A blog from Jon Bloom of Desiring God.
God is not content for us just to understand the idea that nothing is too hard for the Lᴏʀᴅ (Jeremiah 32:17). He wants us to have the overwhelming joy of experiencing it. But the sometimes agonizing period between his promise and his provision can push us to the brink of what we think we can believe, as it did for Abraham and Sarah.
[This imaginative conversation takes place shortly after Genesis 17:22.]
Abram entered the tent, his eyes on the ground, his mind a world away. He was breathing hard. Sarai was repairing a cloak. She watched him as he walked to the back corner and collapsed on the cushions with a sigh. She recognized the bodily weariness of a divine encounter.
“The Lᴏʀᴅ has spoken to you again, hasn’t he?”
There was a pause.
It usually took Abram a while before he could talk about these encounters, so Sarai pulled her threadwork up close again where she could see. Another reminder of her aging body. But now her hands were trembling. She dropped them back into her lap. What had the Lᴏʀᴅ said?
“Ishmael!” The name pierced through Sarai like an arrow. She looked through the open flap and saw Hagar hand her son supplies to carry to the cooking fire. The boy was thirteen and beginning to look like a man. He was his father’s delight, the flesh of his flesh. But not of hers. The Lᴏʀᴅ had promised Abram offspring. But it was a deep, bewildering grief that he had granted it through Hagar, her own maidservant. And it had been her own idea.
She looked over at Abram. What had he just called her?
“Yes, I called you Sarah. The Lᴏʀᴅ has changed your name.”
The Lᴏʀᴅ spoke of her? Her heart sped with a rush of hope-fueled adrenaline.
“He changed my name? What do you mean?”
“You are not merely a princess. You will be the mother of kings.”
Sarah just stared. His words didn’t register. A childless mother of kings?
“The Lᴏʀᴅ said, ‘I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her’ (Genesis 17:16). Sarah, God is going to give you a son, and through him, nations.”
Sarah’s whole being staggered. She steadied herself with her left hand and cupped her mouth with her right. Tears streamed. Grief, hope, and confusion churned inside her. A child? She had tried to bury this desire and she felt fear at resurrecting it. And she wasninety. She hadn’t had a feminine cycle for years. How could this possibly…
“I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing. When God spoke it, it was too much to take in and I said, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’”
The familiar pain shot through Sarah.
“But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.’”
Isaac. Her desire now had a name. Sarah mouthed it but still had no voice.
“Yes. Because the whole idea seemed so ludicrous that I laughed to myself.”
“But… I can’t… Husband… I’m ninety years old.” Sarah began sobbing. “My body is no longer able to bear children. My time has passed.”
Abram walked over and enveloped his wife in his arms. “I know, Sarah. We are powerless to have children. Now more than ever. But if we’ve learned anything these twenty-five years it’s that our hope doesn’t rest on our power to do anything. Our hope rests on Lᴏʀᴅ’s power. Our entire lives are built on what he’s promised. And the lives of our descendants must be built on his promises for generations before they ever occupy this land. Their survival will depend on them trusting Lᴏʀᴅ’s promises and not their own power. Should it really surprise us that the first descendant the Lᴏʀᴅ gives us is a reminder of this?”
Sarah leaned into her husband.
“And, my precious wife, our Isaac will always remind us, and many after us, that the Lᴏʀᴅ makes us laugh at the impossible.”
“Your faith strengthens mine, Abram.”
Sarah looked up at him puzzled again.
“Yes, the Lᴏʀᴅ changed my name too.” Abraham smiled. “A mother of nations needs a father of nations, doesn’t she?”
There are times when God orders our circumstances in such a way that from a human standpoint his promises are impossible to fulfill. And if at that point we find these promises almost unbelievable, as did Abraham (Genesis 17:17–18) and Sarah (Genesis 18:11–14), what God has exposed are the boundaries of our faith — boundaries he means to expand.
Resting in the promises of God is learned in the crucible of wrestling with unbelief — seasons, sometimes long seasons, when everything hangs on believing that God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17) and there is no safety net.
If you’re in such a season, as difficult as it feels, God is being incredibly kind to you. Because such seasons are when we really learn that nothing is too hard for the Lᴏʀᴅ (Genesis 18:14). And the joy in God that results makes any agony endured not even worth comparing.
Abraham and Sarah “grew strong in [their] faith” (Romans 4:20) because God pushed them to believe more than they thought was possible. For the sake of our joy he does the same for you and me.
"Prayer glorifies God because it puts us in the position of the thirsty and God in the position of the all-supplying fountain."
"Prayer is designed as a way of relating to God, so that it is clear we get the help and He gets the glory."
"Everything [Jesus] taught us was aimed to free us from eternal-joy-killers and fill us with the only joy that lasts–joy in God."
