There has been a lot of talk recently about recipes as the process began for putting together a church cookbook. The great thing about cookbooks is that you inevitably find some great recipe that you enjoy for the rest of your life. And . . . if you enjoy it allot you will use that recipe long enough that it will eventually become “your own” and someday you’ll put it in a cookbook as your own.
This morning I want to share with you God’s recipe for joy as it is written down in Genesis 21:1-7. I hope that it is a recipe that you will eventually make your own.
In this grand passage we see the long anticipated birth of Isaac to the 90 years old Sarah and the 100 year old Abraham. It is a glorious day in Abraham’s household. Lest we read the passage quickly and miss the important lessons we can draw, I want you to see that the joy that is experienced by Sarah is really a joy similar to the joy you and I should be living in during our lives. Tony Campolo has written,
Joy in Christ requires a commitment to working at the Christian lifestyle. Salvation comes as a gift, but the joy of salvation demands disciplined action. Most Christians I know have just enough of the Gospel to make them miserable, but not enough to make them joyful. They know enough about the biblical message to keep them from doing those things which the world tempts them to do; but they do not have enough of a commitment to God to do those things through which they might experience the fullness of his joy. (Seven Deadly Sins p. 21)
Does this describe you? Are you miserable in the faith? Do you have only enough of Christ to make you aware of your sin and not enough to bring you to joy? If so, you need desperately to hear what this passage teaches us today.
TRUST GOD’S FAITHFULNESS
The first thing we notice in the very first verse are these words, “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.” Do you notice that three times the passage points out that these things happened as the Lord has promised?
God is faithful! What the Lord promises, he delivers. God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child . . . even in their old age. Abraham and Sarah believed the promise. They put their faith in God’s character, that He does not lie and in God’s ability, that nothing is impossible for Him. Joy is anchored in God’s faithfulness. It’s a cute phrase, “Trust God” but what does it mean?
- It means to believe what He says; we must take Him at His Word
- It means to calmly rely on Him in a crisis knowing that He will not lead us astray
- It means putting more confidence in His character than you put in your own
- It means acknowledging God’s authority and wisdom in every area of your life, not just those we chose to open to Him.
REASONS WE FIND TRUST DIFFICULT
But as easy as it sounds, this is something that does not come easy to us. There are several reasons for this. The first reason is our past disappointments. We have all had people hurt us. We’ve trusted someone and they violated our trust. We depended on them and they did not come through for us. They made a promise and didn’t fulfill it. And because of this we don’t trust anyone. We don’t want to be vulnerable again. So, we don’t trust God fully either.
We must overcome this distrust! God is not like everyone else. Focus on His character! God does not lie. He does not disappoint. He does not forget us and our needs. Our Lord can be depended on.
A second reason trust is hard for us is our pride. We are raised from an early age to be self-reliant. Like Abraham we sometimes say we trust God but really are trusting our efforts. If you remember, Abraham had a similar problem. He thought He would “help” God when he sought to father a child through Hagar. He thought He would help God when he asked Sarah to lie . . . twice. The Psalms point to many things we tend to trust other than the Lord,
- we trust in our military strength (44:6)
- we trust our wealth (49:6)
- we trust our schemes (62:10)
- we trust our friends or our governments and systems (various see Psalm 118:8,9)
Trusting God’s character means putting our faith in Him. It is not God AND anything. This is why some never find salvation. They resist the idea that salvation is a gift. The idea that God has offered us something we cannot pay for and can never earn, is something they will not accept.
A third reason we have trouble relying on God is our limited perspective. Because we live in an instant society we aren’t very good at waiting on the Lord. Abraham and Sarah had to wait decades for God to begin to fulfill the promise He made to Abraham. God was building character into Abraham and was waiting until Abraham would realize that it was ONLY by God that the blessing was given.
God’s timing is different than ours. Where we are primarily concerned with results, God is concerned with the process as well as the result. Often God will delay until He has prepared us to receive His blessing. We interpret delay as disapproval. When God delays we quickly conclude that “it is hopeless”, “God doesn’t care.” When in reality God is at work preparing us or the circumstances.
So how can we live more according to God’s promises? I have several suggestions.
- Read and study God’s promises. When you come across a promise in the Bible ask some important questions: “Is this a promise for a specific individual or is it a promise that is for all who believe. . . .including me?” Then ask, “Is there a condition to this promise (If you abide in me and my word abides in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.)?” If so, note the condition.
