Over the years I have spent a great deal of time sharing on the journey Abram took from Ur of the Chaldees to the Land of Promise. I have been couching it in the language of “leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar” for decades. When I first began to share the concept of “leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar” it was a seed. I had observed that seed as carefully and intentionally as I knew how at that season of my life. Yet all seeds grow, and as I sowed that seed into the hearts and minds of the faithful, I began to reap a harvest of insight, and that harvest continually grows. Let’s see if that harvest of insight can strengthen you in this season.
Here is the text from the first 3 verses of Genesis 12:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “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 the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
“Leaving the familiar” isn’t always easy. It indeed requires faith. The word “familiar” has its etymology from mid-14th Century France, where the word began to be used to describe that with which one is intimate, very friendly, and on a family-footing. As you can obviously tell, the word “familiar” is tied to the word “family”.
It was a real stretch of faith for Abram to leave his country, his relatives, and his father’s house. God addressed his relationships from his largest “family” (his country), to his extended family (relatives) to his “father’s house” (immediate family). A careful reading of the story tells us that he didn’t quite leave well, and it caused him delay of entrance into the purposes and promises of God because of his failure to leave his father, and then warfare because of his need to bring along his nephew Lot. Before we castigate Abram for his failure to full obey, we need to remember that we too have a difficult time letting go of all things familiar no matter who would ask us to do so, even God!
So what lessons can we learn about the faith necessary for leaving the familiar? Plus, who really gets excited about launching into the realm of the unfamiliar, since it is way past our normal and preferred living space? In other words, it is outside of our comfort zone.
At some point in your journey with God, He is going to test you and see if He has your whole heart. He will invite you to “leave the familiar for the unfamiliar”. That may not mean your family necessarily, or even your occupation (though for many who have followed Christ it has indeed cost them such a high price throughout Church history). Yet there are some things that we have become attached to, that we have a high emotional investment in, that when God requires of us to let them go, it really isn’t “fun”. Anyone who will tell you that the walk of faith is a “cake walk”, has NEVER had to walk by faith.
Yet here is the dynamic that we need to consider: if God is requiring of us to move into a new dimension and arena of faith, of necessity we have to move past the current arena of faith we have been walking in. That is the reason that Paul the apostle tells us that we go “from faith, to faith” (Romans 1:17). In the Greek language it indicates going out from one dimension of faith in order to enter into another dimension of faith. You have to exit out so you can enter in!
When God told Abram to make an exit out of a chapter in his life, He made it clear that He would not reveal the entrance to the next chapter until he had fully departed from the former chapter. Notice what the Lord says in verse 1 of Genesis 12, and pay attention to the italicized words:
Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you…
God had not shown him yet the place he was going to. How come God didn’t do that? Doesn’t God understand the nature of sound psychology? He built us as goal-oriented creatures. Our plans are aborted when we have no destination. That is simply the reality…at least from a natural understanding of things. If you don’t know what port of all you are sailing towards, your ship won’t be navigated well at all, and any view of the horizon will serve you. It was Seneca the Younger who said, “When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”
However, what do you do when God calls you to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar and doesn’t show you the final destination? Do you resist? Do you move reluctantly? Or do you implicitly trust His goodness in the midst of every conflict and decision and move forward by faith?
Moving forward usually implies a direction does it not?
However, with God, moving forward always implies the direction known as “faith”. It is about walking by faith and not by our senses.
When you are exiting a chapter of your life because the Lord has seen fit to bring that chapter to an end, there are all sorts of dynamics that actually take place in your life to assist you in moving forward by faith. What sort of dynamics might they be? The answer is simple: things change circumstantially, attitudes change internally, and when they interact, something in you realizes you need to make some sort of a shift positionally!
The journey of faith isn’t first and foremost about progress, it is about process! You and I live by the “proceeding word of God”. The Word of the Lord over our lives releases a process because everything for you as a believer emanates from and results from what God is speaking over your life. The process implies a journey. It implies development and continuation. Progress is made because you trust the process!
Trusting the process isn’t always easy, because when you leave the familiar and crossing a threshold into the realm of the unfamiliar, it is as if you are in a rowboat without any oars. I tend to think that when the Lord called Abram to leave the familiar it released no small crisis in his heart. That seems evident by the fact that he took his father with him and delayed his hearing from the Lord any further, and his father had to die before the Lord would speak to him (see Genesis 11:31-32). Terah was Abram’s father, and Terah means “delay”, “wander”, and “turn” (implying deviating from a particular path). Abram was at a season in his life when he was to take the lead in his obedience and faith, and he gave away his power of choice to his father, who by this season was never meant to lead him any longer.
The encouraging aspects of this story is just how human Abram was, and he is called the “father of faith”, and how human you and I are. Abram ultimately was going to have to cross the threshold of the familiar and enter into the unfamiliar whether he wanted to or not, because God intended to make of him the father of many nations. In order for God to multiply him, he first had to subtract everything around him until it was Abram alone with a barren wife who couldn’t give him a child!
Consider Isaiah 51:2
Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.
The phrase “he was but one” implies in the Hebrew “alone”. God had to reduce Abram down to his irreducible minimum before he could bless him and then multiply him. This is the stuff of faith that releases God to move in power. If we resist leaving the familiar when God says it is in His timing to do so, God will strip us of everything that is familiar so we can say “yes” in faith and obey and cross that threshold.
God rarely if ever shows you the “next” thing unless you have been through a period of not knowing where you are going and having had to leave where you have been. Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is disruptive. It is God leading the blind by a way they do not know (Isaiah 42:6). You do realize that for a blind person, they rely on the familiar to survive. If you lead a blind person into the realm of the unfamiliar, they temporarily lose all “sense” of where they are and where they are going. THAT is the walk of faith when God calls you to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar. So if you find yourself trying to figure out what is “next” because you are in a season of disruption, trust the process, and walk by faith and not by sight. There will come a “now what” moment when that moment is ready to present itself.