Hope Against Hope

Romans 4:18-19(NKJV) 18who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.

Abraham became our example of how to operate by faith when he believed the promise of God in the midst of impossibility. God promised him that he would be the father of many nations and that through his seed the whole world would one day be blessed. He received this promise at 75 years of age. His wife, who had never been able to have children, was 65. This promise was impossible and yet, in 25 years, it came to pass.

Romans 4 gives us the blueprint for how he received this promise from God. First, he had a promise. We must know what God says he will do if we are going to believe him. In our case, the primary way we receive God’s promise is through the written Word. Second, he ordered his speaking to reflect the promise. God changed his name from Abram, high father, to Abraham, the father of a multitude. Every time he spoke his name, he was speaking the promise. We must learn to use our words to reinforce the reality of God’s promise to us.

Today we will look at the next step. Our verses today say that Abraham “hoped against hope.” What does that mean and how did he do it. First let us look at what hope is. Hope can mean many things but I like to focus on one aspect of hope. Hope represents possibility. If I hear a testimony, it produces hope that God can do something for me. We talked about this on Monday. So what did Abraham do? He chose to see possibility where there could be no possibility.

How could he do that? The Bible tells us clearly how he could have hope in the face of impossibility. First, what was the impossibility? They were too old to have children. Your descendents cannot bless the whole world if you do not have any. Sarah was barren. She could not have children. She could never have children. She was not going to start to have children between 65, when the promise was given, and 90, when the promise finally came to pass.

She tried to address this minor problem by giving Abraham her maid. This was acceptable in their culture. If a child was born under those circumstances, it was considered Sarah’s child. A child was born, but God did not accept that solution. He told Abraham that the child of the promise would come from barren Sarah. This only made the impossible more impossible.

As for Abraham, at one time he was fertile. He fathered Ishmael by Hagar, Sarah’s servant. However, we read in Romans that, at the time of the fulfillment of the promise, Abraham’s body was dead. Now he was still breathing so he was not completely dead. What part was dead? Without being graphic, let us just say he was impotent. He could no longer father children.

In the face of all this impossibility, Abraham still believed in the promise of God. How could he see possibility still believe in his situation? After all the years he had waited for God to fulfill the promise, how could he still think God would do it? The passing years had made it more and more impossible for God to do what he said he would do. What hope did he cling to?

You can have hope in the midst of impossibility. The thing about God is that he delights in doing impossible things. He will extend the situation until it is completely impossible, yet we can still see possibility, hope against hope, if we learn where to look.

In verse 18, Paul tells us that Abraham did not become weak in faith because he did not consider the impossibilities represented by their physical bodies. When it says he did not become weak in faith it must be understood that he did not lose hope. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, so no hope no faith. How did he see possibility where there was none? He chose not to consider the impossibility.

The word, consider is very important to this equation. It has two basic meanings. First, it carries the connotation of giving weight or value to something. Abraham gave no weight or value to the fact that neither his body nor Sarah’s was capable of producing children. To Abraham that fact was not relevant in light of the promise of God. If we want to see possibility in the midst of impossibility, we are going to have to give more weight to the Word of God than any natural circumstance.

This is difficult in the face of natural opposition. Imagine how Abraham felt when he got up every morning and his body had not changed. It would have been an assault on his hope and faith every day. However, it was his choice to look at the circumstance and choose to believe that God could still do what he said he would do. He hoped against hope by placing more value or weight on the relevance of the promise than on the relevance of the circumstance.

When you are going through a difficult time, but you are standing on a promise of God, you must do what Abraham did. Yes, your checkbook is empty. Yes, the bills are due. Decisions have to be made, but it is still possible for God to meet your need. How can I believe that? I can believe it because I have a promise in Phil. 4:19 that tells me God will meet my needs. The circumstances must be considered, but I choose to consider the promise of greater weight or relevance to the situation. The world may call you crazy, but they will stop once the Lord moves to meet your need!

