Can you finish this well-known saying? A journey of a thousand miles begins with…a single step. That’s what the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu observed 2600 years ago. The point of the saying is to encourage action when facing a daunting task. For example, my dad had us paint the chain link fence in the backyard when we were kids. It was a big yard and the six foot fence went all the way around; and painting rusty chain link is a very tedious task. It seemed never ending.
But he said: Just do one section each day. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Get started with a small part and before you know it, the task will be done.
But you know, not every journey begins with our effort of placing one foot in front of the other. Take the journey of faith for example.
Our journey of faith begins with God’s actions
We see that this morning through the experiences of a man named Abraham. Abraham’s journey of faith, like ours, begins with God. It’s important to know this when the journey gets long and difficult and we might be tempted to stray from the narrow path.
Abraham, or Abram as he was first called, lived about 4100 years ago in 2100 B.C. Just to put his life into historical context, the worldwide flood of Noah’s day had already come and gone. So had the Tower of Babel, which Noah’s descendants had built in an effort to make a name for themselves and to keep from being scattered around the world. But God did scatter them when he mixed up their languages. So by the time Abram came along, the Chinese were setting up ruling dynasties, the Native Americans were planting maize here in North America, and somebody set up Stonehenge. Abram himself was born and grew up in a city named Ur, which is in present-day Iraq. Ur was a modern city for its day, but it was also a place of idol worship. Although everyone in the world had at one time known that there is only one God who created everything; over time people had begun to come up with their own gods, often making them look like human beings. The Bible tells us that Abram’s father Terah was a worshipper of such idols.
We don’t know if Abram himself worshipped these idols, but the danger was there to be influenced by them. If Abram had been influenced by idol worship, his journey of faith would have ended tragically. Listen to the way the Bible describes idols. “… idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”
Putting your trust in idols might seem like a superstition from the ancient world, but that superstition is still with us. There are still people today who bow down to metal and stone statues; but just as foolish are those who bow before the latest fashions and fads, or who place their trust in money or education or anything else, as if those things will guarantee them lasting happiness. What people quickly find, however, is that they can’t even save themselves from life’s problems. PhDs and billionaires still get cancer and die in accidents like the rest of us. Thankfully there is a higher power who is watching over us. It was this God who appeared to Abram. Had God not done so, Abram would have ended up like millions of others: lost and blinded by his own sin and destined for eternal punishment in hell.
This same God has also appeared to you. No, he hasn’t done so in such a way that you could draw a picture of him, but he is appearing to you right now through his Word. What we learn about him is that this God is not just some nebulous force up there who doesn’t really care about what goes on down here. He does care because he wants each one of us to embark on a journey of faith that will end in heaven where we will get to see this God with our own eyes.
Look at how this God interacted with Abram. He told Abram to leave Ur, which he did. But once Abram arrived in Haran well to the north in present-day Syria, he settled down for a while. Then after his father died, God appeared to Abram again and told him to continue his journey. God simply said: “Get out of your country and away from your relatives and from your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you.”
That certainly wasn’t much information for Abram to go on. God didn’t even tell Abram what his destination was or how long he would be on the road. But God did follow up his command with a series of promises. God said: “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse anyone who dishonors you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you.”
God would indeed bless Abram. He would do so with wealth, even when Abram wasn’t deserving of it. He would also bless Abram with protection. God did make Abram’s name great, for three world religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all recount Abram’s activities. But the most important promise of all was how God said that all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abram. God was talking about you when he made that promise. He said that you and I living 4100 years after Abram would be blessed because it was through Abram’s family line that the Savior of the world, Jesus, would be born.
These promises propelled Abram forward. He didn’t know exactly where he was going, but he knew that God would lead the way, the God who promised to bless him. In time Abram arrived in Canaan. It was there that God said he would give the land to Abram’s descendants. Have you noticed how God kept appearing to Abram to encourage him? That’s how he deals with us too, with patient love and constant encouragement.
Abram’s journey of faith is like our journey of faith. Before we were even aware of God, he came to us. For many of us he did so at our baptism. There God promised to bless us and urged us to follow him to a better land. We don’t know when we’ll get to that land or even what that place is really like, but we know that this land is going to be awesome because our God lives there, a God who dearly loves us.
We see that love proven in a strange journey that God’s own Son took. While God directed Abram to leave Ur so that he could be saved from idol worship, God sent his Son into this world to face death to pay for our idol worship. God’s Son is of course Jesus, who told his disciples before his death on the cross: “Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that you may also be where I am. ”
Will God really keep his promises of bringing you to this heavenly mansion? It often seems doubtful doesn’t it? Just as it must have seemed doubtful when God told Abram that his descendants would live in Canaan considering that there were people already living in the land at the time. This wasn’t an empty lot to which God had brought Abram. Somehow God would have to remove those people from their cities if Abraham’s descendants were going to live there. Besides, Abram didn’t have any children yet when God gave him that promise, and he was already 75 years old and his wife 65 years old, the age of grandparents! How was God going to make Abram into a great nation if he didn’t even have a single child? That was God’s business. It was Abram’s place to simply trust and he did. He demonstrated his faith when he made a little tour of the land, stopping in various places to publically worship his God.
In time God did deliver on all of his promises to Abram, and he will deliver on all the promises that he’s given to you. So his promises will move you to do great things as did Abram. They will give you strength when a loved one seems to be on their last leg here on earth. Those promises will help you shrug off financial difficulties and mounting bills. Your God knows what you need. His promises will give you calm even when the news headlines are bad.
Oh, I know that Christians are often accused of having blind faith, like Abram who just picked up and moved even though he had no idea where he was going. But Abram’s faith, like yours, is not blind; it is firmly focused on God’s Word.
There’s so much more we can learn from Abram, but as they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Abram’s journey of faith began with God just as your journey of faith has.
May this God keep you by his side throughout the journey so that you do arrive safely at the heavenly mansions God designed for you, and which his Son Jesus bought with his blood for you. Amen.