Well everyone, after a really challenging season this spring, here we are on the first Sunday of June. You know what that means, it’s summer! If you have been hanging out with us here at MRC through the summer months in years past you know that one thing we really enjoy doing is really jumping into Bible Studies in our summer teaching series. This is something that we just love jumping into with our church family. We have had a lot of fun with this so far, we have done full books of the Bible, we have studied the Sermon on the Mount for the entire summer but as Ken and I talked this year we wanted to do something a little different this year. We are going Old School! We are going to take the summer and jump into the Old Testament with you. This will be a lot of fun, and it gives us a chance to look at some incredible stories that many of us have heard, but I have to wonder if we have been able to see the lessons and the application from these stories to our lives today. Well I’m praying that through this series we start to see that connection to our own personal lives because there are so many big moments, and lessons for us to apply from these stories that so many of us grew up with, that maybe we just kind of passed off as interesting moments in scripture without taking the time to see just how much they still apply to our lives today. I think sometimes we can get caught up in just how crazy the stories are and not realize that we can learn things for our own lives and hearts today from these crazy moments. I mean we see stories of floods, and arks…giants, and lots of battles. I mean guys were marrying multiple wives, God seems pretty angry all the time, and so much of it seems bloody, intense, and frankly barbaric…and frankly it is, but there is so much there for us if we can slow down and look at these stories and ask ourselves, what we can actually learn from this crazy, barbaric, and sometimes beautiful moments found in the Old Testament and that is what we are up to all summer long. So we must have a mindset as we read these stories, that there is something for us to learn in each of them, that we can apply to our lives today.
Today we kick off the Old School series looking at the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Now I am just going to tell you a couple things as we get started. First, I want you to know that I’m going to do something similar to what I did two weeks ago. Today I’m going to give you the full sermon, and then this week we are going to do another 5-day devotional together that will tie into the subject we are looking at today. Second, I’m just going to say it, when I heard I had a chance to kick off this series I was pumped! Then I realized that this first story we were studying was going to be the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar…and I was like, oh great…because this story is pretty rough and frankly makes me feel some tension when I read it. We will get a chance to look closer at Abraham’s life in our next series as we look at Heroes of the Bible but I will just tell you for all the great things Abraham is and accomplished, he did some rough things to his wife, and made some interesting decisions along the way…which I can’t say I have ever been really comfortable with when I study these stories, and this moment with Hagar would definitely be one of those uncomfortable moments in Abraham’s life. The last thing I want to say is when we talk about this story Abraham and Sarah, they are still named Abram and Sarai, but just for my sake we will call them Abraham and Sarah, it will help me not stumble through my words today! So with all of that out of the way let’s begin our look at this story, it’s found in Genesis 16 but I think before we read it we are definitely going to need some context.
Have you ever noticed just how different God’s timing often is from ours? God just seems to move at the speed He wants to move at, and I don’t know about you, but that “speed” is often way too slow for me! Especially when I really want something, or I really need something, or maybe more so when I need His help. God’s timing is an incredible thing isn’t it? And why, doesn’t that timing ever quite seem to be lining up with what I would like the timing to be! Have you ever felt this way? It makes me think of so many warnings about God’s timing that we see in Scripture, just for fun I will read a couple…
Lamentations 3:25 The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. 26 So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. NLT
That same scripture in the Message Version reads this way, I’ll add verse 27 here…
Lamentations 3:25 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. 26 It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. 27 It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times. MSG
This comes up a lot in our Scriptures, waiting on the Lord, faith and patience, because God moves at the speed God wants, and does what He wants, when He wants…and one thing in all of these warnings that we probably should be able to see is that God’s timing is deliberate, intentional, and more than likely slower than we would like it to be. Peter hints at God’s timing here…
2 Peter 3:8-9 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. NIV
So we are building a little foundation here that is going to help us understand or at least maybe personalize this story a bit. All through Scripture we see references on waiting on the Lord, patience, perseverance…and just how important it is to wait on God’s timing and if we are honest, God doesn’t seem to ever be moving as quickly as we people would like. So with this framework built, let me ask you another question that I would really like you to personalize for a moment.