The second part of the meaning of “consider” is to look at intently or to examine something at length. Abraham did not continue to look at or examine his and Sarah’s bodily limitations. That means he did not spend all his time thinking about how old he was or how Sarah had never had children. He did not spend time considering those things. Nonetheless, there is something we need to understand. It is impossible to consider nothing or to not consider at all.

The human mind is a wonderful thing. One thing it cannot do is shut off completely. When you are faced with a situation that must be resolved, you will think about it. That is just the way it is. If you are not going to consider the problem, what are you going to consider. In the case of any faith operation, there is only one choice. You must consider the promise.

I believe Abraham thought about the promise all the time. We saw yesterday that part of the process is to speak in line with the promise. This is part of considering as well. He called himself “Father of a multitude.” He called his wife, “Wife of the father of a multitude.” He went to bed thinking of the promise. When his body would not function he thought, “I still have a promise and God is good for his Word.” Every month when his wife passed through her cycle and when it stopped altogether, he thanked God he still had a promise.

I believe he considered what life would be like when the promise came to pass. He planned how he would raise the son of the promise. He thought about how he would teach him about the Lord and the covenant. He did all of this with the impossibility of his body constantly vying for his attention.

This is the real battleground of faith. However, once we master it nothing is impossible to us. We will be active believers and every challenge of life will be an opportunity to overcome by faith in the God of the promise.

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Speak in Line With the Promise

Romans 4:16-17(NKJV) 16Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17(as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”)£ in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;

(I want to take a moment to remind everyone that today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl. Many of the veterans of that conflict are passing from us at this time. It would be a good day to thank any WWII veterans you may know and to remember the sacrifice made by so many to keep us free. Thank God for those who are willing to risk life and limb for our national security.)

This week we are studying the faith “quick start guide” in Romans 4. Abraham is the father of our faith because he is the first one in the Bible to operate according to a set of principles that are common to every faith victory. Anyone can apply these principles and see the promises of God fulfilled in his or her life. By applying these principles, Abraham was able to believe beyond his natural experience. I believe we can do the same.

The first step in the process of faith is that we must have a promise. Faith is simply trusting someone to keep their word. In the case of faith in the power of God, we must trust God’s word. How can we do that if we do not know what God has to say? Abraham had a promise from God that he would be the father of many nations and that the whole world would be blessed by his descendents. For that to happen he had to have descendents. Since his wife had never been able to have children and he was now too old, this was physically impossible.

The process in Romans 4 tells us how to take an impossible promise and make it a reality in our experience. Abraham had the promise so he knew that it was the will of God to do this for him. We have a book full of promises that cover every area of the human condition. If we will find those promises, read them and meditate on them, we will know the will of God for whatever situation we face.

Abraham was given this promise 75 years of age. The promise was not fulfilled until he was 100 years old. What did he have to do to see this promise come to pass? We know that God was the one who had to provide the power for a one hundred year old man and ninety-year-old woman have a child. Abraham could not do that. However, Abraham did have to do his part. We need to know what his part was so we can follow his example.

First, let me say that an aspect of his part was obviously patience. We live in a “right now” society. We expect everything to be instant. However, God does not operate on our timetable. The Lord told Moses his name was “I am.” That implies and that God is always in the present tense. Past, present and future are all the same to him. In God’s way of seeing things twenty-five years is nothing. To us, it is a very long time. If we are going to receive by faith, we must adjust our thinking and be willing to wait on God’s timing. His timing is always perfect.

In today’s scripture, we see step two in the “Romans 4” faith process. Once we have the promise, we need to speak in line with the promise. There was a time where there was much teaching on “positive and negative confession.” I believe positive is better, but that term can be misleading. Look at what Jesus said about words and faith.

Mark 11:22-23(NKJV) 22So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.

Proverbs 18:21 says death and life are in the power of the tongue. James 3:1-4 tells us that the tongue is very hard to tame, but if you do tame it, you can steer your whole life in the right direction. Here in Romans 4, Paul says that God “calls things that are not as though they were. How does this apply to the faith process?

