Over the last few months, Ann and I have found our faith stretched in a way we have not encountered before. We have had to think more deeply about what trusting God means. We have also had doubts as to whether going to Thailand is the right thing and more basic doubts about whether God will provide for us, financially, emotionally and spiritually.
The great example of faith in the Bible is Abraham. Abraham is said to be the founder of three world faiths. But Abraham also doubted. In fact, he and his wife became quite cynical about the promises of God. In Genesis 15, God appears to Abraham to reaffirm the promises that Abraham and his barren wife will inherit both a land and descendants as numerous as the stars in the night sky.
Abraham responds: “. . . How can I know . . .?” (Genesis 15:8) He believes. But his faith is riddled with doubt.
What happens next is unprecedented and foundational to our understanding of God and the way he relates to his people. What God does gives Abraham an anchor for his soul and an anchor for our souls when we doubt. God cuts a covenant with Abraham. In our language, He signs an oath. He instructs Abraham to cut various animals in half. Then, in the form of a blazing fire, God passes between the pieces of those animals which are laid out opposite each other.
All this would be familiar to readers of ancient literature. The way covenants were cut was common across the near east. Those who made the covenant would act out the curses of breaking the promises. By cutting animals in half, they were saying: “If I do not keep these promises, may I be cut up and may my body be prey for the birds of the air.” But from history and archaeology we know that when a King and a vassal made a covenant agreement, both the King and the vassal would walk between the pieces. Or, most commonly only the vassal would act out the covenant curse. Yet in Genesis 15, only God, in the form of “. . .a smoking brazier with a flaming torch” passed between the pieces.
Theologians call this a unilateral covenant.
God was saying to Abraham, “I promise that I will keep these promises and if I do not keep them, may my power suffer powerlessness. May my immortality suffer mortality. May I be cut up and cut off if these promises are not kept.”
But God was saying more than that. The fact that only God passed between the pieces means that God would also bear the consequences if Abraham and his descendants broke the covenant.
This is the story of the Bible. God’s people did break the covenant. They worshipped other gods and rebelled wilfully. In the person of Jesus, on the cross, God bore the curse for us. He did this so that we can inherit the blessings promised to Abraham. This is what provides our anchor. God will never leave us nor forsake us because he forsook his own son in our place.
Faith means that we anchor our lives in the promises of God that have been ratified through the cross. Faith has room for doubt. It has room for us to cry out “O sovereign Lord how can I know?” But these doubts are also challenged by God who calls us to trust Him.
As we have exercised feeble and failing faith in God these last weeks, God has answered our prayers in so many ways. Here is a sample:
• We have been so grateful for the support of folk at New Life Church, Old Woking. We arrived broken and not able to contribute much due to our sudden change of emphasis. But people have been so affirming and supportive of us as a family. It has been overwhelming and deeply healing.
• I had the privilege of preaching at the wedding of the Alan and Karen’s son ( Pastor and wife), yesterday which was the most moving wedding service I have ever been to because of the grace of God, his forgiveness and generosity that it celebrated in a unique way.
• I have had opportunities to preach in various places in the UK over the last weeks which has blessed me and enabled us to partner more folk on our adventure.
• We have found great tenants for 68 Loop Road.
• Despite some setbacks, we have been able to obtain the Visas and sort out a huge amount of practical matters in a very short time frame.
• Obtaining the Visas this Wednesday has enabled us to purchase flight tickets and insurance. I fly out this Friday (25th and begin work 7.30am on 28th), Ann and the children join me flying out on 7th August.
• We have found a house in Chiang Mai, near the school and in a supportive community.
• We have met teachers from GIS on Furlough this week.
• Through the generosity of friends and family we have raised enough finance to be confident that God will provide for us in Thailand.
• God has been using us in these last weeks in Woking to reach out to many people in the centre of town and to partner in the extraordinary project that is the Lighthouse, brainchild of God through Woking Vineyard Church.
• We have had the privilege of knowing the support and generosity of Christians from a wide theological spectrum which is great preparation for mission.
Our further prayer requests are these.
• Peace for Ann and the children. There is still a lot to do in terms of packing the house up and making it presentable for our tenants.
• The children still have many vaccinations to endure. Please pray that they would remain positive about the move and that we would stay close as a family during this big transition.
• Ann is flying with four children. Please pray for grace for this journey.
• For God’s continuing presence with us, and His enabling for us to be a blessing to those we will meet in Thailand.
• Please pray that we would settle quickly and the children would make some good friends quickly.
• For precious friends and family that we leave behind.
With all our love
Chris, Ann, Sam, Lois, Joe and Isaac.