Feature Article of Sunday, 2 August 2015
Columnist: Gyebi, Daniel
Is there anyone who has never experienced disappointment, misfortune, setback, calamity, breakup of relationship, serious illness, or death of a friend or family member that dashed his or her hopes? Don’t let that bad experience cause you to lose hope in God because God has not lost hope in you.
God works in mysterious ways. Today’s message of hope is buried in a sad story found in Genesis 21:8-21. The story is about Hagar and her son Ishmael. However, to put it in a proper context, we need to look at the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. You may recall that Abraham and Sarah could not bear children, even many years after God had promised Abraham that he was going to be the father of a great nation. Abraham was 75 years old (Gen 12:1-4). Several years later, out of frustration, Sarah gave her maidservant Hagar to Abraham as a wife so that they could build a family through that relationship. When Abraham was 86 years old, he and Hagar had a son and named him Ishmael (Genesis 16:16). Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 years old when they had their son Isaac (Genesis 17:17; Genesis 21:5). After the birth of Isaac, the relationship between Sarah and Hagar worsened. Sarah accused Ishmael of mocking and asked Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Abraham agonized about it, but after hearing from God that he would make Ishmael into a nation, he sent Hagar and Ishmael away (Genesis 21: 18-21).
The picture of a woman and her roughly 15 or 16 year old son, driven away from home and travelling across the desert to an unknown destination, must have been a sad one. Their water was used up in the middle of the desert or wilderness. All hope was lost. Hagar decided there was no need for them to continue walking till they dropped dead. Instead, they would conserve the little energy left. She put the boy in one place and went a little distance and sat there because she did not want to watch the boy die of thirst or dehydration. The boy started crying. God heard the boy crying and the angel of God asked Hagar, “what is the matter, Hagar?” and told her not to be afraid. God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water and she gave the boy a drink and filled their water container. They continued on their journey. God was with the boy as he grew up, and her mother found a wife for him from Egypt. This is a sad story with a happy ending. The story shows that God cares. God protects. God illumines. And God provides.
God cares. God heard the boy crying. God had been with Hagar and Ishmael all along the journey, but the cry of the boy and their feeling of loneliness prompted God to make himself visible and audible to them. The angel of God asked Hagar, “what is the matter, Hagar?” and told her not to be afraid. Before Hagar could respond, God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water and she gave the boy a drink. They needed water, but they also needed companionship and God provided them with both.
God Protects. Hagar and Ishmael were exposed to many dangers that could have led to their deaths. What if they had used up all their food and died of starvation or hunger? What if they had used up the water and died of thirst or dehydration. What if they had died because of the harsh elements of the desert? And what if they had been killed by wild beasts? The one answer to all these scenarios and many more like them is that none of those “killer dangers” was going to happen because God had promised in verse 13 that he was going to make Ishmael into a nation. We know that a dead teenager could not make a nation. That means no hunger, no thirst, no bad weather condition, or no wild beast was going to stand in the way of God’s promise. And so, unknown to Hagar and Ishmael, the watchful eyes of God were following them. The invisible hand of the Almighty God was directing their paths. The Spirit of God was giving them a gentle push and supplying them the energy to keep going. And the angel of God was monitoring their movements. God was their shepherd, directing them and defending them against all dangers seen and unseen.
God illumines. We should pray to God to open our eyes so that we may see. Hagar and the boy were very close to the well of water. God had led them there, but they were so much focused on their problems that they could not see the water. Many of us are like that. We panic and dwell on the negative. We become so blinded by our many problems and issues that we fail to pray or see the solutions that God may have placed before us. Sometimes, the solution could be advice from a brother, sister, friend, a younger person, or an unexpected source.
Sometimes, too, the solution could be Jesus himself standing in front of us, but we feel better complaining than seeking real solutions. Consider the story about Jesus healing a man at the pool of water near Jerusalem, as recorded in John Chapter 5. Many sick people spent time near the pool of water. The belief was that from time to time an angel of the Lord stirred up the water, and whoever stepped into the water first was healed. One of the sick people had been there for 38 years and could not jump into the water first. By God’s grace, Jesus passed by and learned that the man had been there for a long time, and so he asked the man, “Do you want to be healed?” Instead of answering yes, yes, yes Lord, I want to be healed, the man started complaining about how there was no one available to help him, and how others jumped into the water first. Jesus had mercy on him and healed him despite his nonresponsive answer. One may say that after 38 years, that man had earned his right to complain. However, whenever you are disappointed about something, do not complain for long; book an appointment with God and bring your issues before him. Thereafter, the solution may be staring at you.