The promise to Abraham was that he would be the father of many nations. When God cut a blood covenant with him, God changed Abraham’s name. He had been known as Abram, which means “high father.” God says his name shall now be Abraham, which means “father of a multitude.” That was the promise.

Every time Abraham spoke his name, he was speaking the promise. Every business deal he made, he made in the name of the promise. His wife’s name was also changed to Sarah. This meant “wife of the father of a multitude.” Every time he called her name or she called his, they were speaking the promise of God.

Once we have a promise, I believe we need to fill our mouth with that promise. We need to order our speaking to reflect what the promise says. Let us look at healing as an example. The Bible says in Isaiah 53 that healing is part of our covenant. This is quoted in 1 Peter 2:24.

1 Peter 2:24(NKJV) 24who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.

I believe this is a promise we can stand on by faith. By the stripes of Jesus, we are healed. If I have a cold, I can believe God for healing based on this scripture. Once I see the promise and pray for my healing, what should I do?

I meet someone at work who notices I have a cold. I am stuffy and sneezing. They say, “Wow! You’ve got quite a cold there. How are you feeling?” What should I say? If I say, “No I don’t have a cold.” that would be a lie. If I say, “Yes I do. I feel terrible!” I am speaking in line with the cold not with the promise. If I am talking to a believer who I trust to have faith for my healing I might say, “Pray for me, brother. I am believing God for healing.” What we really want to see is that Abraham cultivated a pattern of speaking that reflected his faith in the promise of God.

If you are standing on the promise of God for healing, you want to speak that promise over your life. You need to declare to yourself and to the devil, “By the stripes of Jesus I am healed.” We need to say things in such a way that they reinforce the promise of God and its reality in our lives. “Thank God for healing.” I am the healed.” “God is raising me up.”

That does not mean we should get into bondage thinking that if we say, “I have a cold.” once we would never be able to be healed. It is the pattern that is important. One confession that supports the promise will not negate a pattern of speaking in line with the sickness. Likewise, one confession in support of the sickness will not negate a pattern of speaking in line with the promise.

Sometimes this seems silly to us. However, have you ever considered how much pressure we feel to tell everyone what is wrong in our lives? I believe that pressure comes from the devil because he knows how powerful it is to speak the Word of God.

Listen to what you are saying right now. I believe it will tell you what you really believe. Begin to change your words and you will change the direction of your faith. Step two is to speak in line with the promise.

We Must Have a Promise

Romans 4:13-16(NKJV) 13For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. 16Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all

Romans 4 might be called the “quick start guide” to how to apply faith in God. As we began our look at this chapter yesterday, we discovered that Abraham found something very important. He discovered that it was possible to believe God beyond his experience. He was too old to have children and his wife had been barren her whole life. They had no experience to base their faith upon.

Sarah was 65 and Abraham was 75 when God promised Abraham he would be the father of multitudes. They received this promise by faith and eventually had a child together who became the beginning of the nation of Israel. What we want to learn is how this faith worked in Abraham. If we can do what he did, we can receive the answer to any prayer and God’s solution to any problem. Let us examine Abraham’s actions in this chapter.

In today’s verse, we see the first and most important element of any faith operation. We must have a promise. Abraham did not try to believe God without knowing upon what his faith would rest. God had given him a promise. Let us look at that promise.

Genesis 15:4-5(NKJV) 4And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

The promise continues in chapter 17 with the cutting of the covenant that seals the promise.

Genesis 17:3-5(NKJV) 3Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: 4“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. 5No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.

Everything Abrahams does from this point on is based upon this promise. Without a promise to stand on faith cannot work. Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing itself comes by the Word of God. Why is this so important?

We must understand the nature of faith. Faith is not a mental exercise or some mystical spiritual state. Faith is a connection between two people. We have a word we use to describe people who have never had sexual relations with anyone but their spouse. We call those people faithful. If they have strayed, we use the term “infidelity.” This word simply means a breach of trust. If we do not stray outside of our marriage vows, we have faith within the relationship.

