So [Sarai] said to Abram,The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.Genesis 16:2a
Sarai's difficulty was simply that all of her actions grew out of a basic philosophy, which, put very simply, says:
God has told me what He wants; now the rest of it depends on me. This is the philosophy that led to all the heartache and sorrow that Abram and Sarai experienced.
You will recognize that this is a very common and widespread philosophy. We continually think and act this way in the church today. We say the reason God's work is not going forward as it should is that we are not trying hard enough. The barrenness in our experience is due to the fact we have not really put ourselves into this. Let us hold some more committee meetings and get going. It all depends on us.
We find in our Bibles what we call the Great Commission:
Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation (Mark 16:15b).
This is the goal God wants us to fulfill, we say;
now the rest is up to us. We must plan all the strategy, raise the money and determine where it will be spent, and convince candidates that they should go.
We hear our Lord say in the first chapter of Acts,
You will be my witnesses (Acts 1: 8b), and every truly Christian heart says,
All right, Lord, this is what you want me to do—I will do it. We never bother to find out how He wants it done or whether He has a program to carry it out. We start out in fleshly zeal and pass out tracts to everyone we meet or corner people at meetings. When it all fails, we recognize that something is wrong, and we wring our hands and quit.
Perhaps the worst thing of all, and certainly the matter before us in the story of Abram and Sarai, is that in reading Scripture, we learn we are supposed to be conformed to the image of Christ—so we set out to start trying to be like Jesus. We make up a list of rigid rules for acceptable behavior. We work our fingers to the bone and spend hour after hour in church neglecting our family, our own life, and everything else in order to do things for the Lord. We note how the community around approves our strenuous efforts and pats us on the back for our faithful spirit. But despite all the effort and sincerity, deep in our hearts we know there is nothing but barrenness. Or, if there is fruit, it is not the kind we wanted. It is forced and unnatural, sustained only by continual effort.
This was what happened to Sarai. Note the sacrifice, the seemliness, and the appearance of selflessness. The result is fruit all right, but it is Ishmael, not Isaac—the fruit of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. In some moment of illumination we ask,
Why are we so barren? Where is the impact, the power? What has become of that living vitality we see in the early Christians? It is all a result of failing to learn God's way as well as His will.
Father, how many mistakes I have made by doing this very thing that I have seen Sarai do. Lead me to the place where I recognize the folly of my flesh and the impossibility of pleasing You in its strength.
Do we live and work in restful trust in the God who is totally adequate? Are we instead anxiously bending every effort to help Him accomplish what only He can do?