God’s Will, God’s Way
All of us have heard of the patriarch Abraham, father of both the Jewish and Arab peoples. But perhaps we don’t realize that he was not always Abraham, the man of faith. He began his life as Abram, an idol-worshipper living in Ur, a prosperous city along the Euphrates River known for its worship of a moon goddess.
One day, God came to Abram and called him to leave this pagan city, going to a place God would later reveal. God promised to make of Abram a great nation, to bless him and make him a blessing, and to bless all the families of the earth through him. Abram believed God’s promises, and began a great voyage of faith.
Along his journey, Abram had moments when his faith was strong. In those times, he was a model for us all. But Abram also had times when his faith was weak. He walked by faith, but sometimes with a severe limp. I suppose we can all identify with Abram in this regard.
One of these weaker episodes in Abram’s journey of faith is recorded in Genesis 16, where we are told of the conception and birth of Ishmael, his first child.
Abram was eighty-five years old. For ten years, he had been living as a nomad in the land God had promised to him. For a full decade he had been waiting for God to fulfill His promise to make him a father. But after ten long years, God’s promise still had not come true. Abram wasn’t getting any younger, and neither was his wife Sarai. They began to wonder if God’s promise would ever come true.
Then Sarai had an idea. Perhaps, she thought, they should take matters into their own hands to make God’s promise come true. She had a younger maid, an Egyptian named Hagar. It was not uncommon for men in those days to have multiple wives. And so Sarai crafted a plan to give Hagar as a wife to her husband, and bear children by proxy. She proposed this plan to Abram, who agreed. He took Hagar as a concubine, and she did have a child. After all those years, Abram was at last a father.
The plan had worked beautifully, just as Abram and Sarai had designed it. Or so they thought. As is so often the case, Abram and Sarai found they could not truly steer their own lives even after grabbing the reins.
You see, when Hagar realized she had conceived, she became proud. Her status had changed. She had been a servant girl in Abram’s house. Now, she was the mother of his child. Her mistress, Sarai, had been childless for many years, but Hagar had produced an heir very quickly. Sarai had been over Hagar, but now Hagar began to look down on Sarai and treat her with contempt.
Sarai responded in kind. She envied Hagar. We can only imagine how Sarai felt, having gone so many years without children only to have Hagar conceive immediately. And though Sarai was the architect of this whole scheme, she blamed Abram for this turmoil.
Under the strain of two quarrelsome wives, Abram grew weary. All he had ever wanted was to see God’s promise fulfilled. Instead, he found himself in the middle of a domestic civil war. His entire house had been engulfed in a storm of chaos and tension. Exasperated, he told Sarai, “Hagar is your servant. Do whatever you wish with her.”
Sarai could not bring herself to simply dismiss Hagar, or grant her freedom. That would be to admit that her misery was of her own making. Instead, she began to abuse Hagar. Hagar hoped Abram would take her side, since she was carrying his child, but Abram does not. Feeling abused and abandoned, Hagar ran away.
What a mess! How many times do we see it? We get exactly what we want, only to discover that it is not what we wanted at all.
Thankfully, the story does not end with the chaos of human design, but with the gracious redemption of God’s design. Abram, Sarai, and Hagar wrecked everything, but God restores everything. People ruin things, God redeems things.
God sent Hagar back home with two things—humility and encouragement. First, He humbled her, commanding her to submit to Sarai’s authority. Then He encouraged her by giving her the same promise He had given Abram, to multiply her descendants greatly so that they could not be counted.
We should learn the lessons of this passage.
Abram and Sarai had good intentions. They meant to do God’s will. But they mistakenly believed they could do God’s will in their way.
Many people today have this same thought. They mean well. They believe God exists and they desire a good relationship with Him. But they want to relate to God on their own terms. They want to do His will in their own way.
The greatest example of this is in the matter of belief. God has made clear that a right relationship with Him can only be had by faith in His Son, Jesus. Yet many people want relationship with God on some other basis, such as their own inherent goodness or some good things they may have done. They want God’s promise of eternal life, but think that promise can be fulfilled by their own plan. God has only one plan, which is for us to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hear what God Himself has to say on this point: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. … Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:16, 18.
Similarly, many profess to believe in Christ, but live under their own plans rather than His plan. They seek the benefit of eternal life without the burden of bearing His yoke. Some want to know Christ, but not submit to Him as Lord. Some want the hope of resurrection without the threat of death. Some want the crown of glory without bearing a cross in this life. Some want the joy of sins forgiven without the struggle of forgiving others. Some want peace with God without yielding in humility and obedience to His commandments. However well-intentioned these people may be, this is not God’s way.
Are you seeking to do God’s will in your own way? You will only make a mess of it. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” Prov. 14:12. Far better to trust in the Lord. We may not understand His ways, and they may even present us with hardships. But in the end, His promises will prove more secure than life itself.
May God give us the grace to do His will, in His way.