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Saturday, February 25, 2012

How Our Environments Shape Us

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Whether we like it or not, our environments influence us in ways that we are often times unaware of. Simply by existing, we are at times shaping, but more often being shaped by the things we are being exposed to. We are creatures of passion and adaptability. We love to be drawn in and to be drawn out. We are certainly creatures of habit, and these habits are formed through both deliberate and unconscious modes. James K.A. Smith of Calvin College gave a titillating talk on how culture is actually liturgy in many ways. I am writing this to flesh out and contextualize the basic points he made in his speech. He begins by discussing how there is a belief that people are what they believe, meaning, that people are primarily their thoughts and that reasoning is often what drives human behavior. He disagrees by stating that it is not the primary factor, but just a factor that drives decisions in people. He makes mention that people are not brains on sticks, but rather, kinetic, visceral, and affective beings that are driven by wants more than what they think is right. Instead, he makes the argument that people make choices based on their desires and wants; in other words, they pursue the things they "love". The example he gives is one of his son: every Sunday morning, he enters into a battle with his teenage son to go to church; however, the same son can wake up radiant and glowing on Saturday morning at 6AM if he has to go have breakfast with his friends. The actions of his son demonstrate what he really loves - time with his friends.

As we are motivated by the things we want, we fail to recognize that the things we want are sometimes conditioned into us by outside forces. We want to believe that we don't make decisions based on the influential powers of others, but the reality is that we are always simultaneously in a state of influencing and being influenced. Every conversation that we have with people helps to develop our own theories on what life should be like as well as help others to develop the same. Every event we participate in either validates what we believe to be true or makes us question if we are on the right track. All of this is part of the process of being shaped by our environments whether we are conscious of it or not. I believe that this is also the beginning of compromise for many people as well.

We tend to believe that we have more control over our environments than we actually do, but this is a great temptation that we must avoid to believe. There is a shaping process that occurs in us through our environments, much like how rushing water shapes the riverbanks that guide it over time. The river banks don't notice while enjoying the company of water, but rivers are formed through the shaping power of water. Sometimes, we are fortunate to have enough influence over others to help shape culture; in fact, the late Steve Jobs was a master at this. He would be so furious with his passions that there was no room to question him and what he desired was executed. With the dispersing of iPods, iPhones, iPads, and essentially 'iEverythings’ around the world, Steve Jobs single-handedly changed the way people shopped, communicated, interacted, and behaved. But most of us will never be Mr. Jobs.

We don't often times recognize how our environment shapes us simply because we are not active participants in the creation of our environment or the culture that defines it. However, if we have been to Vegas, we can quickly understand that the environment we engage in has a transformative and engaging effect. Walk through a casino, and you get lost in it; time disappears as the sounds, the lights, and the temperature never changes on the casino floor. There are no windows that look out, so what you absorb is only within the walls of the casino. It's as if you are enclosed in a fortress of solitude with the intention of honing in on the thing that they want you to focus on. You become entranced with your surroundings and find yourself getting swept up in the excitement and the siren song of the casino. In fact, the values of the casino become the values you begin to adopt for yourself, which marks your entrance into the culture. Everything about Vegas changes you; that's why they say, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." People who go to Vegas understand that there is a culture to Vegas that if you don't quickly participate in it, you will miss out on all of the crazy "Hangover" moments that could happen. Morals, personal standards, and ideas of what is decent gets thrown out the window, as you simply just immerse yourself into all that Vegas epitomizes. People try to make Vegas a place for everyone, but the people who seem to really be transformed by it are those who get swept up by it. There are many places that produce a similar effect as Vegas including cities (e.g., New York City, Los Angeles, Seoul, Tokyo, Rio de Janiero, and Chicago), theme parks (e.g., Disneyland) as well as universities (e.g., Wheaton College, UChicago, Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, Berkley, USC, and UCLA). Even job industries and major corporations have a formative culture that seeks to indoctrinate people. Investment bankers have a common language and attitude that they share about money and work life. Jim Collins calls for companies to develop cult-like cultures in his best-selling book, Built to Last. Culture clearly shapes us more than simply a set of beliefs, norms, traditions, values, behaviors, and language that is accepted by people; in fact, culture is the incubator for people to become indoctrinated into a specific vision for the kingdom we want to become loyal subjects of.