"Will a father give a son a stone if he asks him for bread? No. But neither will he give him bread if it's moldy. He may give him cake. Sometimes God's answers will overwhelm us with their excess. Other times they taste more like medicine than food and will test our faith that this medicine is really what we need."
"The implication for prayer is: treasure God, and all that He will be for you, in prayer; but do not treasure the praise of man. And most of all do not turn a God-treasuring act of prayer into a man-treasuring act of hypocrisy."
"Prayer has nothing to do with deserving. It's all mercy. We pray for ourselves because we are weak."
Although the sun is high in the sky, it’s a dark day, the darkest day of David’s administration. His own son, Absalom, plays the role of usurper and casts the nation into civil war as he leads a revolt to overthrow his father. A few key men in David’s cabinet defect. The king chooses that Jerusalem should not be the battlefield where thousands of innocents would be slaughtered. He leaves his beloved city heartbroken with only a prayer that God allows him to return.
The priests, Zadok and Abiathar keep their loyalties to David by bringing the Ark of the Covenant out of the city and joining the fleeing caravan at the brook of Kidron. But the tearful monarch gives command that they return the Ark to the city. According to David that’s where it belongs.
Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.”
“Let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” These are the words of complete resignation to the will of God. It is a forerunner to our Lord’s prayer as the heel of His friend was about to be lifted against Him and all would forsake Him, “nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
Surely it is not speculation to say that David wanted to return to Jerusalem with his kingdom intact. But he was also prepared to accept a different outcome. There is a dignity in David’s words that foreshadows the same dignity of Gethsemane, a peaceful and calm submission to the purpose of God.
But there is more. There is more than just a quiet determination to do God’s will; there was a joyful confidence in the will of God. Both Christ and David knew the exhilaration of victory in doing God’s will. One brought death to a giant of a man, the Other brought life to a short man in Jericho. One had defeated bears and lions, the Other had defeated blindness and lameness. And now it would seem that “the thrill of victory” had given way to “the agony of defeat,” but not so. Not hardly.
David’s statement, “here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him,” is not teeming with hilarity or joviality, but neither is it a statement of joyless defeat. Rather, it is the statement of strength, strength derived from the joy of the Lord. It is the pleasure of God that gives the saint the strength to endure both victories and defeats. David is saying that whatever makes God happy brings him strength, which comes from knowing that His will is accomplished. It is a strength resulting in the fact that God’s will is always our best, no matter the difficulty.
When the remnant of Israel returned to their homeland after the Babylonian captivity and rebuilt Jerusalem’s wall, the Bible says that Nehemiah had the Law of Moses read to the people. The effect was very different than he had anticipated. The people began to weep as they realized the sins of the nation that had brought God’s judgment. What should have been a celebration turned very quickly into national mourning. Nehemiah waves his hands and protests saying to the grieving people,
“This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9, 10)
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” What does Nehemiah mean? His meaning is instrumental to David’s words to the priests, as well as Jesus’ prayer in the garden before His arrest. Nehemiah was trying to show the grieving people that God was pleased with their return from captivity and their rebuilding the wall. This was His will for them and they had fulfilled it. Therefore, God’s joy in their obedience should be the people’s strength. In other words, the people should realize that doing the will of God brought Him great pleasure and that realization of God’s pleasure is the source of our strength. I can endure any affliction if I am armed with the knowledge that God’s will is being done, for if I know this then I will also know that God is joyful. It is this awareness of God’s joy that gives me endurance.
This is why David’s response and our Lord Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane are dignified words of calm submission to God. God’s will is all that matters, for if His will is accomplished, then the purpose of my life is also accomplished. This is strength to my marrow and joy to my soul. Even if God would say, “I have no delight in you,” then I can still be hopeful that my submission to His will brings delight to Him.
Dear child of God, joy is not getting what you want when you want it unless it is the will of God. He who is a new creation has one ultimate passion—the joy of the Lord! He is most pleased when He knows God is pleased. Happiness for the Christian is determined by what makes God happy. Anything less is misery and, in the end, the real agony of defeat. How could David rejoice if he returned to Jerusalem knowing it was not God’s will? Joyfully resign to God and His will for you. It is better than any will you might have.
Let me ask you, have you learned to fight?
We describe the Christian life in many different ways—a life of joy, a life of peace, a life of charity or brotherly kindness, a life devoted to God. But among the many titles used to describe our Christian existence, the Apostle Paul added one. He called the Christian life a fight of faith.
“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12).
If you are to follow the Lord Jesus Christ you must develop keen fighting skills. We're of course not talking about physical fighting, for the Bible tells us we do not war against flesh and blood. Our enemies, in the end, are not physical but spiritual beings and therefore our warfare is spiritual and we must learn to fight accordingly. It boils down to a fight of faith. You need to learn how to take your faith and wield it on the frontlines of battle.
