Take the Initiative, or Wait on God?

It was a legitimate solution, and when you think about it, an understandable mistake. In Genesis 12 and then again in Genesis 15, God promised Abram many descendants; indeed God said that his children and their children would outnumber the stars in the sky, and the entire earth would be blessed through him. So Abram knew that it was God’s plan for his life to be the father of a great nation.

But so far? Nothing. So when Sarai showed up in Genesis 16 with a plan to take the initiative, Abram was on board:

“Abram’s wife Sarai had not borne him children. She owned an Egyptian slave named Hagar. Sarai said to Abram, ‘Since the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, go to my slave; perhaps I can have children by her.’ And Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar, her Egyptian slave, and gave her to her husband as a wife for him. This happened after Abram had lived in the land of Canaan for 10 years. He slept with Hagar, and she became pregnant” (Gen. 16:1–4).

You can certainly understand where this came from, right? I mean, it had been over 10 years since God had promised Abram a child. And the biological clock was already ticking away at that point. They had waited and waited and waited, and then logic took over:

“God promised us we would have a son.”

“We’ve waited for that to happen. Is it possible we misheard him?”

“We know what his plan is, we just don’t know the specifics of how to get there.”

“Here’s another option to get to where God wants us to be.”

That’s how Ishmael came to be—an effort to get where God wanted Abram and Sarai to be. We can certainly understand their perspective; we might even be able to justify their actions. We can do so because we are familiar with that same line of thinking.

We have a sense that God has called us to do this or that with our lives, but then the days get long. We get impatient. We start to wonder if we heard him correctly. And then finally, we take matters into our own hands and presume upon the wisdom, timing and plan of God.

There is a fine line to walk here between actively waiting for God to fulfill his purposes and promises and becoming a self-promoter. Abram erred to the latter.

Now interestingly enough, centuries later, Paul commented on the whole Ishmael/Isaac situation in the book of Galatians, saying one child was born according to the flesh and one born according to the promise. In the context of Galatians, you might also say that one child represents a life lived by works and one represents a life lived by faith. When we live according to works, we feel like we have to take matters into our own hands. We have to promote our cause. We have to do something. We have to move, to network, to make it happen. That is contrasted to a life of faith.

The life of faith frees you from having to promote your own cause. It frees you from presuming upon the promises of God. It frees you to trust and live and wait for God, trusting in his wisdom and timing.

Do you feel as though God has been long in fulfilling his promises to you? Are you growing tired of waiting for him? Don’t let your impatience and frustration lead you to presumption. Instead, return to the character of the One who promised. And remember that he never fails. Because he doesn’t, we can have the energy and perseverance required to wait for him.

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This article originally appeared on thinke.org and is reposted here by permission.

Michael Kelley
Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is director of Discipleship at LifeWay Christian Resources and the author of Growing Down: Unlearning the Patterns of Adulthood that Keep Us from Jesus.