There was a popular gospel song in the 1970’s titled “Learning to Lean”. The lyrics of the chorus were as follows:
Learning to lean…..learning to lean…I’m learning to lean on Jesus
Finding more power than I ever dreamed, I’m learning to lean on Jesus.
As a kid, I didn’t have a grand conception of what these lyrics were saying. Lean on Jesus? I imagined sitting on a rock and gazing at a sunset while leaning next to him as he put his arm around me to comfort me, much like a dad would his little boy. To be honest, the song with the catchy chorus didn’t get much deeper than that. It was not in the same league with many of our timeless hymns.
A few decades later, one begins to realize the sheer magnitude of what it actually means to “Lean on Jesus” but with not much help from the phrase itself. Per Merriam-Webster, one definition of “lean” is “to rely for support or inspiration” which really doesn’t cut it. (Frankly, it was difficult to find a definition that doesn’t fall short.) The phrase “lean on Jesus” seems to imply that He is good for that occasional helping hand or good advice, but it doesn’t paint a picture of minute by minute reliance.
That’s just it, lyrics like these say much about us. We don’t like to think of ourselves as helpless sheep. We don’t want to be “made to lie down in green pastures”. We would rather not venture into “the valley of death”. Instead, we prefer to seek our own pleasures, like Abram’s nephew Lot who, when given the choice, chose to pitch his tent near a wicked city. We lack the faith of Abram who relied on God enough that he deferred to Lot when it came to parsing land. Abram knew that no matter where his tents were pitched, the Lord was with him. Keep in mind, Abram had not showed himself to be a bastion of faith before. In the previous chapter, Abram was lying about Sarai being his sister instead of his wife simply to save his own skin. The Lord rebuked him the end of Genesis 12 (through the words of the Egyptian Pharoah who he feared) and then the next thing you read is Abram giving Lot first dibs on the land.
Often when hearing this story, we focus on Lot and his decision as if it is the great turning point of the story when in reality it was a turning point for Abram. In the previous chapter, Abram attempted to control the outcome through lying which was not an exhibition of true reliance on God. It was as if he was saying, “thanks Lord for getting me this far, but I have a better way to secure the inheritance you promised me.” In fact, we discover that it wasn’t Abram’s scheme which saved him, rather it was God who afflicted the house of Pharoah with plagues which caused him to send Abram and Sarai on their way.
The action of God (afflicting Pharoah) was the catalyst to creating faith in Abram and it only takes a few verses into chapter 13 to demonstrate the change in Abram. He witnessed the power of God and by doing so, came to see the futility of his own plans and it resulted in a faith that viewed God’s unseen promises as infinitely more valuable than the prosperity that lay before him.
Was Abram “leaning on God”? Sure, if leaning means total reliance. His relationship with God throughout the Genesis narrative isn’t one of shared sunsets and fatherly advice to a son. It is one rooted in God’s promises and his sovereign actions to make those promises come to pass. In spite of Abram’s weaknessess and moral failures, he truly learned what it meant to lean on God. Likewise, we must come to see the futility of our ways and wait on God to act. Remember, as the Psalmist wrote, God is the one who restores the soul and He will lead us to the path of righteousness for his namesake. Ultimately, that’s what his promises are for, the sake of His name and the eventual peace and rest of his people.