Faith is relationship by nature. You do not have faith in nothing. You must have faith in something and the kind of faith Abraham possessed was in someone. You cannot have faith in someone if you do not know what they have said they will do for you. That is the purpose of marriage vows.

When we stand next to our future spouse all dressed in the finest clothing we may ever wear, we do not simply say “pretty words” that hold a place in our wedding traditions. We should make vows to one another. Today we do not consider those vows as very important, but they are. A vow is a promise that cannot be broken. The same thing passed between God and Abraham.

God made a vow to Abraham and Abraham made a vow to God. God vowed to make Abraham the father of many nations and to bless the world through his descendants. Abraham vowed to serve God and mark those descendants with circumcision. There was much more to their covenant, but for now, this is the part we will focus on.

The marriage vow is a promise each spouse should be able to stand on when trouble comes. If it seems that the husband may have strayed, the wife should be able to go back to those vows and stand on them to prove he would never do such a thing. I know this is naive in today’s world, but that is the way it is supposed to work. Abraham knew that God took his vow as absolute and would never break it. Therefore, he could stand on the promise of God in the face of any impossibility.

The strength of the vow, or promise, is the character and power of the person who makes it. If a woman marries an unfaithful man, she should expect that the vow would not hold. If she marries a man of proven character, she can be assured of his faithfulness in life. God will never lie. Every promise he makes is absolutely true. He will never break even the smallest promise he makes to man. Furthermore, he has the power to back up even the greatest promise.

Abraham had an encounter with God in which he received a powerful promise. We have probably not had God speak to us in an audible voice or appear to us in a dream to make a covenant with us. However, we have something even better. We have the Word of God!

2 Corinthians 1:20(KJV) 20For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

The “him” in this verse is Jesus. We have a better covenant with God than Abraham did. That covenant is based on better promises. (Heb. 8:6) We have just as sure a promise to stand on as Abraham did. In fact, we have a whole book of them. The only question is whether we will take the time to find the one we need for our circumstance.

What are you facing today? To parody a popular cellular phone’s commercial; there is a promise for that. Do you need healing? There is a promise for that. Do you need direction? There is a promise for that. Are your finances in trouble, or are your relationships in need of help? There are many promises to meet those needs. If you are struggling with sin in your life there are promises that can give you the strength to overcome.

Find a promise. You can search the word via computer, the web or a concordance. You can go to someone who has been a Christian longer than you have and ask them to help you. You can ask for council from the leaders of the church, but when you do, go to them looking for a promise from God’s word.

Once you find a promise or two that applies to your situation, you will be ready to move on to the next step in Romans 4. However, without a promise you will not be able to apply the rest of the principles outlined in this chapter. So find your promise today and we will move on tomorrow.

What Has Abraham Found

Romans 4:1-3(NKJV) 1What then shall we say that Abraham our fatherhas found according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

This week I want to look at a section of scripture that, to me, is a textbook example of how faith in God works. As we have followed Israel in their journey from bondage to destiny, we have come to the border of the Promised Land. They are about to enter the purpose for which God delivered them. As the first generation gazes into the Promised Land, they are intimidated by the obstacles they face and turn back. Two of them have different point of view. These two men have what is necessary to eventually possess the land God has given them.

Of course, I am talking about Joshua and Caleb. The characteristic they displayed that the rest of their generation lacked was faith. Their brethren could not see past the size of the giants, the thickness of the city walls and the difficulties they would face in possessing this land as their own. Joshua and Caleb focused on something else entirely. They saw the same obstacles that the others did, but they focused on the promise God had given them that the Promised Land belonged to Israel.

Numbers 14:6-9(NKJV) 6But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ 9Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.”

Joshua and Caleb knew that if the promise of God was true, then no obstacle was able to keep them out of this wonderful land. God was for them, who could be against them. They had faith born of the promise that God would do what he said he would do. The rest of their generation had no faith to possess the land.

