Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect

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Unintended Consequences of Taking Control- Women of the Word Part 3


Giddy with anticipation, the kids could hardly contain themselves as we waited for the other families to arrive. It was a warm summer morning and we’d invited some friends to join us for a day of fun at a small lake about an hour from home. All of us were meeting at a central location so we could caravan together. As an afterthought, I’d also printed directions for each family, just in case we got separated (this was before the era of smartphones and navigation systems).

Shortly after getting on the road, one family called to say they needed to make a stop but would catch up with us at the lake. An hour later, the caravan arrived and we began unpacking towels, coolers, inner tubes and water skis.   Keeping an eye out for the family who had peeled off from the group, we began our day of fun, assuming they would arrive at any minute. After an hour, I called them. When they described their location and wondered how much longer it would take to arrive, I was perplexed. They were miles north of the lake and actually needed to get off the freeway to head south toward us. I couldn’t figure out how they had veered so far off course.

It turns out that they’d decided to deviate from the directions and take a “short cut,” which actually bypassed the lake and deposited them on the freeway quite a bit north of where they needed to be. Once we figured out they were heading in the wrong direction, they turned around and eventually joined us, albeit frazzled and several hours late. I’d never thought to include directions for what roads not to take.

We don’t always think of the consequences of ignoring directions and doing things our own way, do we? I think most of us like to believe we’re in control. Even when things are clearly laid out for us, we’re sure we know better.

That was certainly true with Abram’s wife, Sarai, in Genesis 16. (They were later re-named “Abraham” and “Sarah” by the Lord). Despite the fact that God had promised Abram he would be the father of a great nation, Sarai got tired of waiting and decided to take control of their situation.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’ Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.” (Genesis 16:1-3, NIV)

Sarai’s decision to take control had some unfortunate and unintended consequences. Although Hagar did conceive a child according to Sarai’s plan, the pregnancy caused her to show contempt toward her barren mistress. Before the child’s birth, an angel told Hagar: “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (Genesis 16:12, NIV)

And once the child, Ishmael, was born, he must have been a source of tremendous grief for Sarai. With a second family, Abraham’s heart was divided and his responsibilities were increased. And even when Sarah (at this point re-named by God) gave birth to Isaac and saw God’s promise fulfilled, Ishmael continued to cause her pain.

“ The child [Isaac] grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’ The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.’” (Genesis 21:8-13, NIV)

True to His promise, God allowed Ishmael to have twelve sons (listed in Genesis 25). However, the passage ends with a sobering fulfillment of what the angel had prophesied before Ishmael’s birth: Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.” (Genesis 25:17-18, NIV)

And to think, the contempt and hostility Sarah and her descendants experienced was all a consequence of her decision to take control. In spite of her “shortcut”, God kept His promises, but He also allowed the consequences of her actions.

I think we’re all tempted to take shortcuts instead of doing things God’s way. We don’t like waiting and we don’t like the time it takes for a process to unfold. We forget that growth and maturity develop slowly and that God rarely caters to our desire for instant gratification. Few of us want to walk the long, slow road of obedience and let God’s plans unfold in His perfect timing.

But when we rush God’s timing and try to “help” Him fulfill His promises sooner, we create problems for others and ourselves. It’s like trying to force a tightly closed flower bud to open instead of waiting for it to bloom. In the process of trying to get the flower to look the way we want, we ruin it.

Where are you tempted to take control instead of trusting God? What unintended consequences have you reaped from doing this in the past? Is there a situation in your future that you’re tempted to manipulate and control so it will turn out the way you want? Let Sarah’s story be a warning to you. God’s sovereignty will always prevail, but He won’t stop you from creating a mess for yourself when you do things on your terms.

If you’re tempted to take control and need some encouragement to wait on God, click on the link and listen to Meredith Andrews’ song “Soar.” It will remind you of God’s promises and that He is bigger and better than any plans you can make on your own.

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Waiting Well

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Climbing into the driver’s seat, my sixteen-year-old son started the car and drove us out of the parking lot. Staring at the road ahead, he said, “No offense, Mom, but I can’t wait ‘till I can drive places by myself. It feels like I’m the only one in my grade who doesn’t have a license yet.” He still had a few weeks to go before his driving test and was itching for the freedom his classmates had.

I smiled, remembering my own impatience to take the drivers test on my sixteenth birthday. Much to my humiliation, I failed it not once, but twice. The ongoing waiting and practicing seemed endless to me. Finally, six months after I turned sixteen, I passed the test and could drive on my own. I was a much better driver than I’d been previously. Although I hadn’t liked being humbled and forced to wait, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

I don’t know anyone who likes waiting. In fact, our society seems consumed with finding ways to shorten or eliminate waiting altogether. Advertisements abound with promises of delivering goods and services faster. We are being conditioned to become a culture of impatient people. We want instant gratification and we want it now.

