Life is a series of choices. We choose what time we will get up, what we will eat, what clothes we will wear. We choose the programs we watch (or won’t watch), the music we’ll listen to, and the kind of car we’ll drive. But for the most part those decisions don’t carry great consequences. However . . . there are other decisions: who we will marry, the job we will take, the school we attend. We choose our friends. We choose what we will feed our mind. We choose how we will respond to difficult times. Each of these choices has far reaching consequences.
In Genesis 16 we have the record of a decision that Abraham and Sarah made that would have a great effect on their marriage and an even greater effect on the world in which we live. It was a bad decision but if we had been in their shoes, it may have been the same decision we would have made.
This morning we look at their situation and we do so in order to learn from their mistakes. We want to gain some positive principles for solid choices. I have four principles for you this morning.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE GOD’S POWER OR ABILITY
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
Notice the facts as Abram and Sarah saw them,
- Sarah was past normal child-bearing age
- Abraham was getting older too.
- It had been ten years since they had arrived in what was supposed to be the land of Abraham’s descendants.
Based on these facts, Sarah and Abraham drew some conclusions. First, they concluded that God did not want Sarah to bear a child of her own. Second, they reasoned that there must be something else they needed to do. They conclude that Abraham should have a child through Hagar.
But do you see what happened? First, they didn’t state all the information. A child of God must always figure into the equation the fact that God is all-powerful. Second, they drew the wrong conclusions from the information they did have because they didn’t see all the options. They didn’t even consider the fact that God might do something so extraordinary that everyone would realize that He was the child had to be specially blessed. Instead, Abraham and Sarah concluded that God needed their help.
It sounds funny that anyone would think that God needed their help. Yet, we think that all the time. Anytime we meet a delay, anytime it seems that God’s methods are “not working” we are quick to “pitch in” to give God a hand.
- we “help God” to find us a mate by hanging around sin-stained locations and disregarding God’s standards of purity.
- we “help Him” reach people by using pressure or manipulation tactics…or by watering down the truth
- we “help God” bring growth to the church through gimmicks and tactics of the world
- we “help God” get others get to Heaven by giving them a bunch of rules to follow
- we “help God” bless us by gambling or by going deep into debt
- we “help God” get us through school by buying term papers or plagiarizing someone else’s work
- we “help” God bring justice by sabotaging someone’s reputation or career
When we abandon God’s way we are concluding that we know better than God. When we believe we know better than God, we are acting like we ARE God. And that ALWAYS gets us in trouble. Even when things don’t seem to be “working” we must never underestimate God’s power or ability.
TRUST GOD’S TIMING . . . HE HAS A PURPOSE FOR EVERY DELAY
Sarah and Abraham interpreted God’s delay as inability. But God delays for many different reasons. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “there is a time for everything.” And “he makes everything beautiful in it’s time.”
- Sometimes God delays to make us holy
- Sometimes He delays to prepare us for a task
- Sometimes He delays to deal with some weakness
- Sometimes He delays to strengthen our faith
- Sometimes He delays for the benefit of those who are watching
- Sometimes He delays so He might give us the best and not just something adequate
- Sometimes He delays for reasons only He knows
But the lesson is the same: God does not waste opportunities and He does not waste silence. A good financial investor knows when to invest and when to wait. They may wait while others are acting . . . but they have a reason. They know it is not the best time to invest yet. They see something and know something we do not.
God is similar. His delays are not from inability but from wisdom. When God is silent we should not panic . . .but trust.
Charles Swindoll tells this powerful story of the difference timing can make.
There was once a fellow who, with his dad, farmed a little piece of land. Several times a year they would load up the old ox-drawn cart with vegetables and go not the nearest city to sell their produce. Except for their name and the patch of ground, father and son had little in common. The old man believed in taking it easy. The boy was usually in a hurry-the go-getter type.
One morning, bright and early, they hitched up the ox to the loaded cart and started the long journey. The son figured that if they walked faster, kept going all day and night, they’d make market by early the next morning. So he kept prodding the ox with a stick, urging the beast to move on.
“Take it easy, son,” said the old man. “You’ll last longer.”
“But is we get to market ahead of the others, we’ll have a better chance of getting good prices,” argued the son.
No reply. Dad just pulled his hat down over his eyes and fell asleep on the seat. Itchy and irritated, the young man kept goading the ox to walk faster. His stubborn pace refused to change.
Four hours and four miles later down the road, they came to a little house. The father woke up, smiled, and said, “here’s your uncle’s place. Let’s stop and say hello.”
“But we’ve lost an hour already,” complained the hot shot.
