you and you can see the progress, and it feels great! Every stroke of the paddle, or every bounce over the waves brings you further from your origin and closer to your destination. You can feel it and see it! It’s great!

But then you get to a point where you’re far from your starting shore, and you’re far from your destination shore, and you can’t tell that you’re making progress. The distant shore seems just as distant with every stroke of the paddle, with every bounce over the waves. When you’re in the middle of the lake or the middle of the ocean, you can’t see or feel your progress.

In reality, every stroke of the paddle and every bounce over the waves is taking you just as far as it was when you started and just as far as when the destination comes into view. It’s just harder to see and feel the progress without the shore receding behind you or the shore growing closer in front of you. It’s easy to lose heart in the long middle.

That’s when you need to remind yourself about your destination. That’s when you need to remind yourself why you grabbed your paddles or why you hopped on this boat to begin with.

If you’re feeling disheartened because the journey toward God’s dreams for you is so long, remind yourself of why you follow Jesus. Remind yourself of why you trust Jesus with your decision-making. Remind yourself of why you want your kids or grandkids to know Jesus – what did Jesus do in your life that you want to share it? If you’re feeling disheartened, remind yourself of why you have your faith in Jesus. Because the long middle is the hardest part.

Summary

Sisters and brothers, the life God dreams for us is not about one defining moment. It’s about long obedience in the same direction. It’s much more Iditarod than 40-yard dash. It’s daily rhythms instead of one-time heroics. But that long obedience is built one day at a time. So what could tomorrow look like? What small obedience could you do tomorrow? Amen.