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.