There are some things, however, that just take time. We are forced to be patient as we wait for a pregnancy to come to term, a job offer to arrive, or a home to be remodeled. We must be patient waiting for physical or emotional healing. Sometimes we have to be patient while we wait for someone else to make a decision that impacts us. But while we wait, a process is unfolding and God is at work. I like to think of it as a flower blooming. A tightly closed bud that is forced to open early will be ruined. Only time and patience will reveal the beauty of the flower as its petals slowly unfurl.

The Bible is filled with characters that had to wait. And while they waited, God was at work in their hearts, minds and circumstances. He was preparing them for His plan and would not reveal it until the time was right.

One of my favorite examples is King David. We learn in 1 Samuel 16 that the God directed the prophet Samuel to anoint David as the next King of Israel at the age of twenty. However, David spent the following ten years of his life hiding in the desert, fleeing from the murderous threats of the current King of Israel, Saul. It was not until David was thirty that he finally took the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 5).

Were those years of waiting a waste? I think not. David had a lot of maturing to do. God used that time to teach him, to humble him and to develop his skills as a leader. David won over the hearts of the Israelites as they saw his character, his integrity and his devotion to God. Despite the people’s love for him, he refused to harm King Saul or usurp the throne, even when others goaded him to do it. He waited until Saul’s death to claim what had been promised to him. And during that time, he wrote many of the Psalms that people have been reading for thousands of years since. David poured out his emotions to God in the lines he wrote. Think what we would have missed if he hadn’t been forced to wait on God. We are blessed by his words because he waited well. Knowing this makes reading the psalms he wrote even more encouraging:

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14 NIV)

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (Psalm 130:5 NIV)

Waiting on God is not waiting in vain. We can live each day knowing that God has placed us where we are for a reason. He has things to teach us at every step of our journeys. Learning to wait well means looking to God to refine your character, to smooth out your rough edges and to build your trust in Him.

After months of waiting, the day of my son’s driving test finally arrived. By the time he pulled into the DMV, he had logged numerous hours behind the wheel practicing in a variety of situations– crossing bridges during rainstorms, navigating the streets of San Francisco at rush hour, crawling down a two lane country road behind painfully slow tractors, driving fast on freeways and slow in suburban neighborhoods. His wait for the freedom of driving alone had been filled with opportunities to learn and improve his skills.

He approached the test with cautious optimism. Being one of the last to turn sixteen, he knew friends who had passed and others who had failed. He was ready for the wait to end and hoped the DMV tester would agree.

The grin on his face when he returned from the driving test told me all I needed to know. It was a satisfying end to a wait that seemed like an eternity to him.

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Many of us have been waiting much longer for much bigger issues. If you are in a season of waiting, let me encourage you to spend your energy seeking God and learning to trust Him. If you endure a wait with your focus on your circumstances, you are likely to become anxious, impatient, or bitter. Instead, I encourage you to use the time to pursue God. You’ll find a deeper understanding of Him, an appreciation for His Word and a more thankful heart when your season of waiting comes to an end. Wait well and watch how He uses it to produce wisdom, maturity and faith in you.

The band Tenth Avenue North has a song called “Stars in the Night.” It uses the metaphor of sailors charting their course on the high seas by using the stars. It is an encouragement for Christians to use the promises of God as the “stars in the night” to light their paths and give them hope in dark and confusing times of waiting.

For additional encouragement on this topic, see my post from January 2014 “When Praying Expectantly Wears Thin.”


When Praying Expectantly Wears Thin


Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.  –Proverbs 13:12

California is having its driest winter in the state’s 164-year history.  While I know this is bad news for our water supply, I must admit I’m enjoying the dry days, warm weather and clear blue skies.   I can’t make it rain, so I might as well enjoy the sunshine.  Who could blame me?

Recently our family took advantage of a warm and sunny Saturday to go mountain biking together.  My younger son had been asking to ride on a specific trail that he spied a while back, so we thought it was the perfect day to try it.  He knew that getting to the fun downhill part would require quite a bit of hill climbing first.  I was pretty impressed he wanted to do such a challenging ride.  At first the promise of that grand finale on the second half buoyed his spirits as we started our ascent.  Pretty soon, however, he started falling behind the rest of us. The excitement for the descent evaporated as his muscles burned and his lungs gasped for air.  When he finally reached the top, he’d lost all desire to finish the ride and wanted to turn around and go back the way we came.