“Then a few more minutes won’t matter. My brother and I live so close, yet we see each other so seldom,” the father answered slowly.
The boy fidgeted and fumed while the two old men laughed and talked away almost an hour. On the move again, the man took his turn leading the ox. As they approached a fork in the road, the father led the ox to the right.
“The left is the shorter way,” said the son.
“I know it,” Replied the old man, “but this way is much prettier.”
“Have you no respect for time?” the young man asked impatiently.
“Oh, I respect if very much! That’s why I like to use it to look at beauty and enjoy each moment to the fullest.”
The winding path led through graceful meadows, wild flowers, and along a rippling stream-all of which the young man missed as he churned within, preoccupied and boiling with anxiety. He didn’t even notice how lovely the sunset was that day.
Twilight found them in what looked like a huge, colorful garden. The old man breathed in the aroma, listened to the bubbling brook, and pulled the ox to a halt. “Let’s sleep here,” he sighed.
“This is the last trip I’m taking with you,” snapped the son. “You’re more interested in watching sunsets and smelling flowers than in making money!”
“Why, that’s the nicest thing you’ve said in a long time,” smile the dad. A couple of minutes later he was snoring–as his boy glared back at the stars. The night dragged slowly, the son was restless.
Before sunrise the young man hurriedly shook his father awake. They hitched up and went on. About a mile down the road they happened upon another farmer-a total stranger – trying to pull his cart from the ditch.
“Let’s give him a hand,” whispered the old man.
“And lose more time?” the boy exploded.
“Relax son. You might be in a ditch sometime yourself. We need to help others in need – don’t forget that.” The boy looked away in anger.
It was almost eight o’clock that morning by the time the other cart was back on the road. Suddenly, a great flash split the sky. What sounded like thunder followed. Beyond the hills, the sky grew dark.
“Looks like a big rain in the city,” said the old man.
“If we had hurried, we’d be almost sold out by now,” grumbled his son.
“Take it easy, you’ll last longer. And you’ll enjoy life so much more,” counseled the kind old gentleman.
It was late afternoon b the time they got to the hill overlooking the city. They stopped and stared down at it for a long, long time. Neither of them said a word, Finally, the young man put his hand on his father’s shoulder and said, “I see what you mean, Dad.”
They turned their cart around and began to roll slowly away from what had once been the city of Hiroshima. [Swindoll, COME BEFORE WINTER]
Are you facing a delay in your life? Is there a problem that continues to nag or situation that continues to grind? Don’t despair my friend. God’s delays are not from inability but from wisdom.
CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR CHOICES
As that boy in the story tried to hurry his father, so we try to hurry ours. Delays are necessary and if we do not submit to those delays . . . if we rush ahead impatiently, we will get into trouble. We are like children in a fancy department store; if you take your eyes off of them they wander off and usually they wander to the crystal glassware section! We are like those children . . .if we wander away from the Lord we get in trouble!
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”
“Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
Notice two things, First, notice some of the consequences of this plan.
- The marriage of Abraham and Sarah is affected. Every time Abraham was “with” Hagar it wounded Sarah. It may have been her idea . . . but the thought of her husband being in the arms of another woman wounded her. And when Hagar became pregnant, Sarah felt she was overshadowed. The result is that Sarah gets mad at Abraham. She wants to know, “How could he do this to me?” Abraham of course is baffled. He feels like he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. I’m sure things were very tense around the home of Abraham and Sarah. To ease the tension, Abraham abandons his responsibility and says, “Hey, do whatever you want. If you want to get rid of her . . . fine.”
- Hagar feels she needs to leave. She can no longer stand the abuse that Sarah is heaping on her. Like most of us . . . when we aren’t in a good mood . . .we take it out on others. Sarah was jealous and resentful towards Hagar and was making her life miserable. The child they thought they had wanted was now heading to the wilderness. Can you imagine the turmoil Abraham was going through. Like it or not . . . the child Hagar carried was his.
- There are worldwide consequences. Every day you and I hear and read about consequences that resulted ultimately from this decision to “help God”. Ishmael, the child born to Hagar and Abraham became the father of the Arab peoples. The conflict which has existed between the Arabs and the Jews is a direct result of this foolish choice.
When we try to “help God” we generally get in trouble. There are consequences to every decision we make. And bad decisions bring negative consequences. People are hurt, reputations are stained, lives are changed.
Why do you think we are seeing rampant immorality, escalating violence, increasing materialism and a disintegration of society? I think it is because we have disregarded the Lord. We have sought to marginalize Him in the courts, the laws, the educational system and our values. We live in a world that seeks to make God irrelevant. Even in our own lives we like to keep Him compartmentalized so we can live how we want and find Him when we need Him. With that in mind, why are we so surprised by Littleton, Colorado?
