Abram (or Abraham as he was later called), was having a restless night. He simply couldn't seem to get to sleep.
Abram had just returned from a great battle in which he had been victorious over the warlord Chedorlaomer and his vassal kings. He was now a hero, having rescued his nephew Lot along with all the other people who had been captured by the armies of the enemy.
Now, he lay in his tent tossing and turning. His mind and heart are filled with both fear and doubt. First, he is afraid that perhaps at some time Chedorlaomer might return with his armies to exact revenge upon Abram. Of course, that is a natural human reaction. However, the fear is being fed by another, more basic emotion – doubt.
Abram seemed to not remember it was God who had delivered the armies of the enemy into his hand. It was God that protected Abram and his family. It was God that had brought about the victory and blessings associated with it. Yet, as Abram lay on his bed, doubt began to creep into his heart and mind.
The doubt actually grew out of another issue altogether, however. God had promised to make Abram into a great nation. God had promised he would have many descendants. Further, God had promised Abram a son from whom all of the descendants would come.
It had been ten years now, and Abram still did not have a son. "Will God ever really fulfill his promise to give me a son?" Abram wondered. And the doubts began to grow bigger in his heart.
After tossing and turning a while, God speaks to Abram in order to quell his fear and his doubt. God says, "Abram, remember I am your shield and that your reward shall be very great."
However, Abram was not very reassured. Abram says to God, "Well, just what is going to be my reward? After all, I am still childless, and it is my servant Eliezer from Damascus that will inherit all of my estate." In other words he is saying, "Hey, God, it has been ten years since you promised me a son, and I still don't have one. I am beginning to doubt that whole reward business."
God replies to Abram, "Look, your servant will not be your heir. Your heir will be your own son. Come with me outside." God then takes Abram out under the vast heavens and says, "Look up there in the sky. How many stars do you see? Count them, if you can. That is how many descendants you will have."
The Bible then records for us how Abram responded. It says, "And [Abram] believed the Lord; and [the Lord] reckoned it to him as righteousness."
Page 2 of 2 - Here we have one of the "firsts" in the Bible. This is the first time that the Bible says that believing God is the basis for true righteousness."
The important truth is that belief, or faith, in God is the key to being righteous, to being truly good." The Apostle Paul tells us, "There is none righteous, no not one." However, he goes on to say, "It is by grace, through faith, that you are saved, that not of yourselves, not as a result of works so that no one can boast."
That whole concept was the basis for the Great Reformation. We human beings have the tendency to think that if we just do enough of the right things and avoid doing wrong things, we will become "good enough" people. That was the trouble with the church in the Middle Ages. Rituals and "acts of penance" had become the center of the church. People began to trust in doing these "works" in order to be acceptable to God.
Martin Luther, Heinrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and others began to rediscover the truth that Abram discovered that sleepless night. It is through faith, not through works, that we become considered good by God. And, it is only through faith in God that we conquer fear and doubt.
(The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)