How NOT to pursue God's promises
Last year I heard something at an African church that left me pondering. The pastor said that God created a purpose and then created us to fulfill it. She said: ‘God did not create you and then think, what am I going to do with her now? But the other way around. He designed you, with all the characteristics you have, to fulfill the purpose He had in mind.’
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” - Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
But how do I know what the purpose of my life is? And how do I fulfill it? The Bible teaches us many ways God’s people succeeded, but the common denominator I see was that His people messed up a lot! The good thing is that we can learn from their mistakes how NOT to pursue God's promises. Take Abraham for instance. God had a purpose for his life and told him clearly what it was:
“I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” - Genesis 17:6-8 (NIV)
The first thing to take from here is that in this Bible story, and countless others, God says He created us with the purpose of giving Him glory. He says: I will do this and I will be their God.
“…Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” - Isaiah 43:6b–7 (NIV)
But honestly, given the circumstances that his wife Sarah was barren and they were both very old… would you have believed this God-given promise?
Because of this, when Abraham saw the possibility of making it happen by himself, he went for it instead of waiting for God to fulfill His promise. He had a child with Hagar, his servant, and called him Ishmael. He thought that due to the difficult circumstances, he should give God a hand. As a result, things got complicated.
“Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” - Genesis 17:17-21 (NIV)
A little while before I began serving on board the Logos Hope, as I was trying to get everything ready to leave and raising support seemed impossible, a well-known man I looked up to offered me a job. It felt like my dream job! I was so confused, wondering why did the offer come now? I even doubted if God really wanted me to step out in faith and go into missions. After some time in prayer, I realized that the job was not meant to be mine. Not because it was bad – but because God would fulfill His promises to me in a different way.
While on board the ship it happened to me again. When I thought God was leading me to a certain job in ministry it suddenly fell through and my future felt totally uncertain. For about a month I felt so lost and depressed, thinking I had missed my chance. But God had clearly closed that door in order to open another one that fulfilled His promise to me while giving glory to His name.
I am sure you, like me, have been faced many times with good and exciting possibilities to follow – ‘Ishmaels' that look like the best option at the moment and will not harm anybody. In ministry sometimes we get offered opportunities that will be good and fruitful. We accept jobs or positions because we know that God has promised big things for us and we have worked hard, but the Lord will only fully fulfill His purpose in our lives through Isaac. Not the 'Ishmaels' we make ourselves, but the 'Isaacs' that give total glory to His name.