We need God to illumine us so that we can see, hear, and understand clearly as the Prophet Elisha’s servant did in 2 Kings 6. The King of Aram had sent an army to come and capture Elisha. Elisha’s servant saw the army with horses and chariots from far away and got scared, but Elisha told him not to be afraid because the forces with them were greater than those with the enemy army. He prayed and God opened the servant’s eyes and he saw that a greater force surrounded and protected Elisha. We also should pray for God to open our eyes so we can see.
God Provides. God led them to the place where there was water. In the middle of the desert, God provided the one thing they needed most to survive – water. Probably the water was so quiet that they could not hear its sound or see it. This is an example of what David said beautifully in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me besides quiet waters, he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-2, emphasis mine). Don’t lose hope in God when your water runs out. God will provide; he will lead you besides quiet waters.
When problems come your way and all hope seems lost, pause for a moment and ask yourself by name; for example, “what is the matter, Daniel?” Write down what you consider as the matters troubling you. Look for the hand of God in every seemingly bad situation that comes your way. Then, ask yourself, “is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18: 14). This was the question posed by one of the three angels who told Sarah that she would bear a child in her old age. Remember that we are talking about the Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth and the Creator of man and all living and non-living things. Therefore, you have two possible answers to that question: (a) No, nothing is too hard for God; or (b) God can do all things. Once you select the correct answer – you cannot go wrong with either choice — commit the matter to God in prayer, and see what God will do for you.
God knows everything, but he wants you to ASK. For example, the angel asked Hagar what the matter was, and Jesus asked the man at the pool whether he wanted to be healed, even though it was obvious what Hagar and the man wanted. Therefore, do not get too tired to ASK. Jesus himself says that Ask and it will be given to you; Seek and you will find; Knock and the door will be opened to you. He did not end there. He went further to assure us that anyone who asks will receive, who seeks will find, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8). It may take time, sometimes a very long time, but don’t lose hope in God; just be patient and work with God’s own plan and time table or schedule. Remember that Abraham was 75 years old when the Lord promised him that he would make him into a great nation. It took 11 years, at age 86, before Abraham had his first child, Ishmael, and 25 years, at age 100, before he had Isaac, the promised child (Genesis 21:5). Therefore, do not be discouraged by deferred success that those without hope refer to as failure. God provides to fulfill his purposes.
The thought of losing her only child must have been devastating to Hagar. She put the boy down, went some distance, and sat down saying that she could not watch the boy die (v 15-16). Have you had any near-death experience? Has any doctor told you that you have certain number days to live? For some of us, the fear of death may be enough to cause us to lose hope in God. Don’t lose hope in God because God has not lost hope in you. In the name of Jesus rebuke any defeatist spirit that wants to frighten you to death. Go to the Lord in prayer and say, as David did, that “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.” (Psalm 118:17). In those low moments of life, be rest assured that you are not alone; God is there with you. Again, join David in saying that, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me….” (Psalm 23:4).).
The presence of God in our lives makes all the difference. In the inspirational poem, “The Footprints in the Sand,” largely attributed to Mary Stevenson, the writer said that she had a dream in which she was walking with the Lord along the beach. She noticed that sometimes there were two sets of footprints in the sand, and at other times there were only one set of footprints. She noticed further that it was during her most difficult times that she saw only one set of footprints, so she asked God about his promise to walk with her always. God answered that the times when she saw only one set of footprints, were the times when he carried her.
Our God is carrying us through all the changing scenes of life. The one set of footprints were not yours; they were God’s. And God has not lost hope in us. The father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son did not lose hope in the son (Luke 15). God is hopeful for all of us that the blood that Jesus shed on Calvary will not be in vain. God is hopeful that all of us will come to repentance and accept his free gift of salvation through his only son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus says that: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me, I will never drive away.” (John 6:37).
Like Hagar and her son, when you find yourself wandering in the desert or wilderness and you feel that God has left you to deal with your problems all by yourself, think again. Remember that weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). Therefore, don’t lose hope in God because God has not lost hope in you.
Prayer is the key. May God grant us the grace to seek Him daily through our prayers.
Dr. Daniel Gyebi, Attorney-at-Law, Texas, U.S.A., and Founder, PrayerHouse Ministry, Kumasi, Ghana.
PrayerHouse Ministry is dedicated to providing a quiet facility for Christians to pray individually by themselves without any intermediary priest, pastor or any other person. This is a free service. No money is demanded or accepted. The facility is located at Kyerekrom / Fumesua, near Building and Road Research Institute Offices, one mile off the Kumasi-Accra Road and next to a house called Grace Castle. If you are interested, please contact Agnes at 027-7423815.