Where matters of faith are concerned we naturally look for any answer to our prayers. Often, the temptation is to grasp the first ‘answer’ that presents itself, no matter how far removed from the perfect answer it is. We take the square peg that presents itself and press it into the round hole of God’s promise. Think about Abram’s promise from God that God would make of him a nation.
First of all Abram and Sarah tried to take matters into their own hands in using Hagar to fulfill God’s promise. The child of this union, based on a lack of faith caused problems in the family unit and resulted in pain for Hagar and her son. In her distress she fled from righteous Abram’s family, and yet God was with her. In her distress God reassured her of his provision – for her situation, not Abram’s – and so she called her son Ishmael: God hears.
Hagar returned to the family and in due course we are told that Abram called his son by Hagar Ishmael. What may seem as nothing more than Abram confirming his concubine’s choice of name actually goes much deeper. Abram appropriated the title for himself. It wasn’t ‘God hears Hagar’s plea’ but ‘God hears my plea’ – in this Abram was wrong. We can see that this is what Abram believed because he later says to God: ‘Oh that Ishmael would stand before you’ (Genesis 17:18) – Abram had appropriated the wrong answer. Not only that, but he then invested all his energy in this wrong answer.
Faith is faith because it trusts outside of ourselves – by definition it is neither immediate nor easy, nor achievable on our own. What Abram teaches us is that patience and trust makes faith easier, not harder. Abram’s path would have been simpler in the short and long term if he had not tried to achieve God’s ends himself, and if he had not taken the wrong answer to his heart.
Our almighty God knows the end from the beginning, and he knows that we do not. But he expects us to trust his knowledge and power to bring his plans to fruition. As we wait for God’s promises in our lives, let’s not grasp at the first answer that presents itself no matter what its suitability, but let’s wait and pray and trust and look for the right answer at the right time for God’s glory and in God’s providence.
The good news is that God continued to work in Abram’s life and fulfilled his promise despite Abram’s failures. God will do the same for us.