And I Helped

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”
(Genesis 15:4)

And Sarai said to Abram, “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)

When my first child was born, one of my sisters had two young daughters. The first time I visited my old hometown with the baby, my nieces were fascinated by the tiny little boy and flocked around me. While visiting, I recall having to change him on a bed. My sister told her girls as they catapulted with the enthusiasm of the young onto the bed, “You can watch Aunt Heather change him, but DON’T HELP.”

A couple of years and two babies later, I understood the wisdom in these words.

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My older two helping console the baby

It seems a child’s enthusiastic help sometimes falls a little short of the adult standard.

Take Sarai (later known as Sarah). The Scriptures do not say specifically, but I have a strong suspicion the imbroglio involving her servant, Hagar, began as an attempt to help the Almighty fulfill His promise to her husband.

Certainly by now, her beloved Abram (later known as Abraham) had shared with her the Divine Promise of descendants as numerous as the dust.  The Lord had even reiterated the promise that a direct descendant of Abram/Abraham would be his heir.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the anticipated event added spice to their dinner conversation for many weeks to come. Yet when months, then years, passed and there was no child, it seems they became discouraged.

I can imagine their suppers gradually becoming less and less about dreaming of their son and more and more about fueling up for the dreary days ahead. And despite the barbed nature of her own words (see verse 16:2 above), I rather doubt Sarai thrust Hagar into the mix as an act of revenge.

Surely, she must have rationalized the choice. After all, she wasn’t getting any younger. It seemed pretty clear by now that God must have meant to use some other mode or method than her to fulfill His word. And besides, other people did it this way.

But despite what we ought to assume were the best of intentions (after all, isn’t that what we want others to assume about us?), Hagar’s pregnancy did not initiate an era of familial warmth and unity.

And Sarai said to Abram, “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!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.
(Genesis 16:5-6)

Oy. Not a pretty picture.

(If you want to find out how the story turns out, go ahead and read the rest of Genesis 16. Heck, while you’re at it, read the rest of the Bible. There are plenty of little lessons like this one tucked in those pages.)

You see, this story came to me recently in a very personal way. Around the same time God was chopping up a root of bitterness to bake into the humble pie He was preparing for me, He also pointed out a little corner of misplaced childish enthusiasm.

While I can’t share details, suffice to say there was an area of my life where I, with absolute sincerity, was driving forward full-tilt, eager provide an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work.

I thought I was tilling the soil but in actuality think I was just making scratches in the dust. Over time my endeavors consumed increasing amounts of energy for decreasing amounts of fruit.

And when I’d finally had enough, I cried out to my Father, begging Him to tell me what I was doing wrong. And He did.

First, He reminded me of Sarai’s story. Persistently.

And then, of course, He reminded me that if I want to see His power at work, the best thing I can do is wait on Him.

Oh yes, and DON’T HELP.

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A Hope on Both Sides of the Grave

… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…
1 Peter 3:15-16

The modern mind is impatient. Furiously so.

We live at a frenetic pace in today’s world – a thing James Gleick calls “hurry sickness” in his book, Faster.  And in this world with a glut of information and a deficit of time, we often hurry without purpose, going nowhere faster than ever before. We take in more data in an hour than we can process in a week.

This acceleration of tempo has infiltrated the church and affected our views on the promises of God. Too many of us have become consumers of the 5-minute devotional or the single-verse meme, taking nibbles on the Bread of Life here and there throughout our week and hoping it will somehow counteract the vast measures of cultural junk food we absorb. Too often, we expect microwave answers to slow-cooker problems.

When I was an atheist, I would point to some calamity or cancer or sexual abuse as evidence that Christianity “didn’t work.” I believed if there was such a thing as a loving God, He wouldn’t allow such things.  In my ignorance, I supposed God existed for our earthly good – kind of like a jolly old man giving out candy to children without concern for their long-term nutrition.

And if our entire existence were summed up in the eighty-odd years of mortality, this would be a just argument. As Paul once wrote, if Christ was not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins.

So many people, believers and unbelievers alike, struggle with the fact of continued suffering and death. If we believe God’s promises, why do we not always see them borne out? Why, when we pray for healing, do we see even more sickness? Where is this plan to prosper and not to harm us we see in memes on social media?

The answer is simple. A happy, healthy life on earth is not the goal.

Healing is great, but sometimes pain drives us closer to God in areas which we would never voluntarily venture. Sometimes it takes a great evil done to us to see the monstrous evil within our own hearts. Hardship can remind us of the fleeting nature of possessions and lay bare the illusion of control.

In my walk with the Lord, I’ve asked such questions. In the dark of my own inner night, I’ve wrestled with God in a desperation to understand painful experiences. And through the struggle, He revealed my impatience to me.

Take Abraham…

Genesis 15 tells of Abraham, a man to whom God made a sweeping double promise: he would possess a huge swath of land and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. In actuality, the first glimpse of this promise was given to Abraham at age 75, as Genesis 12:2-4 tells us. It was reiterated in chapter 15 and revisited in chapter 17 when our man was 99 – a lapse of 24 years since the original promise of “a great nation” from his line.

Somewhere in those decades, Abraham made a choice to believe God despite his childless state.

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

Of course, if we read on in Genesis, we find one part of the promise fulfilled in his son, Isaac – a miraculous birth since his wife was well past her child-bearing years. Still, Abraham died owning naught but the tomb his wife, Sarah, and eventually he, himself, were buried in.