As we consider Joshua and Caleb, I want to look back at another Jewish patriarch. Abrahams is called the father of our faith in Romans 4. Why is that the case? He is the father of our faith because he is the first one to discover the principles by which faith in God works. In today’s verses the question is asked by Paul, “What has Abraham found?” The answer to that is multifaceted, but I want to point out one thing in particular. He found that it was possible to believe God beyond his experience.

According to Hebrews 11:1, faith is the substance of things we hope for and the evidence of things not seen. The Amplified Bible says it is the substance of things not perceived with the physical senses.

The word hope implies possibility. When I hear that God has healed someone from the same affliction I have been suffering, I know it is possible for him to heal me as well. I may not have the assurance yet that God will heal me, but since I know he has healed this disease, I know it is possible.

Faith takes that possibility and gives it substance. I see the promise of God for healing in 1 Peter 2:24, I put that promise with the fact that God did heal the other person and I can begin to make the leap from hope to faith. God does heal this disease, he promised to heal, he is not a respecter of persons, so if he promised to heal he will heal me. Faith is the substance of things hoped for.

However, faith is also the evidence of what I cannot perceive with my senses. Faith gives me the ability to see beyond my physical eyes and into a place that is beyond my experience. In the case of Joshua and Caleb, they had seen God do great things. What they had seen gave them hope that it was possible for God to drive out those that kept them from possessing the Promised Land; however they had no experience possessing anything. Their experience consisted of wandering. They passed through many places and God helped them overcome all kinds of obstacles, but they had possessed nothing.

Joshua and Caleb made the connection between the hope that all of the experiences they had from Egypt to the Jordan river with the substance of the promise that God had given to Abraham. When these two things came together in their hearts, they produced faith. This faith would enable them to believe that God could and would do what he promised even though it was beyond their experience.

This is the very thing Abraham found. God had given him a promise, but that promise was far beyond his experience. In his life, Abraham had seen God do many things. Abraham had left his home at the direction of the Lord. God had blessed him in his new country. He was one of the richest men in the region. He overcame obstacles and defeated enemies. God blessed him and prospered him giving him victory over every enemy. However, the promise God gave him with the covenant was far beyond his experience.

God promised Abraham at 75 that he would be the father of many nations and that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The problem was that Abraham had no children. Sarah, his wife, had always been barren. God was very specific that this promised child would come through Sarah. How could this happen. They were far too old to start a family, however Abraham mixed the hope built upon all he had seen God do with the promise God gave to him and the result was that “he believed God.”

We find ourselves in a very interesting day. I have seen things in the world over the last few years that I have never seen before and never expected to see. The problems that face us seem insurmountable. The rate of natural disasters and wars has increased dramatically over the last few years. The uncertainty in the financial realm is frightening. We see countries on the verge of economic collapse. How can we ever make it through to a better time? We need to find what Abraham found. We need to learn how to mix the experience we do have with the promise of God and believe God to move beyond our experience. We need faith.

How can we develop the kind of faith the Joshua and Caleb had? We must do what they did and learn from father Abraham. Fortunately, for us, the apostle Paul knew we would need a simple, straightforward explanation of Abraham’s faith. He gave it to us in Romans chapter 4. What has Abraham found? We will take time this week to examine the faith of Abraham. There is a specific process that faith must work in order to be affective. This process is laid out in detail in this chapter.

Take time to read Romans 4 this week. Read it every day. As we walk through it together, be prepared to apply the principles Abraham found. You may say, “I am not Abraham. I cannot do what he did.” You would be wrong to say that. You have something he did not yet have. You are born again if you have received Jesus as Lord and savior. That means that you already believe God in your spirit. You just have to bridge the gap of your soul to cause your faith to be effective in the outer world. Abraham had to believe with his soul alone because Jesus had not yet come.

Not only is it possible for us to believe outside of our experience, it is necessary. The world needs the church to be the church in these troubled times. We have a great opportunity because those who can believe God will have a great advantage in today’s world. Use this advantage. Grow in it so you can be a light to lead others to Jesus.