Signs of Success

Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had. – Genesis 12:10-20

The Greens of Spring | Smoky Mountain National Park | April 2021

You might remember – if you are as old as I am – a song by Debby Boone, You Light Up My Life. It’s a compelling melody, inspiring, and memorable. Among the lines:

And you light up my life
You give me hope to carry on
You light up my days
And fill my nights with song…

It’s meant to be a beautiful love song, but there is a troubling lyric:

It can’t be wrong
When it feels so right

That is not most certainly true. Ask the cocaine addict. Ask the porn addict. Ask any addict. Some things seem so right, feel so right, provide success, safety, and satisfaction, only to evaporate into a mist of lost dreams, dashed hopes, and sad reality.

Abram had what he thought to be a great idea, a means of safety, security, and success. And for a while it worked. Initially – after Abram passes off Sarai as his sister and allows her to be taken by the king – his stock is on the rise. He gains sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. It is going well for him. 

So if you equate success with the favor of God, beware! It might be. Or it might simply be a short-lived encounter with the permissive will of God. And there will surely come a reckoning. We think we can dodge the bullet. We think we can hedge on our taxes. We think we’ll not be caught fudging on our expense reports. We think we can just take a bite of the forbidden fruit. And we can. And we do. 

Thanks be to God, however, he intervenes. Yes, I said, “Thanks be to God.” Sometimes the affliction comes to others who provide a lesson we can learn at their expense. We don’t have to make all our own mistakes. Sometimes the consequences fall closer to home. I’ve known men who were taken to prison for embezzlement. I’ve known women who have lost their families because of unsustainable false behavior. I’ve known shame myself for things in my past that I wish I had never done. 

Honestly, we all do. Some of us are just not caught yet. 

The path to restoration begins with sincere repentance. It ends at the cross of Jesus. It finds comfort and healing in his mercy. Abram is not yet there. We’ll have to wait to see if he ever truly repents. But we do see God acting. And his intervention prevents a train wreck that could have thwarted Abram’s and Sarai’s part in God’s amazing story of redemption. 

If you’re on that wayward path, thank God when he intervenes. Whether through the suffering of others, the full stop  of circumstances allowing your continued dalliance, or the tug of the Holy Spirit calling you back to the true love and life in Jesus. The greatest sign of success is seen by God alone. It is the sign of a broken and contrite heart, taking refuge in God’s goodness and mercy. 

Click here or on the podcast player below to listen to an audio version of this blog post.

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