I have alluded to today’s reading a couple of times. I alluded to it when I wrote about Abram’s visit to Egypt during the famine – when he pimped out his wife to the Pharaoh in return for favor with him. I also alluded to it when writing about Genesis 15 – when Abram’s faith in God’s promise resulted in his justification with God.
Read Genesis 16.
As a pastor and counselor, as well as personally, I have found that one of the main reasons more people don’t consistently experience God’s presence and power more deeply is lack of faith in God and losing patience with God. We are so self-centered that when God’s answer to our prayers doesn’t come on our timetable, we assume that He isn’t answering. And then, a lot of times, we start to try answering them in our own power. I experienced it during a 6 year period when I was out of ministry after a difficult church planting experience.
The fact is, a lot of the life of faith in Christ involves…waiting on God. God exists outside of time, and very often His timing is not the same as ours.
As you read Scripture, you will see some incredibly long periods of waiting that God put His people through.
- It took Noah over 100 years to build the ark, while his neighbors mocked him for building a boat in the desert in a landlocked area where it had never before rained.
- Abram waited 25 years between the promise of an heir by Sarai and the birth of that heir. They were already considered too old to conceive when the promise was made.
- Jacob worked for Rachel’s dad Laban for 7 years in return for her hand in marriage. Laban tricked Jacob into consummating his marriage with his other less attractive daughter Leah. And so then Jacob worked for Laban for another 7 years to marry Rachel.
- Joseph, having done nothing wrong, spent 15 years in slavery and prison before the Lord exalted him to prominence in Egypt.
- Moses and the Israelites wondered in the desert for 40 years. This is after Moses spent 25 years as a shepherd in the desert before God called him to deliver Israel.
- David ran from the certifiably insane King Saul, who was trying to kill him, for 17 years after God anointed him as Saul’s successor before finally ascending the throne.
- The entire nation of Israel waited for 400 years between the final prophecy of the Old Testament and the appearance of the prophesied Messiah.
- And now, it has been 2,000 years since Jesus promised his return. And still believers pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”
We live in a microwave world and we expect everything to happen instantaneously, on our timetable. We are like spoiled children.
Well, back to Genesis 16. Sarai has gotten impatient waiting on the Lord for this promised heir. Now she is going to take matters into her own hands. Remember the handmaidens that Abram received from Pharaoh back in Egypt in return for Sarai’s “services” in his palace? One of them was Hagar, who will turn out to be huge “consequence” of Abram’s disobedience and lack of faith in going to Egypt and lying about Sarai’s identity.
Notice that Sarai is the one who comes to Abram and says, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” (Genesis 16:2) The Lord has prevented her? On the contrary, the Lord has promised her children. But not necessarily on her timetable. When it all goes horribly wrong and Hagar starts to get an attitude of superiority over Sarai, she is going to blame Abram, saying “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” (Genesis 16:5)
But, the consequences of their impatience and lack of faith are going to go far beyond blaming each other and marital difficulties. The child of Hagar and Abram, like all children in situations like this, is an innocent victim of his parents’ lack of faith. The Lord promises to take care of him, and to give him innumerable descendants as well. His name is Ishmael, and he became the father of all the Arab nations. And to this day, some 4,000 years after this incident, there is still violence and bloodshed between the Arabs and the Israelis. 4,000 years later, there are still ramifications from Abram and Sarai’s lack of faith in God’s promise of an heir through Sarai – a promise that God will fulfill 15 years later. 15 years must have seemed like an eternity to Sarai, who wasn’t getting any younger. But it is a lot shorter than 4,000 years! Too bad they didn’t have the perspective that we have. But God did have that perspective.
My wife Cristi and I were 35 when we got married. Both of us wanted (and fully expected) to get married at some point in our 20s. Both of us had independently (we didn’t know each other, obviously) gotten to the point of saying, “maybe it just isn’t God’s will for me to get married and raise a family. Maybe God has something else in mind.” So, Cristi went off to Albania as a missionary, and I plunged myself into youth ministry, traveling all the time. Neither one of us was in a situation where we would even have a good chance of meeting someone. And, that is when we met, when we had given up and given ourselves fully to God’s plan, whatever it included. God used those years to mold us and to shape us. Both of us say today that we weren’t ready for marriage or children at the age of 30. We thought we were ready. But we were far better prepared for marriage at the age of 35 and parenting at the age of 40. God’s timing was not our timing at all. But God’s timing was absolutely perfect.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,and young men shall fall exhausted;but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;they shall mount up with wings like eagles;they shall run and not be weary;they shall walk and not faint.