On Giving God Advice

“And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Genesis 17:18

When God told Abraham his wife would have a biological son, Abraham laughed. It sounded great, of course, but it was impossible. They had been down this road before with nothing to show for it. Nothing except Ishmael of course, who, although he wasn’t Sarah’s son, seemed to be a good enough substitute. Abraham was too tired to start hoping again, so he decided to make a logical suggestion to God that would be easier on everyone. “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

Like Abraham, I have the very bad habit of giving God advice.

Almost always, it has to do with a man that, for whatever reason, it just isn’t working out with.

And I catch myself praying like this:

“Lord, I love his heart for you. I’ve prayed for a godly man for so long; can’t you see what a great team we’d be for your kingdom?”

“Lord, I know you can change hearts [insert 1 to 3 verses to support my argument], so will you change his heart toward me? We’d be so great together [insert dissertation on our compatibility].”

But behind the flowery words and the Scripture citations isn’t a heart submitted to God or His word, but a heart scrambling in fear, fear that unless I present a carefully crafted argument for my heart’s desires, He’s going to forget about me.

And although I’m saying “Lord,” I’m stripping Him of the title and claiming it as my own.

What I’m really saying when I pray those prayers is this:

“Lord, I know better than you, why can’t you get with the program?”

“Lord, if only my plan might live under your blessing.”

I love God’s response to Abraham, a patient response that extended over years of his inability to trust that God would do what he said. Abraham and Sarah had taken things into their own hands with the Ishmael incident some years before (Genesis 16), yet God appeared to Abraham again, reassuring him that His promise was as good as ever. Abraham, though, was still stuck on fitting Ishmael into a mold God clearly had not created him for.

It’s pretty audacious to give advice to the Creator of the universe and the Creator of our own hearts, yet He continues to gently, patiently lead us when we can’t escape the confines of our own logic.

So this is a reminder to myself that the next time I start giving God advice, I step back and reflect on just how much higher His thoughts are than mine (Isaiah 55:9), remembering the miraculous birth of Isaac that expanded into a story so much bigger than Abraham and Sarah.

I’ll end with this powerful quote from Susie Larson:

“If the devil can get you to doubt God’s provision, you’ll grab for yourself and miss the wonder of God’s goodness….If the devil can get you to doubt God’s timing, you’ll rush ahead and miss the wisdom of His ways.”

So let’s trust in His provision, refuse to grab for ourselves, and wait in confidence for the revelation of God’s goodness that ministers to the intimate places of our heart, yet extends far beyond our small story.

________________________________________________________________________________

Genesis 17: 15-18 (New International Version) 

God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

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.

 

Destination: Unknown

Ten years ago, I sat huddled inside a bus with dingy drapes, the steady beat of potholes jarring my head as I tried in vain to rest against the cold window. As I shivered and peered out the glass into the darkness of a Russian night, two questions circled, “where on earth am I going, and what have I gotten myself into?” I sat scared and vulnerable, my mind’s projections of my destination making me wish I could turn the bus around. Fettered by the unknown, I had no idea that I would be swept up into an adventure that would radically change the direction of my life, that I would meet people who would leave indelible marks on my heart, and that I would experience God’s faithfulness with a beauty and depth I had never known. No, all I could see that night was darkness.

In the same way, these last four months have felt similar to that dark night as a twelve year old on my way to Russia for the first time. Anxiety loves to feed off the unknown, and these past four months have been a constant tug-of-war between feeding the indefinite to my anxiety or to my God.

In the waiting, the voice of fear has been a constant attacker, tainting the joy that should be bubbling over. Fear loves to make me turn inward and focus on me and my abilities: “What do you think you’re doing? Who do you think you are? What do you know about teaching? You are inarticulate and will fall flat on your face.” Fear loves to fill my mind with the soundtrack of human approval:  “What if you don’t live up to the university’s expectations? What if everything you do is met with frustration and misunderstanding? What if your students don’t like you?” In short, fear loves to get my mind off God and onto the idols of self and others.

Fear wants to make this adventure smaller; it wants to tame it into something manageable and shaped like me. Fear wants me to lose sight of the vastness of God’s plan and have me settle for something comfortable and controllable. I serve the God who not only created the universe, but redeemed me from my sin, and I don’t want to spit on the sacrifice he made for my freedom by acting as if I were still a slave.

But right now, I feel just as blinded to the vastness of God’s plan as I did when I was on that bus ten years ago. I have two choices in this blindness: fear or faith. When I submit to fear because of my lack of sight, I begin to feel like a shell of myself. Instead of adventurous, I feel apprehensive. Instead of full of life and enthusiasm, I feel bottled, restrained and cold. Instead of joyful, I feel depressed; instead of active, I feel passive. But when I choose confidence in the unseen because of the God whose hand I do see, my anxiety is exchanged for joy, freedom, and perspective.

So in this period of the “night bus,” while my vision is foggy and my mind tempted to fear, I want to walk confidently into the future as Abraham did, who, “by faith…when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)