When I read the story of Hagar and Ishmael, I think of the times I wanted to hide from God because of my own sin and shame. In Genesis 16, we read about how Sarai was impatient with God’s timing and took matters into her own hands. Sarai hatched a plan to speed up the process of having a child by way of her Egyptian maid-servant, and Abram agreed. But when Hagar became pregnant, Sarai mistreated her. Hagar ran away from Sarai, stopping at a spring in the desert. Here is where we see God’s great compassion displayed for a woman who was mistreated, “in misery” (v. 11), and on the run.
After the angel of the Lord meets the woman by the spring, he tells her to go back to her mistress and submit to her. He then gives her a promise for the future of her descendants (v. 10). Hagar responds to the Lord by saying, “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (Gen. 16:13). And the spring or well in the desert was called Beer Lahai Roi, which means "the well of him that liveth and seeth me.”
In God’s great mercy towards Hagar, he stopped her at the well. If she would have kept on running away, she may have faced danger on the run, or remained stuck in a cycle of shame. But God saw her, stopped her, and spoke to her. God had a plan even in the middle of the mess and misery.
Maybe you can relate to my examples of condemnation at the kitchen sink. Perhaps you’ve even felt the sting of shame today. Let me encourage you that those accusations coming against us are not from God. Out of the blue accusations are from the adversary - the “accuser of our brothers” (Revelation 12:9-10). We must remember that condemnation is from the enemy; loving correction comes from God. And the more we read God’s word and learn about His compassion, the easier it is to identify these attacks and combat them.
Hagar’s encounter with the angel of the Lord gives us an example for how God deals with us. Firstly, He meets us in the wilderness- in the wandering of our own hearts. Yes, the “God who sees us” meets directly with us in the middle of our sin and shame. Secondly, he speaks to our situation, and through his Word, he offers hope and life. Lastly, he sees our hearts and calls us by name. He knows everything about us because he created us and knows our future. So, the next time the enemy tries to shame you, remember that your God knows you, speaks to you, and calls you by name. Your God forgives you and does not accuse you. Yes, Your God is the one who sees and loves you! Rest in his abounding love for you today.
Memory Verse: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever.” Psalm 103:8-9 NIV
In two short chapters we watch Job’s life fall apart— his family, his wealth, and his health. Job wrestled to reconcile God’s justice with his own personal suffering, because it’s clear he had done nothing wrong. We read in Job 1:8 that Job was “a man of perfect integrity, who [feared] God.” Job’s story challenges Western ideas that are basically “Christian karma”— that if we’re good, God will be good to us, and if we’re experiencing suffering it’s because of something wrong we did.
The mental anguish revealed in the subsequent dialogue is not grief over loss of Job’s possessions, rather grief over his perceived abandonment by God. The ironic thing is, in his wrestling, Job was closer to Yahweh than He had ever been before.
The hard truth is God allows suffering for His purposes. We see no better example of this than in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus— the Suffering Servant. Jesus told his disciples about the necessary suffering He would endure for our ultimate good yet, in their finite minds, they could not grasp the big picture. However, Jesus willingly took the cup of the Father’s wrath to satisfy the merited penalty for our sins. There on the cross, He experienced the unimaginable grief of actual abandonment, as His holy Father turned His back on Him.
Jesus was forsaken by God so you and I wouldn’t have to be. Even on our darkest days, we have this hope: nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39).
Friend, what suffering are you enduring right now? A heath diagnosis? A financial crisis? The death of a loved one or loss of a relationship? Like Job, are you sitting in the dust of despair?
In our finite minds, we cannot grasp the big picture of what God is doing. Regardless, we can choose to rest in the truth that He is unchanging and unfailing.
God is still good.
God is still present.
God is still working for your good and His glory in every situation.
Looking back I can see that God was with me, even in the ashes of my parents’ divorce. He has been with me through many more suffering since, and He will be with me in the sufferings to come. The same is true for you— He never leaves us nor forsakes us. And, unlike Job’s condemning friends, He comforts us in all our troubles (2 Corinthians 1:3).
God does not despise our wrestling, but in the end He desires our trust. We won’t always understand God’s ways, but we can willingly submit like Jesus did— saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Memory verse: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NIV
Consider what God may have been feeling just prior to the flood. How crushing man’s sinful ways would have been to Him.
In the first few chapters of Genesis, God goes from creating the world and saying it was good, very good, to regretting and changing His actions from creation to destruction. OUCH.
I wonder if Noah ever questioned God’s decision, perhaps thinking, “Is it really necessary to start over?”
Noah knew God was going to spare his family but even so, it must have been pretty scary for him as the waters burst forth from the deep and rain fell from the heavens causing the ark to tilt and groan until it was lifted from the ground.
The sound alone would have been terrifying, yet they made it safely through the storm to dry ground where the ark passengers began the task of repopulating the earth.
It is hard for me to comprehend how a creator would choose to destroy his own creation. Why would God destroy what He had previously blessed?