- When you find a promise of God for your life, underline it. Some people underline it in a unique color so they can find they easily as they page through their Bibles
- Look for God’s faithfulness in your daily life. It is easier to trust God for the promises of life when we notice the many times he is faithful. Pay attention to the way He provides for us. Notice the times He brings us comfort. Notice how he brings rain and sunshine as needed. Notice the strength He gives for difficult times. When we look for God’s faithfulness we will find it easier to trust Him.
FOLLOW GOD’S DIRECTIONS
In verses 3 and 4 we have the next ingredient to our recipe, “Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.” Abraham and Sarah called their son Isaac . . . as they had been told. And then they circumcised him . . . as they were instructed. Sarah and Abraham followed God’s directions.
In truth, this had been their practice for their life. God said leave the land you are living in . . . and Abraham did. God said, “Trust me” and Abraham did. God gave Abraham guidance in battle and Abraham followed God’s guidance. He told him to circumcise all the males in his household and he did it. Next week we will see God tell Abraham to send his oldest son away . . .and he did it. In a few weeks we will see that God told Abraham to surrender his son on the altar . . . and he was willing to do even that.
It is one thing to know what God wants . . . it s another thing to do it. Over and over the prophets urged the children of Israel to stop talking about loving the Lord and to instead start showing their love by obeying the Lord. James tells the church, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only . . . deceiving yourselves.”
At a certain children’s hospital, a boy gained a reputation fore reeking havoc with the nurses and staff. One day a visitor who knew about his terrorizing nature made him a deal: “If you are good for a week,” she said, “I’ll give you a dime when I come again.” A week later she stood before his bed. “I’ll tell you what,” she said, “I won’t ask the nurses if you behaved. You must tell me yourself. Do you deserve the dime?”
After a moment’s pause, a small voice from among the sheets said: “Gimme a penny.”
Isn’t this the way we like to serve the Lord? We want to give him a pennies worth. We want to be part of his family but don’t want to have to disrupt our life any! We can’t have it both ways. True discipleship is a matter of obedience. It is trusting God enough to do what he says. All the pious words in the world do not equal the faith of the one who does what God tells him to do.
But I must caution you here. God desires not just outward conformity. He also wants our hearts to be involved. He talks about those who “honor Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from him.” So, it is not just a matter of doing what God says. We must do so out of love for the Lord. There are many people who obey the outward commands of God but are not serving God with their hearts.
- Some obey to quiet a guilty conscience. They are not seeking to honor God, they are seeking to be guilt free.
- Some obey out of a desire for acceptance. They want to be a part of the Christian community and the only way to do so is to conform.
- Some obey in an attempt to bribe God. They believe if they push the right buttons they will be blessed. These people are not serving the Lord . . . they are serving themselves! They are not seeking God’s interests but their own.
- Some obey in an attempt to earn Heaven! You’ve heard people say that they think they are going to Heaven because of what they have done. That is not the gospel. We are not saved because of what we have done (thank God!) We are saved because of what HE has done!
True obedience then, is anchored in our love for and our trust in the Lord. We obey because we love Him and trust Him. We obey because we know that God is the Creator and knows what is best. We obey because we know that our hearts and minds have been tainted by sin and therefore we don’t always see things clearly. We obey even though God’s way is not the way we would normally choose to go,
- We want to get even . . . God says forgive
- We want to accumulate . . . God says to give
- We want to draw attention to ourselves, . . . . God says we are to draw attention to Him
- We want to be served . . . God says be a servant
- We pursue what is best for us . . . God tells us to pursue what is best for the Kingdom of God.
- We want others to make the first move . . . God tells us to do so.
- We pursue what will make us happy . . . God tells us to pursue what will make us Holy
In Psalm 119 we read this wonderful prayer from David,
Give me understanding and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands for their I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared. (119:34-38)
Trust and Obedience must go together. We must focus on God’s character and then trust His instructions. And the result will be joy.
RECEIVE HIS JOY
In our text Sarah’s heart is filled with laughter. She had trusted, she had obeyed, she endured, and the result was joy. And joy, when we find it is unlike anything the world has to offer. Joy and happiness are different. Joy and exhilaration are different. We can be happy about a promotion and exhilarated at a victory in a game. But joy is much deeper. Happiness and exhilaration are largely superficial. Joy is deep. Joy touches our soul and spirit. It is a satisfaction that brings a “glow” to our lives. Joy can only come from the Father.