As much as we would like to believe we are shaped by how we think and that we are in control of who we become, observing the world seems to suggest that how we think is shaped largely by our interests. Sit through a lecture, and if the topic is of interest to you, then you pay attention; if it isn't, then you doze off. Yes, there is something to be said about the competency of the lecturer, but more than that, outside of academic settings where we are graded, we will only sit through lectures by competent lecturers if the subject matter is of interest to us, or if the messenger is someone we want to know. In both cases, our wants define our actions. Dr. James K.A. Smith argues that it would seem as if our actions then are pulled out of us by what we want instead of pushed out of us by what we think is right. In fact, if you think about what he is saying, the greatest criticism by the over-churched is that they are tired of feeling inauthentic about their faith and that they are exhausted and burnt out from doing so much without being rewarding even intrinsically. It seems to these individuals as if there are too many rules to keep up with that there is no enjoyment in following God. At some point, they either give up, or examine themselves carefully to realize that the God they thought they needed to work FOR had actually died so that they wouldn't feel like they needed to earn their place in eternity, and the joy of that news transforms them from the inside out.

The problem then seems not to be that we have desires, but that our desires often times seem to be directed at things that don't ultimately satisfy or fulfill. The thing we often fail to recognize, however, is that culture (and the rituals within culture) shape our desires more than we may like.

So how do desires and culture meet? They meet at two points.

The first point is if we actively seek out the culture that matches our desires. This can only come if we are able to recognize the thing that will ultimately satisfy our desires. We need a vision for what will, without fail, satisfy the deepest parts of us so that anxiety and worry don't consume us, that other desires are ordered under it, and that it will always nourish us when we turn to it. Some people seem to believe that if they collect a million puzzle pieces, that it will create a complete picture. But what people fail to realize is that there are billions of disparate puzzle pieces from millions of competing puzzles that exist in the same pile. From our perspective, it just looks as if equal visions of what will bring about fulfillment are competing with one another. It would be nearly impossible to figure out what you are looking for if you simply take life on with every puzzle piece that you grab at random. Of course, most people don't live this way. Once they experience the type of love and freedom that the Gospel brings, most people start filling in the edges of the puzzle and begin to see parts of the picture. This doesn't mean that once those pieces are locked in, they will stay in. We are always battling a variety of forces, some of which are internally created and others of which are external. With competing visions for what human flourishing looks like and what the ultimate kingdom we are living for looks like, we must remember that it is easy to get caught up with the one puzzle piece that we want to make fit but doesn't. This one puzzle piece can lead to frustration and even a discarding of everything we have come to know as the picture we are trying to recreate through the connecting of the pieces. However, if we know what it is we are trying to piece together (because the picture is shown to us), we have a tendency to move toward it with a ferocious motivation. We discard anything that seems like a false or counterfeit piece, and we toss away anything that attempts to compete with our desire to complete this picture in our lives.

The second point is if our engagement of a particular culture forms our desires. James Smith quotes St. Augustine, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." The idea that we are all being pulled by our desires is one thing, and the thought that we were made to desire one thing is another. As I mentioned, if we have a vision for the culture we desire, then we will stay singularly focused until it materializes or until we find it. If we don't, then we must recognize that whatever culture we participate in will have us conform our values to its values, adapt our behaviors to those that are acceptable by its standards, and change our standards in everything from low to high cultural expressions. In other words, culture will not only inform us how to get along with people but will also indoctrinate us to become one of the people. If we're not careful, we will become of the world as we are in the world. What we must learn to do as Christians is to navigate, love, and live amongst the people without actually becoming one of them. We must empathize with them, listening carefully to every heartbeat they share with us without having our hearts beat for the same thing that they do. We must do, as Paul did in the book of Acts: recognize, identify, and reveal the culture making idols of their lives, expose them, and then pour the Gospel over them.

How do we do this?

