My sisters are some of my dearest friends. They are all humble women. This past year I was talking to one of their daughters, an athletic pretty teenager. She had been razzing my sister, so I decided to introduce her to a part of her mom she didn’t know about. I told her about my sister’s accomplishments, awards, college scholarships, and anything else I could think of that my sister would be too humble to tell her.
My niece stood there and listened, her eyes widening with each new piece of information. There was so much she didn’t realize about this woman she only knew as her mom. She didn’t know of the “lists” her mom was on. She walked away seeing her mom a little differently. This isn’t uncommon - the assumption that we know someone from the one perspective we hold.
I experienced something similar: I thought I had a grasp on someone, had them all figured out. Then I saw her name on a “list” that I hadn’t expected to see it on, and I began to see her in a different light. Recently, this woman has been on my heart again, so I’d like to share what I learned.
Sarah is the one I’m referring to. Abraham’s Sarah. Years ago I thought I had her pegged. Generally speaking, I was frustrated with her for giving her Egyptian slave, Hagar, to her husband to conceive a child with, then behaving badly towards her when she was pregnant, and finally sending Hagar and her son away. When I came across the following verse, I knew I had to give her another chance, or maybe I needed to try seeing her from a different perspective.
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Hebrews 11:11 ESV
Sarah is listed in what is referred to as the “Faith Chapter” - Hebrews 11. Anyone else surprised to see her here? I was at first, but I took another look, and I began seeing things I had missed initially. (Her story can be found throughout Genesis chapters 11-23.)
The first time we catch sight of her is in Genesis 11:29-31. Here her name is Sarai. God eventually changes her name to Sarah. I’m going to refer to her as Sarah to keep it simple for me. Ha!
Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. Genesis 11:30 ESV
Nice introduction, right? Hello, my name is ______ and (insert here your biggest struggle/battle/disappointment that you haven’t experienced victory in yet). I have to think this overshadowed her whole existence - having children was so important to a woman’s worth back then.
Barrenness. That lack. That wanting. As I’m contemplating her again, I can relate. Can you? What names and adjectives have we wanted to shake? What burdens? In what areas have we wanted to produce life, and it hasn’t shown up as we watched others grow it so easily?
She carried that burden with her as she followed alongside her husband, obedient to God’s direction. It is a reminder that we can still follow God with unsettled issues. He can still lead the struggling ones, the empty ones, the ones who still feel so broken. Just because Sarah hadn’t experienced victory in her area of barrenness (YET!) didn’t mean she wasn’t being obedient in what God was asking of her that day.
God tells her husband of the land and descendents He wants to give him. As we saw in Hebrews, Sarah believed God and His promises. She didn’t doubt He would do everything He said He would - that’s faith. But did she question her role in this promise or feel she might be a problem in this plan?
It seems she didn’t realize how big God was, what He was capable of doing, and His plans for this barren woman. So she “helps” God. Never done that before. (Sarcasm.) Can you think of a hope you’ve had, something you believe God Himself planted within you, and you took things into your own hands, thinking you were helping move things along? I understand what it is like to have a dream and not be able to see how it could happen without giving it a big shove. (Wish we had more time together - I could tell you stories.)
So Sarah suggests an option that was humanly possible, as she probably didn’t see any other way. We humans know all the possibilities, don’t we? (No, I don’t know why I am rather sarcastic today.) Eventually comes the part that I don’t like - Sarah’s plan involving Hagar. Sarah no doubt knew of and believed God’s plan to bring forth a great people from Abraham, but she disqualified herself in her own mind from being an intimate part of it based on her limited knowledge. I was frustrated with Sarah and her husband as they went ahead with this. But I forgot I knew something they didn’t - their story’s ending. They didn’t know that the door that seemed so firmly bolted shut would eventually be thrown open.
Well, Hagar conceives. Was Sarah as pleased with her “success” as she originally thought she would be? It definitely didn’t bring out the best in her. She made quite the mess of things if we are honest. (Doesn’t that ring familiar?!!) But her husband had a son. Did she think that took care of things and God’s promises could continue on with her watching from the sideline?
In time God talked to her husband once again. In that conversation, God spoke specifically about her. Her own husband laughed when he heard what God had to say (Gen. 17:15-21). In Genesis 18:9-15 Sarah hears these things with her own ears, and she also laughs.
And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 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 17:15-16 ESV
God said these things AFTER her miserable attempts to bring about His will. He changed her name AFTER she made a mess of so many things affecting numerous people. God searched her out AFTER she had resigned herself to the way things were. God spoke life over her when others, including herself, laughed to hear about it. God said He was going to bring kings out of her barrenness. KINGS. Kings were going to walk out of her emptiness, her impossibility. THE King.
“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Genesis 18:14a ESV
It wasn’t about Sarah living perfectly - we can’t on this side of heaven. She did what we all need to do - she placed her faith in Him. It was about God’s grace, His faithfulness, His glory. God challenged Sarah’s faith. He challenged her messy faith to dream bigger. Dream the impossible. He was able. That being said, did she let her hope rise with His words or did she keep it muffled, because she couldn’t be disappointed one more time? Was she scared to hope?
Then at the appointed time, she conceived and brought forth a son. Isaac. (Gen. 21:1-7) Oh Sarah, how I want to laugh with you and hug you. My faith resembles yours so much. It’s not very pretty so often. I question my role in God’s big plan. I get excited when I see Him moving and I want to jump in and be part of what He’s doing - I fear being left out. And when I fail miserably, I want to resign myself to my station and contain my dreams within what is humanly possible. Oh, Sarah...
I found you on that “list”. You whose faith was less than perfect. And when I found you there I found myself there, too. You are there because you knew to take that broken faith to the Faithful One. He was the secure place where you kept your faith. God is the One who was able to see your faith through the mess. It was Him who placed you in the “Faith Chapter”.
A woman trying to be obedient to God’s calling. A woman making mistakes, not fully understanding the greatness of her God or the vastness of His plans for her. A woman walking by faith, an imperfect but growing faith, firmly established in the Faithful One. A woman acknowledged by God, her faith recognized by the Holy One. I’m not talking about Sarah anymore. I’m describing you.
Keep that faith firmly planted in Jesus. Let Him name you. Let Him challenge you to believe He is bigger than you know. Let Him swing open the doors that seem locked. Let Him fill your emptiness and bring out of it His Presence. Know He sees your faith in Him in the midst of your mishaps and shortcomings. He sees you, you of faith secured.
If you have anchored your faith in Jesus, I have a “list” for you. If I might take liberty for a moment:
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, and of (insert your name) - who through faith (insert your story). Hebrews 11:32-33 ESV; italics - my additions