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Genesis 26 - God’s presence, promise & provision1 year ago
Jolyon Trickey is our ReSource Alongside Manager. In this week's vlog Jolyon dives in to Genesis 26 highlighting God's provision and promise of fruitfulness.
Hello! My name is Jolyon Trickey and I work for ReSource developing our Alongside Scheme – more of that later. I am married to Frances and we have two, now four, grown-up children and two grand-children. I have been a Church leader for 30 years and I now support Frances in her first incumbency, just as she supported me 25 years ago.
When I was asked to offer this Vlog, 6 weeks ago, I was drawn to the Genesis 26 account of Isaac, following, almost literally, in the footsteps of his father Abraham. He is re-digging old wells in search of the water that is so essential to to his well-being and that of those in his care.
I will read excerpts in a moment, but must first tell you of one of those serendipities in which I so often find God at work. Every Tuesday & Thursday I make a habit of joining morning prayers in my wife’s ‘little, local and ordinary Church’, via Zoom. We are reading Genesis at the moment and loving it. Last Thursday I was leading and the passage set was… the first half of Genesis 26! And next Tuesday we will read the second half. I take this as confirmation that the Lord wishes me to share from this section of his Word with you today…
In the early verses Isaac receives for himself a promise from God very similar to that given earlier to his Father: v.2 ‘Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I will show you. Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, for to you and your descendants, I will give all these lands, and I will fulfil the oath that I swore to your father, Abraham’ and v.4c ‘and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring….’.
I love the way the Lord interrupt Isaac in his plans and solutions – don’t go there, stay here…and I will bless you! I love the scope of the Lord’s promise here too, so easily missed: that his good purposes, his blessing and ultimately his gospel are for all nations. I love that Isaac receives this promise afresh in his generation… and I love that like his father before him, he faces immediate opposition and danger and responds not with confidence in his God, but in fear for his own safety, passing off his beloved wife, Rebekah, as his sister! How like me these heroes of Genesis are in their folly and lack of faith, even though they have just encountered God!
Yet it is clear that the Lord is with Isaac, just as he is with me, despite my doubts and failings; with you, despite your’s. I remember during my sabbatical in 2008, prevaricating about booking a flight to Uganda for the first time so long that I could not go when I had planned. In the Lord’s loving-kindness booking the flight a week late meant that I was on the same flights there and back as my primary link to Uganda Tim, from Tearfund, and I was able two weeks later to attend a gathering, with him, of all the Tearfund Project leaders in Uganda, that I would otherwise have missed. The Lord can use even my weakness, doubts and failings. He can and will use yours too!
Next, Isaac sows and reaps a hundred-fold in a unique pre-figuring of Jesus’ gospel account of the kingdom (Mark 4). If the Lord calls us to serve him and we follow, or to stay somewhere that we wants us to be, then the seed of the kingdom is at work in us, his Spirit and his power able to do more than all we ask or imagine.
And so to what, for me, is the heart of this passage. Isaac knows that in order to survive, to thrive, in this desert land where he faces constant threat and opposition, he needs a reliable source of water. He knows it is there – his father told him. Let me read the verses in full from v 18, ‘Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the names that his father had given them. But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, the herders of the Gerar quarrelled with Isaac’s herders saying, ‘The water is ours.’ So he called the well Esek [Contention], because they contended with him. Then they dug another well, and they quarrelled over that one also, so he called it Sitnah [Enmity]. He moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he called it Rehoboth [Broad places], saying ‘Now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land’.
At the end of my sabbatical in 2008 Frances and I spent a week in Eqypt. We went on an early morning trip into Israel, across the desert to Masala, to bathe in the Dead Sea and then on to the oasis or spring called Ein Gedi. There I grasped for the first time the visceral significance of water in a desert. We stood on the towers of Masada, miles and miles of rock & sand and nothingness spread before us and there on the horizon was a tiny patch of stand-out green. Water literally means life in the desert. When we reached it the whole valley was verdant and fruitful. ‘Above all things, guard your heart’ the scripture says (Prov 4.23) ‘for it is the wellspring of life’!
The account we have of Isaac’s search for water is, for me, a powerful physical illustration of what we need to thrive in the challenging desert of church leadership. Isaac has the wit to actively seek it in new places (which the local, Philistine herders have not). Yet he faces opposition and frustration, even as he does so. As he seeks out God’s provision of life-giving water ‘contention’ and ‘enmity’ rise up to meet him.
My own experience in ministry is that, even as God’s life bubbles up to the surface in a parish, in a new ministry or in the hearts of individuals, opposition and frustration are also lying in wait. The local people like things the way they are. Everything in the Church or local community ‘belongs to them’. Contention and Enmity rise to the surface.
Perhaps you are dealing with this, or other challenges and opposition at the moment (or, God forbid, you are part of the resistance to God’s provision of new life). Coronavirus and lock-down have left all of us with frayed emotional edges. It is easier to criticise than to build, to step out in faith. It is hard to embrace a new and uncertain normal. Some would rather to go back to the way things were and to assert control (even though as with Abraham, they earlier signed up for the new things and the new vicar!).
I like the way Isaac names them and moves on. Perhaps we need to do so too – and we may need some help to do so. Isaac offers us a very simple lesson in persistence, perseverance. At his third attempt, the Lord provides the water of life and Isaac recognises the Lord’s provision – to the Lord be the glory.
Yet the story does not end here. Rather, the Lord leads Isaac on, to an even better place, Beer-sheba. The Lord appears to him, again, tells him not to be afraid ‘for I am with you and will bless you and will make your offspring numerous’ (v24). Isaac builds another altar, marking this encounter, and a fresh resolve seems to enter his heart. In the subsequent engagement with Abimelech Isaac takes a more confident tone and approach. Even his enemies can see that the Lord is with him and a treaty is negotiated and sealed with a feast. And at just the right moment his servants strike water! So plentiful is this water, there are seven springs and Isaac names it Shibah, Beer-sheba [Well of seven – a perfect number]
This story in Genesis 26 then is a story of God’s presence, promise and provision, for one leader of his people, long ago.
For me today, for us, it speaks of God’s kingdom promise of fruitfulness for all who serve and honour him; who have, in faith, left house and home or other security to do so, despite our weaknesses and folly. God is with us, we need not be afraid, as we, like Isaac, face opposition, often in our own back yard. Moreover, the fruitfulness follows the finding of water, the source of life. There is no fruitfulness without it in the desert of Christian leadership. My first priority in my role is to seek out and stay close to that source of living water. (Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life). Your priority, whatever your call or role in Christian leadership, is similarly to persevere in finding that source. As Jesus put it in John 7: ‘the rivers of living water welling up inside [us] for eternal life’, by which he meant the Holy Spirit.
ReSource is dedicated to helping every christian, church and leader to re-dig the wells until we find that water, the Holy Spirit of Jesus in whom alone we can be fruitful.
Our Alongside Scheme, that I am developing, recognises that church leaders may find this particularly hard: whether encountering God personally, persevering through difficulties, or simply finding fresh wells. We offer prayerful and prophetic companions to pray for and walk alongside church leaders, lay and ordained. Our aspiration, in the power of the Spirit, is to help you discern God’s best, to thrive and to be fruitful, in any and every ‘little, local and ordinary’ church.
If you wish to find out more join us for our online launch event at 10am, on 4th November. Or be in touch with me.