Now I suspect that there are some of you here who would say: “it doesn’t work.” You have held on in faith. You’ve done what is right but life is still difficult. You have believed but you still struggle.
Friend, I have a couple of things to say: First, if you are truly His you already have more reason for joy than anything the world can give you. You have been granted eternal life, when you deserved destruction. You have been granted an audience with the Lord of the Universe when you deserved nothing. You have been made an heir of the King, when you were a pauper. God has embraced you, even though you had spurned Him. Your inheritance is beyond measure. Your benefit is beyond description. Your joy should be constant. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon understood this,
I would have all those that hear of my great deliverance from hell, and my most blessed visitation from on high, laugh for joy with me. I would surprise my family with my abundant peace; I would delight my friends with my ever-increasing happiness; I would edify the Church with my grateful confessions; and even impress the world with the cheerfulness of my daily conversation….The Lord Jesus is a deep sea of joy: my soul shall dive therein, shall be swallowed up in the delights of His society. Sarah looked on her Isaac, and laughed with excess of rapture, and all her friends laughed with her; and thou, my soul, look on this Jesus, and bid heaven and earth unite in thy joy unspeakable. [MORNING AND EVENING – June 15]
I am suggesting that if you do not know joy in your life it is for one of two reasons. Either 1) you do not know the Lord. Or 2) you have forgotten what knowing the Lord means. It is possible that you have gone to church all your life but still do not know the Lord. It is possible that you are living a decent life but you still have not entrusted yourself to the Lord.
If that’s the case, do something about it this morning. God’s offer of forgiveness and His extension of grace and life is available to anyone who would receive it. You can’t earn it. It’s a gift. Jesus came to earth to point you to the Father and to give His life as a payment for your sin. He rose from the grave to prove that His sacrifice was accepted by God and that the life He talked about was real. You can be His. The Bible tells us that “if we will confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God has raised Him from the dead, we will be saved.”
Now what that means in laymen’s terms is this: If you will make Jesus King of your life and trust Him as the one who rose from the dead . . . you will be saved. You don’t have to first become a better person (God will help you do that through His Spirit that He will give you), you don’t have to join a church first (that comes afterward); you don’t have to undo your past (that’s what the cross was about). What you do have to do is come with your hands and your heart open. I urge you to do just that.
And if you have done this, but joy is far from you, I suggest you sit back and count your blessings. Recall what your salvation means. Reflect on the one who died for you. Recall the undeserved nature of His love. Meditate on where you were headed compared to where you are going now. As you do, joy will again be your companion.
But secondly, I know that when some of you say you don’t have any joy, it is because the journey is presently very difficult. You have prayed, you have cried, you have stormed the throne of Heaven and God seems silent. Brother and Sister in Christ, let me remind you: the story is not fully written yet.
Abraham and Sarah believed for decades without seeing anything. Don’t you give up. If it seems He has forgotten . . . He has not. Your friends may disappoint you . . . but God will never let you down. What you call heartache here you may call a blessing when you get to Heaven when you see God’s purpose in that trial. What you call a tragedy here may be seen as a necessary transition in Heaven. Do not give up on Him! Wait for Him . . . He will be faithful. It is at the times like these that we must remind ourselves of His Character and trust Him . . . . even in the darkness of confusion.
There are times when a child takes the hand of their parent even though they are confused and disoriented. The child may have no idea what is going on. They may be filled with fear and anxiety. But they hold on to their parents hand because they have learned that the hand they hold is trustworthy.
Faith is revealed in the difficult times of life. Those that trust God’s character and hold on tenaciously to His hand even when they are confused . . . are the very ones God will call “faithful” in the end.
As we conclude, listen to the wonderful lyrics of this song by John H. Sammis as he summarizes the lessons of this text.
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way! While we do his good will He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey.
Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies, but His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt nor a fear, not a sigh nor a tear, Can abide while we trust and obey.
Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share, Bur our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief nor a loss, not a frown nor a cross, But is blest if we trust and obey.
But we never can prove the delights of His love until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows and the joy he bestows are for them who will trust and obey.
Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet, Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go – Never fear, only trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.
[John H. Sammis]
May the sentiments of these words become the passion of our lives.