Nothing is Impossible
Is anything too hard for the LORD?[i] (Genesis 18:14, NLT)
Are there things that you have been waiting for, working towards or expecting for a long time? You could be working on a project. You could be waiting on an investment. Or, you could be praying for a child or a spouse.
I am talking about the kind of thing that you know or are at least fairly certain that God has called you to do, and yet it does not seem like it is ever going to happen. Or, you have committed your family to the Lord, and yet a child or a spouse, is wayward. You pray and wait upon the Lord, and there is no visible progress.
Abram’s life is a study in waiting on the Lord. No one is going to have the exact same challenges and tests as Abram, but everyone is going to have challenges and tests.
God used the tests and challenges Abram faced to grow his faith. The first test Abram faced was leaving his home and extended family to go to a place he did not know. The next test was a famine in the land to which God led him. The next test was letting go of his nephew Lot, and then there was the test of battle to save Lot. Through all of these tests Abram was becoming more and more a man of faith.
The biggest test was the test of time.
When Abram arrived in Canaan, God confirmed this promise: “I will give this land to your descendants.” (Genesis 12:7, NLT) He confirmed this promise to Abram a few years later when he said, “your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4, NLT)
Abram and Sarai waited for the promised heir. After 10 years of waiting we are told:
1Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. 2So Sarai said to Abram, “The LORD has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. 3So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.)
4So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. 5Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The LORD will show who’s wrong—you or me!” (Genesis 16:1-5, NLT)
Ten years of waiting and then Abram and Sarai made a mistake.
They tried to make the promise happen.
In both Romans 9 and Galatians 4, the Apostle Paul uses Ishmael and Isaac to illustrate the difference between natural effort and receiving the promise. Ishmael was the child born to the Egyptian slave Hagar. He represents the slavery that results when a man or a woman works to make the promise happen. Isaac is the son born later to Abraham through Sarah, and he represents the grace and freedom that results when we patiently wait for God to fulfill His promise.
As we see in verses 4 and 5, from the moment of conception Ishmael was a source of heartache. First, there was the stress in the family because of Hagar’s attitude. Next, Sarai persecuted Hagar to the extent that Hagar ran away.
Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born. (Genesis 16:16) In chapter 17 of Genesis, we pick up the story of his life 13 years later when Abram is 99 years old. Now he has been in the land for close to 24 years. (I know that 10 plus 13 equals 23 years, but Ismael required 9 months in his mother’s womb before he was born. This is where I get the 24th year.)
Abram has now spent 13 years with his only son Ishmael. In chapter 17 of Genesis, God appears to Abram and says: “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.” (Genesis 17:1-2, NLT)
24 years and God is taking action. He tells Abram to circumcise himself and every male in his household. Abram cannot believe that Sarai can have a child. He will be 100 and she will be 90. At this point, we find a hope that he is holding. He says to God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!” (Genesis 17:18, NLT) And, God says, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac…” (Genesis 17:19, NLT) Abram apparently had been hoping that Ishmael would be the promised heir.
When we attempt to do for God what he has promised to give us these are the results: slavery, heartache and false hope.
This is best illustrated with salvation. God has promised to forgive our sins. But, many try to do penance or pay for sins in some other way. God has promised that if we believe in Jesus Christ we will be given eternal life. But, many try to make themselves good enough by cleaning up their lives. All these efforts lead to slavery, heartache and false hope.
However, when God takes action there are different results. Before we look at the results, let’s look at how God took action.
First, God appears to Abram.
God appears to Abram several times during his life. The Lord appeared to Abram when he arrived in Canaan, when he defeated the kings and rescued Lot and when he was 99 years old. Each time God appeared to Abram he repeated his promise, and then added more information. The first time it was, “Your descendants will possess this land.” The second time information was added: “You will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Genesis 15:4-5, NLT)
When God takes action He first speaks to us, and He expects us to trust Him. This is the way it works with salvation. God says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31) We are asked to take Him at His word.
In Abram’s case, God tells him that he will have a son through Sarai that will be his heir. God then asks Abram to circumcise himself and all the males in his household. This was to be an outward or physical sign of the covenant relationship with God. In the beginning of chapter 17, God says to Abram, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.”[ii] (NIV)
The word translated “blameless” is translated “whole” in other places. For example: Leviticus 3:9 says, “…he shall remove the whole fat tail.”[iii] (ESV) This is speaking of a sacrifice and it is talking about removing the entire backbone with its fat. From this word “whole” meaning entire, comes the idea of blameless. It is much more than living by a set of rules. It is living with integrity or wholeness. God is not pleased with double mindedness. His first commandment is: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) This is the special relationship to God represented by circumcision.
God was to be Abram’s God exclusively.
The action Abram was instructed to take was symbolic. It did not produce results in and of itself. It was an outward sign of an inward commitment. The action God took was to give Abram and Sarai new names, Abraham and Sarah. He also made clear to Abraham both the terms of the covenant and what the next steps were to be.
Time can be the hardest test for us as well.
We can pray for something for year after year and not see any progress or change. God expects us to trust Him and to be single minded in our devotion to Him. To illustrate this I want to consider what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:2-5:
2Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
3We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (NLT)
The results of trusting and waiting are unexpected.
Abraham has been waiting 24 years and God tells him that Sarah will have a child in a year. When Abraham first heard it he laughed at the thought. Sarah also laughed when she heard it. A 100 year old man and a 90 year old woman were to have a baby.
Not just improbable, this was impossible.
When Sarah laughed the Lord asked a question. He said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14, NLT)
Time was the hardest test for Abraham because it put the promise entirely out of human reach. He was asked to believe the impossible.
Let’s look again at Abraham’s reaction:
17Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?” 18So Abraham said to God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!”
19But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac…” (Genesis 17:17-19, NLT)
God gave the child the name Isaac. Isaac means “he laughs.” There was laughter in disbelieve, laughter in amazement and laughter in joy at Isaac’s birth.
These are the results of waiting on God.
Whatever we face, we need to ask the same question that God asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
We have assurances in the Scriptures like: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”[iv] (Philippians 4:13, KJV) And, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, KJV)
Nothing is impossible with God. Tests, challenges and delays will come, but do not doubt in the difficulties what God has made clear to you. Trust that He will show you the next step.
Jesus said, “…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NLT)
All things are possible with God. However, He is not a genie in a bottle or a magic lamp that we can rub and get what we want. Remember Abraham was told to be blameless. We cannot have a double mind and expect to get what we want. The first concern for any of us is to love God with all our heart, soul and strength. We are to seek God’s kingdom first. (Matthew 6:33)
Pray for God’s will, and trust Him to show you what to do next. Are you willing to trust Him?
[i] Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
[iii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved
[iv] Scripture quotations marked KJV are taken from the King James Bible.