Abram sat in the door of his tent and pondered the idea. His wife Sarai had come to him earlier in the day with a radical thought. She was barren and longed for a child. She also had a handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. What if Abram took Hagar as his wife? She could be a surrogate mother for Sarai. It made sense. It was logical. It also interested Abram because ten years earlier God has promised him that he would be the father of a great nation. At this point, he was childless. Perhaps this was a way that he could see the fulfillment of the promise. It was an intriguing thought.
After much internal debate, at last he consented. It made perfect sense. It would solve so many problems. Abram took Hagar as his wife. In time, she bore a son. The son’s name was Ishmael. The world would never be the same. Unfortunately, this child was not the fulfillment of the promise God had made years earlier.
Abram would later be renamed Abraham. Sarai would later be renamed Sarah. Twenty-five years after the original promise, Abraham and Sarah saw the true fulfillment in the way God intended. Against all odds or human reasoning, Sarah gave birth when she was ninety-one years old. They named the boy Isaac. The nation that would come from their union would become the nation of Israel today.
Today, the religion adhered to by most of Ishmael’s descendants is the fastest growing religion in the world, Islam. Ishmael’s descendants fill the ranks of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hamas. If only Abram had been willing to wait on God! How different would our world look today?
In Abram’s reasoning, he had figured out a way to help God. I call these moments “Ishmael Moments.” They are the moments when we debate giving God a hand in fulfilling his promises. They never end well.
Last month I wrote about the idea that when we follow God by faith, sometimes faith and obedience go hand in hand. We obey in faith when we have a clear directive from God. But what do you do when the path forward is not so clear? You’ve been praying and seeking God’s direction. Perhaps you think you have figured out a way that you can help God fulfill his promise. It makes sense. It is completely logical. Be very, very careful. You may be experiencing an Ishmael Moment.
Let me be very clear here. God does not need my help in fulfilling his promises! Obedience? Yes. But God does not need me to figure out how I can make his promise a reality. This is where I think many of us struggle. I know I do.
I have a situation in my life right now. I have prayed about it extensively. I have seen God at work in other areas of my life, so I know he is aware of my circumstances. I believe his promise regarding the situation. But I feel stranded in the Valley of Wait. As I waited, I figured out a possible solution. Then I brought my idea to God. I prayed, “Hey God, what if I did this? What do you think?” All I got in response was silence. Undeterred, I continued to pray about my solution. After all, it just made sense. So I repeatedly asked God about my idea. I sought counsel from other godly friends, but no one had any clarity on the issue. I read the word of God looking for advice. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Still I continued to pray! Surely my idea had merit. Surely it would be a blessing if I helped God out. It was so logical, but it was not from faith. It was an Ishmael Moment.
So why does God cause us to wait? Why does God drag out the fulfilling of a promise in our lives? Perhaps he is waiting for us to learn a lesson.
Thousands of years after that pivotal moment for Abram, Paul faced a great trial when he was ministering in Asia. He briefly mentions it in his second letter to the church in Corinth. This is what he says:
“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, ESV).
That is quite a trial! The affliction was so severe that they felt completely helpless. They had even lost hope that they would survive the situation. In their minds, they felt like they had been sentenced to death. This is no small trial we are talking about. Perhaps you can relate.
What is important to note is Paul’s understanding of the value of the trial. He says, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9, ESV). God’s purpose in the situation was to bring them to the point where they understood their reliance must be in God alone, not in their own abilities. This is very important.
When you and I face Ishmael Moments we have a choice to make. Will we figure out a way out of the situation, or will we rely on God alone?
When I read Paul’s words the other day, it was a moment of clarity for me regarding my own challenge. I immediately saw what God was trying to teach me through this time of waiting. My reliance must be in God alone! There is no room in this equation for me to help God out with my own great ideas. It must be God or nothing. Either God will come through, or I will continue to wait until he does. For me, learning to rely on God alone is far more important than a resolution of my situation.
My friend, what is your Ishmael Moment? What is in your life right now that you are trying to figure out? The situation has dragged on and on. It feels like God has forgotten you. As time has worn on, you’ve come up with a solution that you think will help God out. Right now you are debating whether to move forward or not. For some reason, however, there is no clarity, no clear word from God on what you should do. It may be your Ishmael Moment. You have a choice to make. Will you wait to move forward until you have a clear word from God? Will you rely on God alone, or will you try to give God a hand? Choose carefully my friend. The consequences could be more devastating than you could possibly imagine.
This article was originally published in the February 2016 Newsletter.