"The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert..."
Do you ever go through a day, or a week, and find it hard to note the practical impacts of God in it all? I do. Sometimes I find I get so focussed on what I've got to do, even do for God, that I forget that I'm doing it all with God. Sometimes I just find it hard to sense God's tangible presence, and I keep going by trust without assurance from my senses. Sometimes I find it hard to keep praying certain prayers, because I've been praying them so long. We've all got our own examples. And they're all examples of the challenge of having faith in the living God. They're also all examples that raise the question - does God really see me? Does God really care for me? Does God really want to answer my prayers?
As we prepare to enter a new phase of coming out of restrictions here in Sydney, we are preparing our approach to what lies ahead. And I along with others in our leadership team have felt we need to go to a fresh place of faith. A fresh place of active trust in God. But the truth is, faith is hard to come by if we don't really believe God sees us, cares for us, and wants to answer us.
I believe there is a story in Genesis that can help us out greatly in this respect. It's the story of Hagar.
God truly saw Hagar
Hagar was servant to the Jewish patriarch Abraham (Abram at the time), and his wife Sarah (Sarai at the time). Sarah, unable to have a child heir herself, suggested that Hagar be the one who bears them a son via surrogate motherhood in order to solve this problem. Hagar gets pregnant by Abraham, conceives and gives birth to a son, Ishmael. This then creates no end of personality politics and power struggles, and in the end, Sarah regrets this plan she hatched and basically discards of Hagar. This is all quite distressing to our modern minds, but the powerful thing is, God Himself shares our concern. How do I know? Because of what comes next.
Hagar flees from Sarah to fend for herself and her son in a vast and arid nomadic region of the Middle East. She was unlikely to survive very long at all. And then we read:
The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” [Genesis 16:7–8]
God (here personified as the angel of the Lord) sees all of this, and pursues Hagar as she tries to escape her worsening situation under Abraham and Sarah. God sees Hagar, and goes after her to help her. Hagar who had no choice in the events that had taken place prior. Who was mistreated by her mistress and master. Who was powerless, in distress, and in need of real protection. And the Lord was the one who stepped in for her.
God promises her a future for herself and her son Ishmael, and calls her to go back to Abraham and Sarah. She does, and raises her son for some time in this environment. That is, until Isaac, the son born by God's promise, arrives. And then Sarah wants to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael again. Which she does. And again, Hagar and Ishmael are abandoned to the elements and in danger of death in the arid conditions they are shoved into. Until...
"God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
20 God was with the boy as he grew up..." [Genesis 21:17–20]
...until God, again! More than just seeing what is going on, hears the distress of Ishmael, and moves to respond and help. And as we see, provides for Hagar and Ishmael, and then remains with Ishmael from this point onwards. From the point of abandonment at the hands of their human masters.
God sees and hears...YOU
I find this part of Genesis so deeply encouraging, and assuring. It is such a powerful picture of the presence, merciful love, and active work of God in our lives. God truly does see us, truly does hear us, truly does care about us, and truly does want to walk with us into the life He has made for us to live.
We may think to ourselves - yes but this is for big and important bible characters, but is it really for me? It is important at this point to note that Hagar was not a very important person in the times of Abraham and Sarah - as their treatment of her demonstrates. And yet God got directly involved in her life.
But it gets better than this. We read in 2 Chronicles 16:9 a wise man's insight into the Lord's ways. In chastising King Asa for trusting in human support over and above the Lord, this wise seer noted the following about God:
"For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him..." [2 Chronicles 16:9]
God's mercy is real, and personal, and active in our lives - Hagar & Ishmael's story assures us of this. But God is no respecter of persons. You may be a King, of a pauper. You may be a CEO, or a grocery store packer. Whoever you are, whatever you've done, the Lord is not going to restrict you from His mercy. If...you are prepared to fully commit to Him. And here's where it comes back to faith again.
In the thinking, praying and planning ahead...
We can move forward with faith, because we can be sure - God really does care about my life. God really does see me. God really does want to answer my cries and prayers. In other words, we can move forward fully committed to Him in the unknowns of the months and years ahead for us.
Todays reflection is about building our faith. It certainly has built up mine afresh. I hope it has yours. I, for my part, have got a commitment to make - to fully commit to Him. Nothing less.
That's what faith is. A full commitment to Him.
So how do we do this - how do we make sure we're fully committed to Him?
Can I suggest we all (me together with you for sure) take some steps to check our hearts and lives:
Do a trust "inventory" with the Lord - We fully commit to those we fully trust. So the next question to ask is: where do I fully trust God? Where do I not?
Where you lack it, build it - so having done the "inventory" above, there'll be some low trust area/s we need to build up with the Lord. The Lord has His part to play, and it's the major part. But we are responsible too - especially for our commitment levels (a.k.a. 2 Chronicles 16:9). Some things we're responsible for:
Asking God - Matthew 7:7-12
Meditating on His word - Psalm 1
Obeying - John 14:23
Have you done what He last asked you to do? We are responsible to do what God shows us to do. God won't keep speaking to us, and leading us, beyond what He's last asked us to do, if we've not done so.
God sees and He strengthens...
God saw Hagar, and strengthened her. God saw Ishmael, and He strengthened and came alongside Him. This is God's desire towards all of us. As we commit to Him, He shows us His full commitment to us. As James declares to us:
"Come near to God and he will come near to you." [James 4:8a]
The God of all Creation, the God of all history, the God of our times and our places, sees you. He wants to strengthen you. Fully commit to Him, as we move out of lockdown, and see just how fully committed to you, and to us, God truly is.
Fully committing with you to the Lord afresh this week!
Written by Ps. Rob.