Have you ever felt like God was promising you something or maybe just was leading you to something that just felt so big or important in your life? How about this, have you ever just wanted something so badly, and knew in your heart that God was in it with you…but you just aren’t seeing the results, or progress that you need. You see it, you feel Him in it and you want it so bad…It’s like, the results have to be coming, but that thing you want so badly just doesn’t seem to be happening. Maybe it’s something with you or a loved one, that you have prayed and prayed about and truly believe God spoke to about it and in your heart you know it was going to happen, and know God said it would happen. Maybe it is a healing moment, maybe it’s that big promotion at work, or that new home, or that moment where your child finally breaks through and gets that spot in life you always wanted them to have. Maybe it’s something God promised you in those private moments alone with Him. You heard it, you know it, you are going to do great things for the Lord…but you keep looking around and you are still in the spot your in today…just like yesterday, and the day before that, and time just seems to go by one day after another…and it just isn’t happening. What do you do? I know I have found myself in that tension and often in those frustrating moments all I hear from God is that “I’m right where I’m supposed to be.” Can you look at your life and see this type of moment where God just isn’t moving as quickly as He should. It’s frustrating, doubt creeps in, and frankly it can feel like He isn’t moving at all can’t it? Well take a moment right now and think about that tension. It is so tough isn’t it? God promised you ___________ and it’s been weeks, months, maybe years…and you’re just still there doing what you can, wondering when He will move and why He hasn’t.
Well this is exactly where we find Abraham and Sarah, they are waiting on God to come through and fulfill the promise He made to them, and it is a big one! So to better understand their tension we need to understand the magnitude of the promise God made to them.
Genesis 12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” NIV
So this is the context of the story we are about to read. God comes to Abraham (at 75 years old) and promises Him the world…literally promises him greatness. So Abraham packs up, grabs his cousin Lot, his wife Sarah and off they go, he faithfully leaves everything he knows to be secure and safe and sets out to be the great nation that God promised him they would be. So yeah, this is a big promise! And I think it helps us understand the tension that Abraham and Sarah are feeling…because they have no children…Abraham’s heart is so heavy about this…I know this because He talks to God about it, and God doubles down on the promise here in Genesis 15…
Genesis 15:2 But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” 4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” NIV
What a beautiful moment. So now we fast forward 11 years from God’s original promise to Abraham. Let me repeat that, we are moving ahead in time over a decade and what do we find…nothing has really changed. God has promised them the world, and they still do not have any children…and you can’t be a great nation without any descendants…it’s hard to have a nation so big you can’t count it, without any people! So I want you to feel this, think about the tension you would feel. Abraham and Sarah aren’t getting any younger, they have been given this huge promise, and 11 years later…still no children. This is the backstory to what we are about to read. The context is in place, the warnings of how rough this is are now in place…and with all of that said…here we go in Genesis 16…
Genesis 16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. 3 So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.) 4 So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong—you or me!” 6 Abram replied, “Look, she is your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” Then Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away. 7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. 8 The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied. 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” 10 Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.”11 And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. 12 This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.” 13 Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” 14 So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. 15 So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born. NLT
Now I told you going in, this story can make us more than a little uncomfortable. One of the great heroes of our faith sleeping with his wife’s maid servant. Sarah mistreating her after…just a rough one to process but I want you to remember in all of these stories there is a lesson, there is something for us all to learn…and in this one I think the lesson is all about the importance of waiting on the Lord. Having patience and learning to trust God’s plan even when it doesn’t feel like anything is happening. Think about it, God has promised them greatness…and nothing has happened. It’s been over a decade, Abraham is not getting any younger…at this point he is 86 years old so him and Sarah make a plan to fix this for God, and things get messy don’t they?