But secondly, notice something else. No one is willing to take responsibility for their actions. Sarah blames Hagar and Abraham; Abraham blames Sarah, Hagar blames Sarah and Abraham . . . and they probably all blame God! Now here is some we have gotten really good at! Few people take responsibility for their choices now. We blame our parents, we blame our genetic makeup (translated, we blame God), we blame a teacher, a spouse, a person who was driving too fast. It doesn’t matter who it is . . . just so it isn’t us!!!
How foolish we are. We cannot continue to ignore God and still expect to receive His blessing. We cannot disregard His commands and think that we will not be led astray. We cannot refuse to accept responsibility and expect to move forward. The best way to handle foolish choices is to admit them and learn from them.
REMEMBER THAT THERE IS COMFORT FOR EVERY WOUNDED HEART
The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”
Hagar leaves because she feels she has no other choice. Things have become unbearable. I’m sure Hagar felt she was worthless. Maybe she regretted ever getting involved in this whole relationship. Maybe she secretly hoped that Abraham would run after her. What we do know is that the Angel of the Lord comes to broken and wounded woman.
Others might have been content to “write Hagar off”. When she is gone others don’t have to face the consequences. But God does not write her off. And here’s something else: He doesn’t write you off either. We have all made foolish choices. We all carry scars as a consequence of times when we deserted the path of God. But He still sees us. He still loves us. He still reaches out to us.
The Angel of the Lord gives Hagar simple counsel: Return and Submit!
Jim Boice writes,
When we have run away from something, we never want to go back to it. But if you have made a wrong turn in the direction of your life, as we often do, the only thing to do is return to the point where you went wrong and start over. Anything else only takes you farther and farther away. In the same way, if we have rebelled against one proper authority, our problem is never solved by continuing in that rebellion or even seeking out another authority. [Genesis p. 572]
God tells Hagar to face the difficult situation and to trust Him. I don’t want you to think that things were great when Hagar returned to Abraham and Sarah. They weren’t. The consequences of their foolish choice continued to haunt. But now they were walking with God again. And God is able to help us live even with the consequences of our foolish pasts.
I wonder . . . are you running from something today? Have you made a foolish choice and now feel that God has deserted you? Do you feel like an outcast? Are you suffering from the sinful choices others have made? If you are I cannot offer you a magic formula that will make everything go away. What I CAN do is tell you that any mistake you have made can be forgiven. Any crisis you face can be survived with God’s strength. Any difficulty can be used by God to make you stronger and to make your witness more effective. But in order for these things to be true, you have to stop running away and turn and return to the Lord. You must stop fighting Him and start trusting Him.
Are you at a crossroads? Do you face a choice of going God’s way or going the way you think will work better?
- a question of purity . . . do I stand by God’s standards or embrace the world’s way?
- a question dealing with difficult people . . . will you forgive and seek to rebuild or will you attack and punish?
- a question involving a delay? Will I wait for God or should I try something else?
No matter what the issue is it boils down to this: Will you trust God, or will you try to help Him? Will you trust Him or will you trust your own ideas and devices? Will you rely on Him or will you rely on the tactics of the world? As you face these issues please remember some simple principles
Always trust God’s wisdom over your own. Trust God’s word over your feelings. God sees what we do not see. Make it a practice to make no big decision without first consulting Him. Be forewarned . . . the Devil will tell you that you don’t have time to pray. He will tell you that the decision needs to be made RIGHT NOW. Don’t listen! Be patient. Wait for the Lord.
Question all Your Assumptions Abraham and Sarah got in trouble because they thought they had all the information. Anytime we assume we have examined ALL the options we are usually wrong. Find some Christian friends and ask them to think through some of these issues with you.
Think about the Consequences. We are usually pretty good about thinking about the good consequences we expect from an action. We also need to think about the negative consequences. Consider those who will be effected by your decision. Consider the impact on your testimony. Consider what may go wrong.
Remind Yourself to be Patient. We get into trouble when we rush God. Things get difficult when we try to hurry. God is able to deliver what He promised. But God has his own timing. Sometimes we need to be still. We need to learn to slow down in life. We make so many decisions in our lives that we forget that sometimes the best decision is no decision. Sometimes, it is best to wait until God’s will becomes clear.
This week put a clock in a prominent position in your home or office. And on the clock write . . . “A time for Everything.” Use this as a reminder that is always good to wait on the Lord.
Life is a series of choices. And who you will trust when making choices, is the most important choice of all.