We don’t have the capacity to understand the mind of God, and friend, it is important not to get stuck here insisting on answers, lest we become guilty of pride, demanding God be accountable to our desires and solutions.
God is all-knowing. He is all-powerful. And, what makes this beautiful is our loving Father always has been and always will be a promise keeper.
He promised, in the form of warning, that eating fruit from the tree of Knowledge would bring death. He promised Noah He would spare His family and the animals on the ark while destroying everything else that drew breath; He promised that He would never again flood the entire earth. And, He has held true to His word.
God’s ways of accomplishing His purpose are out of our comprehension. But, we can trust that when we obey and are surrendered to Him, there is always something new, something next, something good.
For God is our loving creator and, just as my daughter cared for her drawings, He put detailed thought into every stroke of His creation, including you.
After she saw I threw out her pictures, my daughter got more paper, a marker and went to work. Having learned from her previous hours spent at the drawing board, her new round of drawings were even better than the last.
The new beginnings God has for us are not always smooth and often come in the wake of loss. Still, we can have faith that God always makes a way forward. Through death, depression, joblessness, anxiety, and fear while lost in the wilderness of life, God is with you, directing your steps.
Is there an area in your life where you don’t understand how God is at work? Ask Him to show you your next step forward as you continue to trust in His promises.
Memory Verse: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV
The story of mankind laid out in God’s Word is much like the stories I loved to read. There is a Hero, a villain, and a people who need rescue. The story starts out beautifully, only to have something dark and sinister captivate the beloved. There is One who is stronger than the villain, ready to do what it takes to rescue. In this story, the weak become strong, the broken become whole, the sinful become righteous, and the shamed are healed. Sadness turns to joy, and despair turns to hope. Chaos is turned to order, and what is wrong is made right again.
Revelation is the final chapter when all things are complete and all is made new. The villain is conquered, the pain is relieved, the relationship is restored— there is happily ever after.
In Revelation 21:3-5a, the Apostle John shares his God-given vision. He says, “Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: ‘Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.’ Then the one seated on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new.’”
Though we don’t live in Happily Ever After yet, this message is hope for us today. Because of Jesus, we are invited to know Him and live a life of intimacy with Him now, but in the future there is so much more promised for those who put their hope in Him. Knowing how the story ends anchors our hearts through the twists and turns of life. We can know whatever trial we are going through will not last forever.
Stories with tragic endings like untimely death and loss are not the final chapter. We may not like the chapter we’re in, but we can be sure of the ending because the last hope-filled chapter is promised. We will once again be with God and see Him as he truly is. We will be unhindered by sin and its effects and every ounce of grief, sadness and pain will no longer be ours.
Knowing the final chapter of God’s story, and the story of mankind makes life worth living. Today, let us lift our eyes above our present trouble, and fix our eyes on our promised Hope.
With our eyes on the future and the One Who holds it all, we can be courageous to face our day. The end of the story is not our small story, our pain or even our joys, but the end of our story and the story of us all is being with the One who created us all and loves with an intensity we cannot comprehend.
We don’t truly know something until we experience it and it becomes part of us. 1 John emphasizes the means by which we can know what love is, and knowing when it’s become who we are. He wrote to believers who were surrounded by false teaching, who had begun to lose sight of what, and Who, they believed; their confusion was evident in how they acted. He repeatedly used the phrase “This is how we know…” followed by actions done either by God or us.
Until we truly know and experience God’s love, the world around us will never learn it through us. Here are just a few of his examples of knowing that come from doing:
“This is how we know we are in him...” 1 John 2:5
“This is how we know what love is…” 1 John 3:16
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth…” 1 John 3:19
“This is how we know that He lives in us…” 1 John 3:24
“This is how we know that we love the children of God…” 1 John 5:2
“This is how God showed his love…” 1 John 4:9
I encourage you to pause and re-read the second half of each of these statements. Each one describes the means by which we can know a truth about God and ourselves. And each “how” phrase is followed by an action. Not once does this knowing come by what God said or what we say.
We know who God is by what He has done and is doing, not just by what He said. We know who we are by what we do and how we obey. This knowledge isn’t intellectual, but experiential.
Jesus said the world would know us by our love. Not by what we know about love, say about love, or what we post about love, but by how we actually love.
What God says about His love for us is only the tip of the iceberg of what He does to show us. His words have weight and depth because of His acts of sending His son, walking this earth, and dwelling and working in us.
What do your actions say about your love? Anyone can talk about love, but only the Spirit of God in us can teach us and enable us to demonstrate true and active love. The shallow love we offer others in our own strength is a false one. Ask Him to teach you how you are loved and how to love those around you. And be ready for each lecture to be accompanied by a lab session that changes who you are.
This is how they will know love: when we move from being clanging symbols, clattering about it with our mouths and social media accounts, to actually becoming it. Spirit, teach us to love, we want to truly know.