LA Case study:

I love LA. In fact, I have a hard time getting on the plane at LAX to leave the city. The weather, my pocket of close friends, the variety of cultures, and the diversity are all things that I love about the city. I love how Hollywood creates artistic works of entertainment, that the fine arts are growing in the city, and that we have a million grassroots movements from slow food to fast-paced car racing. Every neighborhood has a different feel to it. LA is a city that breeds lovers and provides creative types the ability to network. It's also a city that offers professionals a space to pursue their careers without the same degree of competitiveness as you may find in NY. I love LA. But it is not perfect, and it has a lot of self-reflection to do.

LA is a city where the idea of seeing and being seen is ultimate. If the idol of New York is money, the idol of Chicago is power (look at their politics), then the idol of LA is sex. Of course, each city has their pursuits of all three, but what drives LA is not power or money, but sex. The most beautiful people congregate to Los Angeles. In fact, there are so many beautiful people in this city that dating someone who you would consider an 8, 9 or, 10 on a 10-point scale is highly feasible. Image and sex appeal drive the city as "less is more", and $1000 purses are a bare minimum for those barely making any money at all. People can be poor, but if they know the right people, have the right energy, and are socially savvy enough, they can navigate around the city and live the high life for next to nothing. Clubbing and bars define the scene, and the only ways to get in, like in other major cities, are to 1) buy a bottle if the tables haven't already been sold out; 2) know the manager/owner; 3) be known by the bouncer or give him a fat tip on the dl; or 4) roll with celebrities, aka, sexually charged icons in the city. The food scene is exactly the same: reservations get moved around if someone who will bring you publicity comes through. You are not known as powerful or rich if you go to all these places, but rather as desirable, wanted, or sexy. Money only gets you so far in the city, and power is only good for those who want a job or want something to get done. Everything in the broadest culture of LA and Hollywood is sexually charged.

This affects people who aren't directly a part of the crowd by everything they see from Sunset Blvd., to Beverly Hills, to celebrity gossip sites, to how people drive their convertibles to go to Yogurtland. Advertisements line the magazines, which LA is ranked among the highest consumers of, and there are walking advertisements in our schools, churches, and along the streets. In fact, I chose not to go to Pepperdine University for college because during my college visit, I saw a bunch of very attractive Elle Woods'-types (from Legally Blonde) walking around with their Juicy Couture velour, Gucci flats, and LV purses for bookbags. Their Chanel sunglasses prevented me from being able to see if their faces were consistent with their image, but it really didn't matter. I did not want to be part of a culture that worshiped materialism, even though they were genuinely nice people and pleasant to talk with. The scariest thing was that outside of my own judgmental heart, they had no idea that they had become a part of a culture that they never thought they would.

It's a slow fade, as Casting Crowns puts it, and we need a revolutionary and sharp voice to help us assess our cultural blind spots. In LA, you hear the constant narratives of how someone got "laid" and the endless pursuits of both men and women to find "the one" by whatever means necessary. Sex becomes meaningless and is honestly believed to simply be a physical act between two people. Accidentally slipping up is highly tolerated, and no one really cares if it happens as long as no one was raped in the process. There is a belief that if you love your boyfriend or girlfriend, then doing it is fine, as long as you are committed to them in that moment. For those who remain abstinent are concerned, sleeping together, taking vacations together, kissing until your balls turn blue, and doing everything except the actual act of intercourse are OK. LA is not a city that values purity, and if we are not careful, we will accept, believe, and begin to adopt the lifestyle that LA wants us to live. This is what the idol of sex does to a city.

So what?

I think it would be a great folly to believe that our environment doesn't shape us more than we would like. I know it shapes me because in every place I lived, I had to either reject the culture I was a part of with a critical attitude or embrace it with a compromising one. Living in Korea, I felt the pressures of workaholism. At Wheaton, I felt the pressures to conform to a safe and white view of Christianity. At YWAM, I felt the pressures of performing for God through the supernatural. In Spain, I confronted a deep passivity toward everything as if they gave up on life, yet an undying passion for living. How people viewed sex, power, and money all differed based on the culture I was engaged in; however, it didn't mean that I could ignore it or just passively roll with it. Instead, although I am/was far from perfect, I learned that having a standard is OK, that you can engage with the people without compromising Godly values, and that you can be a light into darkness where light is needed. Of course, all this is loaded with Christian jargon that I am too tired to edit for now... but I think you get the picture. We must simply be aware of what things influence us, draw us in, and call out to us.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prayer Allows Us To Participate in the Work of Trusting God

Genesis 32:9 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Being able to see the Gospel in the Old Testament has become something that has brought me much joy over the last year. The more I recognize the great love of God in the Old Testament, the richer my understanding and appreciation becomes for the faith that I am beyond privileged to be a part of. This passage exemplifies the necessity for God's love in our lives.

