(reposted from the archives)
“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.’
‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
So Abram left, as the Lord had told him;”
Genesis 12: 1-4
“But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless… You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
“Then the word of the Lord came to him… ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars---if indeed you can count them… So shall your offspring be.”
“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
“But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, how can I know…”
I was sitting in an empty space when these words trumpeted, echoing into my fears.
My expectations were not being met and in the vacancy of disappointment I heard Abram’s cry in my own:
“O Sovereign Lord, how can I know…”
Abram received a calling buoyed by big promises. He followed with obedience and belief.
The results were years of hollow silence and endless waiting.
In the stillness of my own unanswered hopes, I hear Abram and Sarai chuckle into my ear…
“Obedience can look and feel barren.”
Called away from their home community and promised God’s faithfulness, with absolutely nothing to show for it for many, many bloody months, Sarai and Abram walked to the consistent cadence of “no,” and “not yet.” They lived with a barrenness that was regular and routine. A barrenness that constantly whispered the threat of ‘never’, leaving residue of abandonment and loss.
Obedience and grief so often go hand in hand.
Reading this truth in the hallowed story of Abraham relieves me (I'm not weird!).
And it frustrates me (I want obedience and ABUNDANCE to walk right beside each other!).
“Oh Sovereign Lord, how can I know…”
It is easy to celebrate success and accumulation. Accumulation of material goods, or esteem or degrees or dollars…this we can feel blessing in and see with our eyes.
The picture of what we have can be posted into the world around us as proof of our value. As proof that God is involved.
Abraham and Sarah’s story teaches that God is involved in other scenarios too.
Scenarios that hurt.
In scenarios that appear empty.
When desolate circumstances linger, it can be tempting to meddle and stew toward my own solutions.
To look for a Hagar to solve the problem.
“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.”
Sarai (with Abram’s willing participation) jumps ahead of God's perfectly designed plan. They usher Hagar into an equation where she wasn't supposed to be. Consequence does follow, much of it negative and hurtful, but God stayed in all of it.
And He revealed Himself (The God Who Sees) in a whole new way.
There is a VERY wide zone in the story of Abraham and his family. There is trust and belief, yes, (especially on the part of Abraham). But there is also disbelief, and mockery, and doubt and lack of patience. Good decisions, bad decisions. Good behavior, bad behavior. God saw it all. He stayed with it all. He promised. He purposed. He blessed. And He never strayed from the plan He had chosen already.
Into the messy entanglements they brought on themselves, God continued to love.
Into the pounding ache of prolonged frustration, God continued to love.
He made himself known.
“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…”
In betrayals and heartbreaks. In the waiting seasons we writhe underneath, I can hear our very consistent God say:
I am not surprised or confused by your current circumstance.
“He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
And the barren days you endure, are not what they seem.
“…the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”
They are Me alongside you, in such a way that nobody can miss it.
Presence is my Promise.
I have always and I will continue to be With.
“…be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Know me. Acknowledge me by Name.
“Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.”
“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me…”
‘The Lord is There.’
“In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them…”
“...which means, ‘God with us.”
When silence echoes around me and my eyes grow tired of the strain of watchful waiting; when my heart feels burdened with the weight of emptiness, the laughter of an aging and wrinkled mother fills my soul.
“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.”
“In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them…”