I cheered for him as he walked his bike up to where we were waiting and reminded him of his goal.  “You can’t stop now, buddy!  The trail you’ve been waiting for is coming soon.  Just two more small hills and we’ll be on the fun part.  You can do it!”  I was trying hard to sound positive and encouraging, but he wasn’t buying it.

“This ride is stupid and I don’t want to do it anymore,” he grumbled as he dropped his bike to the ground and sat hunched at a picnic table nearby.

He’d been waiting expectantly for what he thought would be a fun ride, but the journey there was harder than he anticipated.  Maybe you can relate.  We all have those times when our enthusiasm begins to wear thin the longer our expectations go unmet.  I couldn’t help thinking about this as I did the lesson for Week 4, Day 4 of Faithful, Abundant, True:  Three Lives Going Deeper Still.  I love that Priscilla Shirer is encouraging believers to pray big prayers.  She says  “Knowing God and the resources He’s made available to you … changes not only how you pray but what you feel free to ask God for.  You will begin to realize that you don’t have to pray small or with reservation.  You can ask the Lord for exactly what you desire no matter how outlandish or impossible it may appear to be”  (p.92).

I wholeheartedly believe Priscilla’s words to be true.  God can do anything we ask.  However, I also know firsthand that “whether God moves is a question of His sovereignty, not His ability.  What He does is His business.  Believing that He can is our business”  (p.94).  Sometimes praying expectantly gets tiring, maybe even a little discouraging.  Waiting with no clear sense of when a prayer might be answered is hard work when we try to do it on our own strength.  Over the years of waiting for different prayers to be answered, I’ve learned some things that have helped me not to lose hope.  Below are a few thoughts and verses on how to keep your focus wear it needs to be as you pray expectantly and wait for God to reveal His plans to you.

-Keep Your Eyes On God Instead of on the Answer You Seek

It can be easy to fixate on the answer we’re looking for instead of on God.  Praising God for who He is and reminding yourself of all Jesus did for you can bring you a peace that is not dependent upon your circumstances or a particular answer you’re seeking.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  –Hebrews 12:1-3

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.  –Isaiah 26:3-4

-Maintain An Eternal Perspective

Sometimes we get so consumed with the thing we’re praying for that we forget this world is not our permanent home.  It’s helpful to take a step back sometimes and see your situation from a different perspective.  We are just passing through this world on our way to our home in heaven.  A good question we can ask ourselves to keep in check is: “In the light of eternity, how much does this really matter?”

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   -2 Corinthians 4:16-18

-Remember that God Does Things His Way, Not Yours

It’s easy to focus so much on the outcome we’re expecting that we miss the ways God is already at work in our lives (or even in a particular situation we’re praying for).  When we pray expectantly, it’s helpful to take God’s sovereignty into consideration.  We need to give Him room to move and work in the way He sees best instead of expecting Him to do things according to the expectations we have.

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.  –Isaiah 55:8-9

-Focus on Gratitude

When we are praying expectantly about a specific situation, it might be easy to forget all the things God has done or is doing in our lives.  It builds our faith and our trust in God when we take time to list the specific things we can already be thankful for in our lives.  We can even thank God for how He is working behind the scenes while we wait.  In all circumstances, there is something for which we can thank God.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

-Pray for Strength and Confidence in God as You Wait Expectantly

It is okay to admit to God that we are growing weary or that our confidence in Him is waning.  We can ask Him to restore our strength, confidence and hope as we wait.  We can ask Him to show us what we can be learning as we trust Him for the answers to our prayers.  It helps to be honest and admit when we’re struggling and need help adjusting our attitudes.

I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord 
in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord;
 be strong and take heart
 and wait for the Lord.  –Psalm 27:13-14

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.  –Psalm 139:23-4

-Let Others Encourage You

It’s always easier to wait for something when we have company.  Enlisting a trusted friend to pray with us and to encourage us as we wait for God helps us to stay hopeful.  It also keeps us from getting bitter or disillusioned if the answer is taking longer than we think it should.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. –Hebrews 10:23-25

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. –Hebrews 3:12-14

You may be wondering how things turned out for my son on our bike ride.   After he regained his strength and listened to our encouraging words, he was willing to get on his bike and continue.  At first, he was sullen as he trudged up the next hill pushing his bike, but he was definitely trying harder.  Not surprisingly, all of his grumpiness disappeared when we finally reached the trail that wound back down the mountain.  When we stopped to enjoy the sweeping views part way down, he was back to his old enthusiastic self and couldn’t wait to keep riding.  He led the way down the hill and was thrilled with what he’d accomplished at the end.

I pray that you’ll find hope and courage as you pray expectantly.  There can even be joy in the waiting if you’re open to seeing it.  God has great things in store, there is no doubt about that.

Click on the song “While I’m Waiting” by John Waller for some further encouragement as you wait.