Jacob had not seen Esau since He had taken Esau's blessing from Isaac and departed from his family to take a wife from his his hometown. This stealing of the blessing is highlighted as one of the most contentious points in the book of Genesis between two brothers (possibly only second to the story of Cain and Abel). We know this because Esau in bitterness, married a Canaanite woman simply because it would go against his father, Isaac's, desires. For at least 20 years, there had been no interactions between the two of them and as Jacob had matured in his own trials with his in-laws, he grew in his understanding of the gravity of his actions toward his brother. He knew Esau had settled in the land of Seir, so as he left Laban (his father in law), he headed in the direction of his brother and sent messengers ahead of his camp to inform Esau that Jacob was coming bearing gifts for him. His messengers returned to Jacob with the news that Esau was en route to meet with Jacob with 400 men. This put Jacob in a place of panic, remembering all that he had done against his brother by stealing his birthright and deceiving his father Isaac to receive the blessing that was intended for Esau.

Jacob quickly divided his camp, his flocks, and his servants into two parties with the mentality that if his brother destroys one, the other will be able to survive the attack through retreat. Then he turned to God in one of the most beautiful prayers displaying the desperation that only comes to those who recognize that they need God much more than He needs us.

We are always confronted with perceived and real threats, dangers, and fears. Because of sin in this world, we don't have the ability to isolate ourselves from pain in this world. If we try, we end up battling depressions that come with loneliness and solitude of prolonged measures. This means that something will always try to oppose us, to get in our way, to make our lives difficult, and to attempt to torture us. However, this is not the end of the story.

In this story, we see that Jacob turns to God as his savior. He is clearly a smart man, dividing his camp into two so that his economic and social engines would be left in tact if one of the camps were destroyed by his brother, but he takes it in a direction that only a man who understood where true salvation could come from would by praying. Jacob's prayer reveals that there was confidence that Jacob had in the faithfulness of God.

In moments of crises, people naturally turn to the thing that they believe will save them. Urgency trumps everything else and blinds us from being able to sort things out calmly. We become erratic and everything looks more difficult and daunting than we can handle. We sometimes try to talk to ourselves, sometimes we take deep breaths, and sometimes, we call someone we know can help us calm down. For many situations, these things work because we have faced them before or have heard of people overcoming them, resulting in a fine outcome. However, few of us are placed in circumstances (at least in my circles) where we are running for our lives from someone who we believe is actively trying to kill us. In these crisis moments, the thing we turn to, whether it is an internal mechanism or an external source is our functional savior. The thing we turn to in the most trying of circumstances is the thing we truly believe will be able to rescue us from this pain that is coming at us at 100mph. We can say we cling to God, but from personal experience, I think if we are filled with anxiety in the times of calm, then in the storms of life, we may collapse because we actually don't trust in the God who calls us to trust Him.

Trusting God is tough, but I think we make it more difficult than it really is. Faith is not something we muster up on our own accord, it is a gift from God. This reality automatically puts everyone in a place where we cannot get angry or frustrated or feel superior with those who lack it. This realization also places us in a position where we cherish it if it is real. If faith is a gift, not something we do on our own, but an expression of dependency that is directed at an object that can actually pull through, it can only be experienced in conjunction with love. Love is much of the stuff that God is and it is when we feel loved that we can place our faith in the object that we are loved by. Trustworthiness comes through the understanding that the thing we place our trust in is both good and able to be trusted. That means that there is a capacity that allows what is best for us to be actualized in our lives.