Unfortunately, many Christians think of faith as something used at salvation and then placed in a trophy case. You ask them, "Do you have faith?"
"Oh yes," they say as they point to the trophy case and explain that they asked Jesus to come into their heart when they were 10 or 16 or 26.
"Do you have faith in God?"
"Yes, I told you I professed faith when . . ." and they tell you the age.
They look at faith as something that happened the moment they were saved and now that they’ve done that they can set it aside and not worry about it any more because it’s been taken care of. But faith is not something to be displayed like a trophy; it's something to be used. It's to be seen, not on a shelf, but rather in your life, day by day, trusting God for the grace to serve Him. Your faith is to be present and it is to be active. So, don't think possessing faith is all that is necessary. Yes, you possess it, but now you must use it and you need to know how to use it well. Faith must fight and be fought for.
You must fight against anything that resists what God has said. You must learn how to take your faith and resist every emotion, every devil and every thought that sets itself up against God. And if you don't fight you will be defeated because the enemy will not cease to fight just because you do. When it comes to your salvation and your spiritual survival you must fight. Otherwise you have no chance.
I pray your heart is weary with your spiritual failures. I mean that. I pray that you have failed enough that now you are ready to fight the fight of faith. What do I mean by that? There's an advantage of getting older, at least one, and this is the advantage—the longer that I have served Him; the more I have failed Him. And it's my failures that have taught me that I am insufficient, unable and without the wherewithal to live for Jesus, but that Jesus is more than enough. He is plenty; He is sufficient to maintain my cause. I have learned through repeated failures and trying to live the Christian life, trying to minister to others, and serve Him in the capacity to which He's called me, that I need Him more and more. I've come to the point of desperation, and having come to the place of desperation I can truly be dependent upon God.
I am thankful for every one of my failures because my failures have shown me that my weaponry is inadequate for the battle of faith. The Bible says my weapons are not carnal, but they are spiritual in pulling down strongholds. What does that mean? I believe you will never know what it means until you have failed sufficiently in trying to fight against the flesh and the devil and the world. Because until then, you will never pick up the spiritual weaponry, you will depend upon your own strength, your own wisdom and your own determination. Therefore I am thankful for my failures because they have taught me that I am victorious in Christ and in Him alone. Christ alone is all I need and by faith in Him, I overcome.
I just returned from a men’s breakfast meeting at our church. One of the brothers shared his testimony. God saved a very religious man, in fact, a preacher from his morality and immorality. He was a man with a deep work of morality in his conscience and yet the deep roots of moral corruption worked to lead him down a path of immorality. He shared with us his addiction to pornography and his adultery before he was truly converted.
After listening to his testimony, it would be so easy to walk away and establish a moral perimeter to “adultery-proof” my marriage. I could build a moat and erect a wall of protection against sexual sins using the law and other human-based efforts to safeguard my morality. But if I took that approach, I would have failed to hear what the brother really said.
The man told us that religion, law, and a well-developed morality will not save you from sexual sins, otherwise he would not have so sinned and his wife would not have suffered injury. It matters not a man is a Christian. The flesh cannot fight itself. It will not. A house divided against itself will not stand. The flesh doesn’t work that way. You may never act on your lust, but lust still control you. And whether you act on your lust or not, the flesh will always deceive and provide proper excuses and rationalizations. The law never prevents sin. The penalty of the law may prevent the execution of sin but sin remains in the heart.
What I heard this morning was only Christ is sufficient to save from sexual temptations. Only Jesus is wonderful enough, beautiful enough, and fascinating enough to keep me sexually pure. I am convinced people are made to enjoy God. The soul longs and yearns for stimulation and it was made to be stimulated by God. If you are not feeding on God and enjoying Him, then you will turn to other things to satisfy the longing, yearning, and boredom of the soul. If you are not fascinated with God, you will look elsewhere to find fascination, otherwise boredom sets in.
The next strongest fascination for the human soul, especially a man, is the fascination of sexuality. For a woman it is the fascination of romance and relationships. Therefore, both men and women turn to lesser sexual fascinations when their souls are no longer stimulated with Christ.
Pursue Christ. Christ is more glorious than any sexual stimulation. His love is more satisfying than the romantic overtures of any man. Keep your eyes fixed upon the beauty of Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide the eyes of your heart so you may see Christ. God has enough grace to stimulate your soul and spirit that your flesh’s desires seem miniscule. This is the essence of the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians.
“That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:16-20)
The inventor of sex is better than sex. Trust His plan for sexual satisfaction to be fulfilled only within marriage is better than sexual satisfaction outside of marriage. Let the words of your mouth and the meditation of your heart be acceptable, not just to God, but to you as well. Let your heart linger over God’s word and hear what the Spirit will say to you. Fascination with Christ is no stretch of the imagination, for He is better than we can imagine. He exceeds fantasy, sexual and otherwise. This is the lust-killing power of grace.