Do you see it? Abraham and Sarah believed in the promise, but it’s just not happening…and they are getting older and they begin to try to figure out how to make this happen rather than allowing God to do what He always said He would do. Doesn’t that remind you of what Peter said earlier…
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.
Because 11 years…that is slowness as I understand it, and frankly it was slowness as Abraham and Sarah understood it as well. So they came up with a solution, and that solution was to use her maid servant to start this great nation. I know how awful this is, but in those days this was the law to keep your family going the husband would do this with the wife’s maid servant and if it was a boy, he became the son of the husband and wife and the heir to all they have, so you could say they turned to the law to fix something for God. I know this is a bit of a rough story, but it can lead us to some big questions in our own lives.
First can I ask you something if God told you that you would be great…I mean like the top of the world great…like the Father or Mother of great nations great, with descendants beyond the number of stars in the sky how would you feel? Humbled, excited, but I would think there would be some amazing expectations and excitement over when this all happens. Now say that God makes the promise, and you do everything the Lord asks…and 11 years later, nothing has happened. You’re now in your 80’s what would you do? Could you continue to wait on God? Would you start to find ways to force it or fix it to find the result that God has promised? Do you see the tension they were in? Do you see why they needed to wait on the Lord? You know 25 years after this original promise they do have a son named Isaac and all that God promised happened…twenty…five…years later! Remember Peter’s words here…
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.
So as we close out this talk today I want to stop picking on Abraham and Sarah here and turn this to you and I and our personal lives. Remember there are lessons for us all to learn in the middle of these wild and intense stories of the Old Testament. I want you to begin to look at your own life and the moments where God just doesn’t seem to be doing what you know He told you He would do. What is that moment for you? Can you identify it? Maybe it’s with your spouse, your family, your job, or what God said you would do in life…and it just hasn’t happened, or it’s not happening as quickly as you would like. What are you doing with that? Are you frustrated and ready to just quit on God? Can you persevere and not give up on God? Can you wait on God and center on Him and allow Him to do it…or are you trying to force it to get to that result. Can you wait on the Lord or are you pushing for the result…it’s not easy, to wait on God…but it is going to be worth it. Waiting on God is part of the maturation process that God has for us. So as you wait, can you center on God and allow Him to move in His timing or are you wrestling with it, frustrated, angry, stressed, confused…are you maybe forcing it? I will tell you forcing it usually ends up with a bigger mess than when things started at least in my personal experience. I would think Abraham and Sarah would probably agree, especially after God’s plan did unfold 14 years after Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.
I want to tell you waiting on God isn’t easy, it is going to take faith, patience, and more faith and more patience, it can be frustrating and challenging but in the end it’s all going to be worth it. God’s shaping you in the waiting. You will grow into the person that God created you to be and end up better when the promise comes true because you were developing in the waiting so you can handle the result when it comes…and even when you feel like it isn’t coming it is, your job is stay centered on Your Heavenly Father and to wait, and grow, and lean on Him so that you are ready to handle the promise when it happens. Don’t force it, stay with it, remember God loves you and knows what you need better than you do…so stay focused and remember the story of Abraham, Sarah, and the maid servant Hagar and just how messy things get when we try to force those results. When you are really struggling to wait on the Lord, when you are feeling stress and just that anger and even confusion on what God is up to, and why in the world it is taking so long…when you feel that tension focus on this…use that verse we spoke of a couple weeks ago and try to breath…
Our God is in the heavens and He does as He wishes. Psalms 115:3
All that God promises does happen…it may feel slow to you, but in the end it’s all in His timing so you can force it if you like but in the end God does what He wants, when He wants, and I think after the promise is fulfilled we can all look back and understand why the timing was what it ended up being. Have faith, stay patient, and when you struggle remember God loves you and has a plan…it just doesn’t always look like what we want, and it certainly doesn’t always happen at the speed we would like it to happen!
I will see you tomorrow as we begin to look at different places in Scripture that tie into this idea of waiting on the Lord, patience, and God’s timing and why they are so important.