What we see in Jacob's prayer are three things:

1. Jacob latched onto God.
Immediately after separating the two camps, he turned to prayer. He didn't devise a retreat strategy, nor did he come up with a way to trap Esau before he approached. This was the ultimate sign of his dependency and desperation on God.

2. He remembered God's consistency and constancy through the covenant.
There is no doubt that the covenant is what separated Abraham and his descendants from the rest. Something about God's enduring faithfulness stuck with Jacob even after he had just been conned by his father in law for 20 years, working far more than he should've for the wages he received. I believe it was through this struggle that Jacob was able to recognize God's favor in his life (Gen 30:27-30). This gave Jacob more than enough reason, after hearing about what had happened in his grandfather Abraham's and his father Isaac's life, his tank of faith stories had been full enough to recognize that God was working in a unique way with his family.

3. He understood that the outcome wasn't in his control.
His plea for help displayed his understanding that his perceptions of control were fleeting. Although this doesn't give us the confidence we desire when we are in the circumstances, we are reminded over and over again throughout the entirety of the Scriptures that the outcomes aren't as important as the God we give up our outcomes to.

So, how then does this call us to live?

Cling to the Gospel - God is the Gospel. Christ is the Gospel. The Cross and Resurrection are the Gospel. The Gospel is not advice for how we should live, think, or behave, but what actually is. It is the breaking through of an earth shattering news that literally changes the histories of all that it impacts. It is the source of life, the source of confidence, the source of hope, and the source of joy.

Remember His promises - Spending time to remember the faithfulness of God in the scriptures and our own lives are critical if we don't want to reinvent the wheel of our personal faith over and over. There is something about taking the time to remember what God has done and how He has been so faithful to bringing us to the point where He offers us access to Himself as the ultimate source of fulfillment in life that brings healing and calm to our existence here on earth.

Pray His Promises - Praying the promises of God is a way you can exalt God's goodness and power while leaning on His faithfulness. Prayer is the point where we express our dependency on God and it is the point at which we can participate in bringing God's kingdom to earth. He is faithful to fulfill the promises of His Word.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Isaac and Rebecca Met Through the Faithfulness of God and the Trust of Abraham and his Servant

Genesis 24:34 So he said, “I am Abraham's servant. 35 The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys. 36 And Sarah my master's wife bore a son to my master when she was old, and to him he has given all that he has. 37 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell, 38 but you shall go to my father's house and to my clan and take a wife for my son.’ 39 I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ 40 But he said to me, ‘The LORD, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way. You shall take a wife for my son from my clan and from my father's house. 41 Then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my clan. And if they will not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’

42 “I came today to the spring and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, 43behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44 and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,” let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master's son.’

45 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels drink also. 47 Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. 49 Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”

I think we have it all backwards when I take a look at this passage.

At first glance, this passage is about how Isaac and Rebecca came to become man and wife. Some people, rightly so, refer to this as the godly approach to finding a wife. I think that as much as it is true that the principles of spouse finding are rich in this text, there is a greater principle at hand. The writer of Genesis, took careful measure to make sure that the readers understood what was happening in this passage. Throughout the chapter, he replays this incident twice - like the creation story at the beginning of Genesis, but instead of taking a purely poetic approach, he takes an approach that walks us through both the events that took place in an objective sense as well as the servant's perspective on the events. The thing I hope we discover together is that when we know God and enter into a covenant with Him, we are able to see His sovereignty in all things and trust Him through the moments of greatest trials.

Abraham was 100 years old when he had Isaac. Isaac was the most important thing to Abraham next to God. Isaac was also at the age when he should get married, but because of the significance of familial ties in old Hebrew culture, Abraham did not want Isaac to wed someone of a distant clan. However, if we remember, Abraham was told by God in chapter 12 to "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all families of the earth shall be blessed." Thus, he was a man without a country, and only a promise of one to come. In chapter 15, God made a covenant with Abraham and fleshed out the details through the middle of chapter 18. After his covenant, Isaac is born, then told to be offered as a sacrifice, then saved by God painting one of the most incredible pictures of the Gospel in the Old Testament.

