Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Changing Plans


“ The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her. “ ~ Sarai, Genesis 16:2

Most of us are familiar with God’s promise to Abram of innumerable offspring - and we know how Sarah tried to “help” the process along. In fact, I felt so familiar with this story that when I was reading it recently, I was tempted to skim through it just because I ‘knew’ the story already. But, because I felt that prideful ‘been there, read that’ moment, I purposefully slowed down to read it again. And God faithfully revealed a fresh new detail that I’d never noticed previously.

God had decided long ago that Sarai wasn’t going to have children. I feel certain she prayed for children. But somewhere in her journey, she settled with the reality that God had closed her womb and that possibility. I kind of found it curious that she hadn’t tried to build a family earlier through her maidservants – but instead it seems she had just resigned to the state of being childless. When Abram shares God’s revelation with her, she doesn’t seem to lament this change of plans – but shifts into “planning” mode following her belief in his encounter. She simply states what she’d seen all along – that if God’s plan was for Abram to have children, it wasn’t going to be through her. How did she know that? Because that’s how it had always been. The Lord had already closed her womb.

“The Lord has kept me from having children.”

Here’s what I want us to catch. Sarai’s mistake wasn’t solely a lack of faith in God’s ability to keep His word or make His plan happen. Her ‘faith mistake’ was interpreting God’s future plan for her by her past with Him.

Pretty reasonable assumption, don’t you think?

In fact, I’d go so far as to say for most of us, God is only as big as we’ve experienced Him personally at that moment. I mean, we read the stories and know in ‘theory’ that God can do a whole lot, but often we assume that power is for everyone else… for another time and place, and a story better than ours is at the moment.

Think about your own life. Is there anything that you’re eager for God’s involvement in, but you find yourself limiting the possible outcomes to only the realities you’ve experienced so far with Him? Maybe you’ve returned home from the field to a church that you feel will never change. Maybe you start down a path towards a new mission field, only to have God put on the brakes. Maybe your marriage, which seemed so full of life at the beginning, feels increasingly dead as time goes by.

The call to let God work in our lives free from the assumptions of His work in the past is a tough one. Joseph is a fascinating example. When Pharaoh’s dream needs interpreting, and Joseph is called up out of his cell, we assume he reveled in the fact that he was finally vindicated. But I wonder if Joseph was really all that excited? I’m sure being out of prison was a relief, but when Pharaoh says he will give Joseph one of the highest positions in all of Egypt, does Joseph struggle with a little flashback? I mean, in Joseph’s life, interpreting dreams and being raised to positions of power were always followed by dark valleys of injustice and loneliness. Was he tempted to just ask for freedom and walk away from the leadership?

The more life God gives us, the more tempted we are to think we’ve seen Him work as much as He’s going to work. It’s easy to be a ‘fan’ of God and still bind ourselves and our faith up to only what we’ve experienced firsthand. I encourage you to anchor yourself to the truth that God doesn’t say that He can only do what we ask or imagine. He doesn’t even say He can do a little more that we can ask or imagine. He says he can do exceedingly, abundantly more than we ask or imagine. That’s a big invitation to imagine beyond what you’ve experienced so far. Keep seeking!

-Heather Pitney Thornton

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