In his book The God I Don’t Understand, Christopher Wright observes that an unlikely person is one of the first to give God a name. It’s Hagar!
Hagar’s story provides a disturbingly honest look at human history. It’s been years since God told Abram and Sarai they would have a son, and Sarai has only grown older and more impatient. In order to “help” God, she resorts to a custom of the day. She gives her slave, Hagar, to her husband, and Hagar becomes pregnant.
Predictably, dissension arises. Sarai mistreats Hagar, who runs away. Alone in the desert, she meets the angel of the Lord, who makes a promise strikingly similar to one God had made earlier—to Abram (see Gen. 15:5). “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count” (16:9). The angel names Hagar’s son Ishmael, which means “God hears” (v. 11). In response, this slave from a culture with multiple gods that could neither see nor hear gives God the name “You are the God who sees me” (v. 13).
“The God who sees us” is the God of impatient heroes and powerless runaways. He’s the God of the wealthy and well-connected as well as the destitute and lonely. He hears and sees and cares, achingly and deeply, for each of us.
My nerves fluttering, I waited for the phone to ring and the radio interview to start. I wondered what questions the host would ask and how I would respond. “Lord, I’m much better on paper,” I prayed. “But I suppose it’s the same as Moses—I need to trust that you will give me the words to speak.”
Of course I’m not comparing myself with Moses, the leader of God’s people who helped them escape slavery in Egypt to life in the Promised Land. A reluctant leader, Moses needed the Lord to reassure him that the Israelites would listen to him. The Lord revealed several signs to him, such as turning his shepherd’s staff into a snake (Ex. 4:3), but Moses hesitated to accept the mantle of leadership, saying he was slow of speech (v.10). So God reminded him that He is the Lord and that He would help him speak. He would “be with his mouth” (as the original language translates, according to biblical scholars).
We know that since the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God’s Spirit lives within His children and that however inadequate we may feel, He will enable us to carry out the assignments He gives to us. The Lord will “be with our mouths.”
While delivering a well-publicized speech, a respected leader and statesman got the attention of his nation by declaring that most of his country’s honorable Members of Parliament (MPs) were quite dishonorable. Citing lifestyles of corruption, pompous attitudes, unsavory language, and other vices, he rebuked the MPs and urged them to reform. As expected, his comments didn’t go well with them and they dispatched counter-criticisms his way.
We may not be public officials in positions of leadership, but we who follow Christ are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9). As such, our Lord calls us to lifestyles that honor Him.
The disciple Peter had some practical advice on how to do this. He urged us to “abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (v.11). Although he didn’t use the word honorable, he was calling us to behavior worthy of Christ.
As the apostle Paul phrased it in his letter to the Philippians, “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Indeed, these are the characteristics of behavior that honor our Lord.
Remembering . . .
One difficult part of growing older is the fear of dementia and the loss of short-term memory. But Dr. Benjamin Mast, an expert on the topic of Alzheimer’s disease, offers some encouragement. He says that patients’ brains are often so “well worn” and “habitual” that they can hear an old hymn and sing along to every word. He suggests that spiritual disciplines such as reading Scripture, praying, and singing hymns cause truth to become “embedded” in our brains, ready to be accessed when prompted. In Psalm 119:11, we read how the power of hiding God’s words in our heart can keep us from sinning. It can strengthen us, teach us obedience, and direct our footsteps (vv. 28, 67, 133). This in turn gives us hope and understanding (vv. 49, 130). Even when we begin to notice memory slips in ourselves or in the life of a loved one, God’s Word, memorized years earlier, is still there, “stored up” or “treasured” in the heart (v. 11 esv, nasb). Even as our minds lose the keen edge of youth, we know that God’s words, hidden in our hearts, will continue to speak to us. Nothing—not even failing memories—can separate us from His love and care. We have His word on it.
Watch and Pray
From my window I can see a 1,700-meter hill called the Cerro del Borrego or “Hill of the Sheep.” In 1862, the French army invaded Mexico. While the enemy camped in the central park of Orizaba, the Mexican army established its position at the top of the hill. However, the Mexican general neglected to guard access to the top. While the Mexican troops were sleeping, the French attacked and killed 2,000 of them.
This reminds me of another hill, the Mount of Olives, and the garden at its foot where a group of disciples fell asleep. Jesus rebuked them, saying, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
How easy it is to sleep or become careless in our Christian walk. Temptation strikes when we are most vulnerable. When we neglect certain areas of our spiritual lives—such as prayer and Bible study—we become drowsy and let our guard down, making us easy targets for our enemy, Satan, to strike (1 Peter 5:8).
We need to be alert to the possibilities of an attack and pray to maintain vigilance. If we remain watchful and pray—for ourselves and for others—the Spirit will enable us to resist temptation.