Abraham’s faith is inspiring. Chasing the grasslands of Canaan as a nomadic shepherd Abraham was free to survey the Promised Land his family would one day possess. Catching each vista must have built his faith and his anticipation. How did others in his entourage experience the endless treks through Canaan’s hills and valleys? How did Sarah handle being uprooted at 65 and being invited on a lifelong camping trip? Abraham is the one who first heard God’s voice. When she was fatigued from packing up the tent or dousing the cook fires one more time did she grow discouraged? The scriptures are silent about most of her emotions, but the desire to give Abraham a child made her desperate and bone weary.
Abraham’s life is a fascinating study because he often takes two steps forward, only to take one step backward. He is making spiritual progress, but do you think he got discouraged and forgot where he started. Maybe he was tempted to focus on his latest misstep. Do you do that? Instead of seeing how far you have come with God, do you become impatient with how long it is taking you to receive all of God’s promises?
Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” ESV
One of those passages where you can find the importance of endurance is Genesis 16. It is an incredibly sad story that occurs one chapter before Abraham and Sarah have their names changed by God. This episode is difficult because of the destructive power of polygamy and what it does to men, women and their children. It is also tragic because it is the two believers in this story who create the pain. So, take a moment, look at Genesis 16:1-6 and refresh your memory with this sorrowful tale.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go into my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went into Hagar and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 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. ESV
Not every spiritual lesson has to be learned first hand. If you are observant you can pick up extremely useful information from other people’s blunders. Abraham and Sarah’s missteps are a perfect example of the many personal applications you can make from their awful mistakes.
1) When waiting on God, it is important to realize impatience makes everything worse.
By this account Abraham and Sarah had already waited 10 years in the Promised Land for God to provide them with the promised heir. Many people would believe that waiting ten years was a valiant effort, but what does their impatience produce? They harm and use a servant girl named Hagar, they produce a rival heir to God’s promised son Isaac, they carelessly drive a wedge into their marriage’s intimacy, and they bring political conflict on the entire world. Without God’s divine intervention the descendants of Isaac, the Jews, and the descendants of Ishmael, the Arabs, will fight until the end of time. This is a lot of suffering they have unleashed not only in their lifetime, but the reverberations of their impatience are still being felt today. When you are tempted to take things into your own hands, remember that impatience will only make everything worse.
Take a moment and reflect. How might impatience add to your suffering?
2) When waiting on God, it is important to realize God values the fruit that grows in us while we wait.
What did waiting on God produce in Abraham? Wait time gave Abraham a deeper understanding of God’s goodness and his unconditional love. At first Abraham only knew God was powerful, but after experiencing God’s faithfulness numerous times he clearly understood the God of creation was on his side. Amazingly, after Isaac’s birth Abraham will even have the grace to surrender to God the child of the promise on Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22:1-19, Heb. 11:17-19).
God was also permanently reshaping Abraham’s view of his wife. Before God’s revelation Abraham saw Sarah and her beauty as a liability when they traveled, not someone precious he should protect. At least two times while they were on the road Abraham lied and told people Sarah was his sister. He could have trusted God for his physical protection, but instead he practiced deception as a form of protection. Can you imagine how frightened Sarah must have felt when she was placed in a harem not once, but twice? (Gen. 12:10-20, 20:1-18). During the extended time they both waited for Isaac’s birth, Abraham witnessed God elevating Sarah. (Gen. 17:15-21). Abraham will father more sons as his story continues (Gen. 25:1-2), but only Sarah’s son will be called the child of the promise. Traditionally, Jewish status has been passed through the mother, not the father, largely because of the importance of Sarah’s faith journey. In this drawn out timetable, God was challenging the value Abraham had given Sarah.
What does waiting on God produce in you? If you are teachable the fruit of waiting will be trust in God. God has a wonderful plan to bless you, but part of that plan is to also transform you. Through a lengthy waiting period you learn God truly is good. As you grow and make spiritual progress you will put your confidence in God sooner, more often and with greater abandonment. When you have grown weary of anticipating when God will answer your prayers, consider what God desires? Work with God and not against him. Not every lesson you learn has to be taught in the school of hard knocks. As you actively pause ask him to empower and strengthen you in your wait time. I promise you, you will like the transformation in your personal life as much or more than God does. When you have been delivered of your fears, pettiness or whatever else God desires to change, you are going to love the new, freer you.
What is God building in you during your wait time?
3) When waiting on God, it is important to realize God does not need your help to keep his promises.
Sarah thought God needed her help to keep his promise to Abraham. This is an incredibly small view of God. Cannot the God of the universe who created the stars and asked Abraham to try and number them get Sarah pregnant? Ultimately, God was more interested in Sarah coming to know who he is, than in her immediate motherhood. Sarah mistakenly believed that God would want to bless Abraham, but not her. This is not how a loving God treats a married couple. Growing Sarah’s faith was just as critical to God as Abraham’s faith development. God never intended to leave her out of his equation of blessing. Eventually, through Sarah’s lineage Israel will give birth to the Messiah and the Savior of the world.
Abraham and Sarah knew it was God’s will to give them an heir. But, they could not have guessed how important the twenty-five year, extended wait time would be in their lives, in the future of their descendants and even today.
How could God’s current delay in your life have a purpose?
Close out your study time by thanking God for days of intentional waiting and fresh revelations of how vast is his love for you.