Fast forward to Isaac and Rebecca. The reason I love this passage is because it calls us to approach everything in life through the lens of God's sovereignty, goodness, and trustworthiness. It puts us right in between the reality that we are always stuck between trying to do things on our own versus trusting in God to do what He knows is best. It also shows us that there is a type of partnership in that we are able to participate in as we obey God simply by showing up.

In this passage, the certainty Abraham had in God was evidenced through two things: first, his willingness to release his servant from his oath and second, the fact that the servant turned to this God that his master served.

Abraham had no obligation to release his servant of this oath. In fact, because of the power distance that occurred between the two, the servant had legitimate reasons to fear for his life if he couldn't produce a wife for Isaac. But what is most incredible is that Abraham releases the outcomes to the LORD and just tells his servant to show up and see what God does. Abraham tells him to go ahead because God will send His angels ahead of him and bring about a positive outcome, BUT even if he doesn't that it is okay because his trust wasn't in the outcome, but in the producer of the outcome. Abraham essentially says that God will do what He will do and even though he knows God can, he believes God will, that even if God doesn't, that he will still praise the LORD. This, we see happen in the book of Daniel as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego were about to be thrown into a blazing furnace for worshipping God.

Abraham trusted God because He knew God was faithful to His word and would not forsake him because of the covenant that was made in Genesis 15.

The servant, now charged with going to Abraham's home tribe was given a task associated with great responsibility. He was in charge of finding someone who was going to be the wife of the heir to his master. This means that the pressure to find someone that would bring honor, bear children, and submit faithfully was on. If the servant failed to bring someone of high character, he would most likely be reminded daily of the poor selection he made for his master. He would be haunted with a miserable existence. I think the servant had the thought to attempt to find someone, and then return home to tell his master that no one wanted to return with him. That way, he would be released from his oath as well as from the burden of bearing the responsibility of having found someone that brought dishonor to the tribe. Instead, this servant goes to the well at a time when he knew that the women would be coming out to draw water from the well. Instead of playing the numbers game and approaching each one as most people would, he sat back and asked God to be the one to lead. In no way did he do this to neglect his responsibility, but he called upon YAHWEH by name with the full knowledge of who He was to Abraham. Before he finished praying for the one chosen for Isaac to be revealed, Rebecca appeared and offered to feed him and his camels drink. Through Abraham, the servant came to know and trust God in a way that it seems the majority of people today have a hard time doing. This servant understood something about the sovereignty of God that we often times forget.

When I look at this passage, I think of three things:

1. We must know God and His promises in order for us to know what we can and are holding onto. Through the Bible, God reveals Himself in ways that shows He interacts with us throughout all of human history. Why wouldn't we want to know such a personal God? In the Bible are thousands of promises God makes to those who trust in Him. Why wouldn't we want to know them?

2. We must trust that God's sovereignty will take care of everything - and that we must guard our hearts with wisdom from trying to control the unknown in a faithless manner. It's easy to try and conjure up formulas and methods in reaction to the nastiness of life. Many times, we do things to either protect ourselves from experiencing hurt without trusting God or to get to a place where we don't think we will need God at all. Both are marked with a danger sign that can only lead us to a place of self-reliance and an existence that prevents us from experiencing the fullness that God has in store for us.

3. We must pray at all times with the understanding that we are in a covenant that exceeds anything we could ever hope for. I can't emphasize prayer enough. Prayer is the method of communication God gave us to be able to access Him in a personal way. Why wouldn't we take advantage of this? The more I read through the Word, the more I find I have to pray for. The more I get involved in people's lives, the more I have to pray for. The more I examine my own life and the world I live in, the more I have to pray for. Prayer allows us to release our burdens to Him who bore all burdens on the Cross so we wouldn't have to for eternity.

In this passage, I see the Gospel lived out by Abraham and his servant. To release someone from an oath is to release someones obligation to produce. There is no performance pressure involved. His servant knowing fully what was at stake went to God first, and because of God's covenant with Abraham (and everyone else who believes that Christ died for their sins), the servant found it to be the wisest course of action to trust God before his options were exhausted, not after he had tried everything. We can trust in God because He is worthy of our trust. My hope is that we live according to this magnificent truth.