Do you ever find yourself trying to help God out just a little? You believe He’s going to answer some prayer, but you keep trying to figure out how, and pretty soon, you’re trying to orchestrate one of those possibilities. Abram and Sarai had been given a great promise, but years had passed with no answer in sight and they took matters into their own hands. Unfortunately, just as it does in our lives, it lead to all kinds of problems and revealed some things about their hearts.
Today, in “Kings, Kingdoms & Functional Gods,” we’ll talk about who or what is really “lord” at that point in time. We’ll also look at how all this relates to worry, how the only way we can stand before God is through “The Multitude of His Mercy” and “His Wisdom for the Upright.”
Genesis 15 & 16
Kings, Kingdoms & Functional Gods
Helping God Out
When God called Abram to leave his homeland, He told him that He would make a great nation from his descendants, But here in chapter 15, Abram is starting to wonder:
2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”
God patiently reassured him that He would keep His promise.
4 … “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
“He believed God …” We know it was genuine faith because God “accounted it to him for righteousness.” He was saved by his faith just as we are.
So what happened next, after this great, faith-filled conversation with God?
One chapter later … God still hasn’t given them a child, so Sarai comes up with her own solution and Abram goes along with it. She gives her handmaiden Hagar to Abram as his wife so they can get the child they so desperately want. How like us they were! How many times do we complicate our lives by trying to help God out?!
One of the questions I’ve been asked many times about this passage is, “Why did God allow this to happen? And why did He, so frequently, allow the patriarchs in the Old Testament to have multiple wives?”
“Allow” is the key word here. It wasn’t that God wanted them to do so. In fact, you can see in this story and in others, that it always leads to strife and problems of every kind. God doesn’t hide any of that. God’s word, not only reveals the truth about God, but it exposes human nature, even at its worst. God lets us see humankind with all our warts so we can see our desperate need for Him.
Sarai’s solution was a custom in the culture around them, but it was not the way God designed things. It lead to a multitude of problems beginning with Hagar’s loss of respect for her mistress and the rejection of her authority.
We, also, see the very human interaction between Abram and Sarai. She immediately blames him for doing what she suggested!
I wonder what she might have said to her husband. Maybe something like, “Well, you should have known I was just having a bad day. You didn’t have to be so happy to go along with it!”
Then Abram, instead of dealing with the situation says, in effect, “Look, this was your idea, now you deal with it any way you like!”
Can you relate?
What we don’t see here is either of them taking responsibility for their own actions. And guess what, the situation will come back to haunt them. Again, God doesn’t hide any of this, but lets us see it for what it is.
The amazing thing is, He still used these people for His divine purposes! That should give us hope that He really can use us! Not that we can live any way we please and expect everything to go fine. In His love, He will allow us to suffer the consequences of our actions when we do things our own way, just as He did with them. But He will often use even our messes for His divine purposes! What an awesome God we serve!
Is He Lord?
Now to our New Testament reading. This section of Scripture begins by encouraging us to store up eternal treasure rather than the things of this world (vss. 19-21).
What we treasure tells us a lot about our hearts. Sometimes, even good things, can become far too important to us.
Wanting our children to be obedient is a good thing, but if we’re willing to sin (yelling, manipulating) to get it, we may desire it for the wrong reasons or want it too much.
Wanting our husbands to lead the family and grow spiritually is a good thing, but if we’re willing to nag, criticize, or become sinfully angry, we treasure it more than pleasing God (2 Cor. 5.9-10).
It wasn’t wrong for Abram and Sarai to want the child they were promised, just as it isn’t wrong for any of us to desire a child. But when they took matters into their own hands and responded sinfully, they revealed their lack of trust in God to do what He had said he would do.
Matthew 6.24 says:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Jesus is clearly speaking about money and material goods. But the principle is true for anything that we come to rely on in place of God.
“No one can serve two masters.” To fully understand this passage we must understand what it means to make Jesus our Lord. This is much more than just asking Him to be our Savior or to “come into our hearts.” He is calling us to willingly submit and allow Him to be our Master: to submit our will to His, our plans to His, our ideas to His, and our understanding to His.
When we decide that we have a better way or we simply can’t submit to what God says, we have decided that we are the master of our lives. We may say that He’s Lord, but we are living another way. We are loyal to self and not Christ. Self has become our functional god.
It often starts with thoughts like:
“I know what the Bible says, but …”
“Well, I just know God wants me to be happy.” (when our happiness requires going against Scripture)
“I’m not Jesus.” (as an excuse for not obeying a clear command)
“The only one I have to answer to is God.”
We could, probably, all add many more to the list. But any time there is something more important to us than pleasing God, we are looking to that thing to bring us the peace and joy that only He can give.
Worry & His Kingdom
Verses 25-33 contain one of two great passages about worry. The other is Philippians 4.6-8. If you struggle with the sin of worry, spend time meditating on these two passages. Instead of worrying, verse 33 says:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
What things? The things He’s been talking about in the previous verses: food, shelter, clothing—provision—the things we need. And what does it mean to seek the kingdom of God? It’s seeking His right way of doing things; it’s what it’s like to have God as King!
If we go back to our Genesis reading and apply it to Abram and Sarai, we might say they needed to let God be in control and seek His way of working out the problem and to trust Him to provide for them. Remember in Abram and Sarai’s time, having children meant having someone to take over the family business and someone to care for you in your old age.
There was no Social Security or retirement plan. Children were their retirement plan. These were very human people, dealing with very human emotions: fear, worry, a desire for children, impatience (wanting to see HOW God was going to work things out and wanting it NOW) and self-sufficiency (taking control for themselves instead of waiting on God). Sound familiar?
Today’s Other Readings:
The Multitude of His Mercy
Verse 4 says that He is not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness (not with people in the Bible and not with us). But in verse 7 the psalmist says:
“But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy …”
It’s the only way any of us can enter in.
His Wisdom for the Upright
I love verses 6 & 7:
“For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly.”
Ephesians 5.15 says, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.”
That word “circumspectly” means “accurately, diligently, or carefully.” The only way we can live circumspectly or wisely is by knowing and understanding God through His Word. And He offers His wisdom freely! It’s stored up for us, but we must dig it out by reading, studying, and meditating on His Word.
When we do, it will be a shield to us, because it will help keep us from doing what Abram and Sarai did, trying to work things out our own way.
For further thought:
What does God want you to take away from today’s reading? Have you seen some area of your life where you have failed to trust God? Failed to fully surrender to His Lordship? Or failed to seek His wisdom? If so, go to Him, seek His forgiveness and step out in obedience.
What will you do to make Bible reading an ongoing habit in 2017? I’d like to encourage you to set a goal to read through the Bible.
And I hope you’ll sign up for my daily email. It can serve as a gentle reminder to stay on track. I try to make comments that are relevant to the daily struggles and questions that I hear in my counseling and discipleship ministries.
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