When Failure Leads to Worship
Genesis 12 showed us the beginning of God’s work in Abram’s life. He called him out of darkness to go to a land that he would show him later. God promised to bless him and to make him a blessing to the world. Abram believed God and went. By faith, he followed God’s call.
The next event we see, in Genesis 13, is faithful Abram making decisions of unfaith in Egypt. He lies to save himself, forgetting that God is in control of everything. His lies gain him wealth but put his wife in danger. Worried about the promises of God coming to pass, Abram exchanges God’s word for his own, and follows his heart into dangerous territory. Through all of this he learns—not for the last time—that there are no shortcuts with the promises of God. Though it may look like he’s absent, God is present in our waiting. Abram went down to Egypt a sojourner with a bright future. He came back humbled and exposed.
What would come of Abram now? Genesis 13 tells us God has more than one new beginning for his people. We see that God’s promises are not dependent upon our ability to make them come to pass; they are dependent on God alone. After Egypt, Abram saw that in a new way, and that new way led him to repentance and faith once again. That’s the path of the Christian life: faith, repentance, faith. The cycle of repentance and faith is what each of us can expect from now until the day we stand before the Lord in glory.
After the failure in Egypt, Abram returned a shell of who he was. Exposed and saddened, he saw himself in a new light. But God didn’t. God knew who he was when he called him. He knows who we all are when he calls us. We don’t surprise him, even if we surprise ourselves. We are all, like Abram, a mixture of self-righteous sinners and faithful followers of God. God knows that. Our righteousness didn’t get us in, and our failures don’t throw us out. It is God who is faithful through and through.
In his return to the Promised Land, Abram retraced his previous path as he considered the faithfulness of God. He went into the Negeb and on to Bethel. It was a pilgrimage back to his first love. It was a walk of repentance, recapturing the wonder of his previous walk with God. He came finally to the altar he built all those days before. He called on the name of the Lord, exalting him again in the land of pagans, proclaiming the goodness of the God who brought him out of Egypt.
What can we learn about this return? Simply this: God is faithful to his promises. Abram messed up in Egypt, but his mess ups couldn’t retract the promise of God. As we see at the end of Genesis 12, God miraculously delivered Abram and Sarai out of Egypt. As Abram sat despondent, God was working. So it is in our life as well.
John Piper said it well in his blog post “God Is Always Doing 10,000 Things in Your Life”.
God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.
Not only may you see a tiny fraction of what God is doing in your life; the part you do see may make no sense to you.
You may find yourself in prison, and God may be advancing the gospel among the guards, and making the free brothers bold. (Philippians 1:12–14)
You may find yourself with a painful thorn, and God may be making the power of Christ more beautiful in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:7–9)
You may find yourself with a dead brother that Jesus could have healed, and God may be preparing to show his glory. (John 11:1–44)
You may find yourself sold into slavery, accused falsely of sexual abuse, and forgotten in a prison cell, and God may be preparing you to rule a nation. (Genesis 37–50)
You may wonder why a loved one is left in unbelief so long, and find that God is preparing a picture of his patience and a powerful missionary. (Galatians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:12–16)
You may live in all purity and humility and truth only to end rejected and killed, and God may be making a parable of his Son and an extension of his merciful sufferings in yours. (Isaiah 53:3; Mark 8:31; Colossians 1:24)
You may walk through famine, be driven from your homeland, lose husband and sons, and be left desolate with one foreign daughter-in-law, and God may be making you an ancestor of a King. (Ruth 1–4)
You may find the best counselor you’ve ever known giving foolish advice, and God may be preparing the destruction of your enemy. (2 Samuel 17:14)
You may be a sexually pure single person and yet accused of immorality, and God may be preparing you as a virgin blessing in ways no one can dream. (Luke 1:35)
You may not be able to sleep and look in a random book, and God may be preparing to shame your arrogant enemy and rescue a condemned people. (Esther 6:1–13)
You may be shamed and hurt, and God may be confirming your standing as his child and purifying you for the highest inheritance. (Hebrews 12:5–11)
Highlighting the love of God in this way leads us to worship, and that’s ultimately where Abram was led in Genesis 13. He worships in verse 4 at the altar at Bethel and builds a new altar in verse 18 at Hebron. The entire story of Genesis 13 is bookended with the worship of God. As Kent Hughes puts it, “the whole story here is clothed in authentic worship.” Abram teaches us that it should be so in our lives as well. Yes, we fail, but God is good and worthy to be worshiped. He accepts us by the blood of Christ. We can draw near to him right now.
When we fail, as we undoubtedly will again, our failures can lead us to worship the one who saves us from them all—the one whom Abram rejoiced to see was coming, to wash him anew in grace and mercy.