Did God fail to keep His promise?  Our impatience tempts us to reply, “Yes.”

But the truth is, God never backs out on His promises. It’s just that too often we assume the promises are meant for us right now.

We disdain posterity, preferring miraculous healing instead of patient and faithful endurance. We crave a bold delivery from difficulty instead of the testimony of trust in the midst of trial.

Though Abraham did not live to see it, his descendants did eventually possess the promised land – at least until they fell into disobedience. And that part was their choice, not God’s plan.

The core of the matter, the point of real hope is this: If I feel God has not kept a promise in my time, it’s a sign I need to broaden my scope.

God’s promises are not about me living a cushy existence with my every whim granted. It doesn’t mean I won’t experience suffering, hardship, and loss.

What it does mean is that I will experience them with purpose. And whether I like it or not, that purpose is His glory. His, not mine.

The promise I trust in – my hope – is despite the grave. It is not in health or wealth or politics or gain. It is in God Himself. Eternity in the presence of His glory. Pleasures forevermore at His right hand.  It is also hope for now – in His power made evident by my constant weakness.

In Christ, both life and death are redeemed, for to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Friend, if you find yourself hopeless, take time from the press of urgency to wrestle with Him.

How do you find hope in the midst of hardship? Feel free to share!

A Foothold

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
(Colossians 4:2)

Some weeks are just… funky. Take this week, for instance. Coming off of a several-week stretch of absolutely ridiculous fatigue, I finally woke up on Monday and felt, if not exactly rested, at least functional.

And it was a pretty productive day. In fact, between Monday and Tuesday, I managed to get through the usual homeschooling, parenting, and home management details plus finish correcting formatting errors on my manuscript, do some preliminary research on what I need to do in terms of putting together a book proposal, and started revising my chapter summary in hopes of gaining some publisher or agent’s attention.

On top of that, I was able to finish a project I’ve been working on as a gift (which I can say nothing more about on the off chance that the intended recipient stops by). I even had some excellent walks and talks with my Heavenly Father – something I have badly missed this school year but am now able to do again thanks to my son’s new status as a driver.

Yet, I could think of nothing useful to write about.

I suppose that keeping any sort of record of my faith journey is bound to have spells like this. Sometimes, I simply feel like there is nothing new to say. At other times, the things God is showing me through my time in His word or prayer just takes time and meditation before it can be distilled into words.

Still other times, I have one of those extremely mild but extremely annoying little “migraine-ish” headaches that does little more than scatter my thoughts and crumble my motivation. At times like that, writing becomes something very like trying to leash train a cat.

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The Miscreant enjoying his walk

At times like this, I suppose the thing to do is to persist. Write something down anyway. Drag the dead weight if I must.

Actually, it’s a lot like prayer…

In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul admonishes them to “continue steadfastly in prayer.”

This is a reminder I recently needed. After all, sometimes God answers prayer in immediate, very specific, and exciting ways. At such times it is a thrill to be a part of His work, and the natural overflow is one of thanksgiving and praise.

But other times…

Well, other times remind me of Abraham. When he first met God, his name was Abram, and he was told to take his household and move to “the land that I [God] will show you.”  (See Genesis 12:1)

Not long afterwards, the Lord told Abram that He would give all the land his eyes could see to Abram and his children (Genesis 13:14-18). At this point, the man was childless, yet he did as the Lord said. Eventually, when Abram was 99, the Lord revealed Himself to Abram as El Shaddai – the Almighty God – and changed his name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude). You can read about that in Genesis 17, and there is a lot more to say about the story than time allows (especially since I am now trying to squeeze this post in when there are a half-dozen other tasks awaiting me).

For now, suffice to say that Abraham died before God’s promise was fulfilled, owning only the cave that he and his wife were buried in (see Genesis 23:19-20 and 25:9).  And yet, we are told that, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3 et al).

The promise may not have been completely fulfilled in Abraham’s lifespan, but he did die with a sort of foothold on the Promised Land. And eventually, of course, his offspring did possess the land.

I tend to think Abraham may have been a teensy bit more self-focused than me. You see, he believed God and persisted in his relationship to the Lord no matter what. I have to admit that I have been known to throw a bit of a temper tantrum to my Father, along the lines of, “You promised that if I asked certain things that I know to be within Your will, they would happen. Where are they?”

Yeah, it’s a little embarrassing on my part.

The truth is, God does fulfill His promises; but not in my time and my way. Maybe Abraham knew this, which is why he was so willing to march up Moriah with his son, a knife, and a bundle of firewood. He knew God would deliver on the promise, even  if it was in some convoluted way that Abraham could not see. Maybe, to Abraham, a foothold was assurance enough.

So, whatever it is you are praying for, if you are certain it is within the will of God (and I am speaking more of the salvation of another person or that your children will love God with all their hearts, not a new car or a better house), continue steadfastly!

But – and here is the part that I am slow to learn – continue steadfastly with thanksgiving. If we really, really believe God will do what He says He will do, why wait to thank Him when the deal is done?  I think, maybe, what I need to do more of when I persevere in prayer is to do so with gratitude already on my lips, fully confident that my God will bring it to pass.

After all, when I look at my own salvation, I see that He has already given me a foothold.

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
(1 Thessalonians 5:24)