For I am the Lord, I change not. ~ Malachi 3:6
Sarah's story is heavy on my heart this morning, pressing in. I never knew her. But in ways, so many ways, I am her - and with her story comes both a deep conviction and a triumphant hope. Even late in her life, years into her walk with God, Sarah struggled with the same things that I often find myself struggling with: believing God's promises to us. Attempting to work out our problems, and His promises, on our own, with our own means, according to our own plans.
We know the Old Testament story: The promise of God to Abraham was a son. But Sarah was barren. And old. Really, really old. Inevitably, doubt and discouragement and discontentment had long settled into Sarah's heart. The bible doesn't explicitly tell us whether or not Sarah initially believed God's promise to Abraham, but she said to him "The Lord has prevented me from having children...". After all, as far as we know, God had never implicitly said that the son would come through Sarah. And so, out of her humanness and some strange, paradoxical mixture of both selfishness and selflessness beyond our contemporary understanding, she devises the plan for Abraham to sleep with her servant, Hagar. A plan which, by the way, wasn't uncommon in their day.
I don't pretend to know the intent - or the condition - of Sarah's heart as she devised that plan. I can only imagine that it could have been an act of complete desperation. It could've been with great reluctance that she resigned and bitterly conceded to the fact that her physical circumstances were in direct opposition with the promises of God. It's easy for us to judge her heart, until we weigh the gravity of her circumstances and all of the things that led to that one decision that would wreak havoc on all future generations...
The consequences were inescapable. Ishmael was conceived - and I've often wondered why it all went the way it did. Having grown up in this contemporary Christian culture where we cling to God working "all things for good", I've often wondered why Ishmael's life didn't become a more redemptive story - after all, he was Abraham's son and you know, it wasn't until after Ishmael's birth that God spoke the words to Abraham, "No - Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you." To which Abraham laughed. Laughed. At God...
What Abraham didn't understand and what Sarah didn't understand (and what I so often fail to understand) was that throughout the course of their lives, God's promise had NEVER changed. God Himself had not changed. God did not go back and ALTER His plan and His purpose because to do so would be to deny who He is. Did their sin, wrong turns and poor choices delay the promise of God? Perhaps. And when Sarah finally hears from the Lord that she will give birth to a son, she laughs, too. At God.
We read the story and we think about the impossible becoming possible - we think of Sarah laughing at the absurdity of her physical condition - you know, because she's ninety years old, but this morning, it all felt so different. What if. What if she she laughed in disbelief not because of the condition of her body, but because of the condition of her heart. Abraham and Sarah's story is filled with moments of distrust, disobedience, discontentment, and dishonesty. I believe that part of Sarah's laughter stemmed from the disbelief that after all of that God still says, "And I will bless her... Yes, I will bless her richly."
Ours is not a God of physical miracles alone, but of miracles of the heart. He is faithful when we are faithless - no matter how long we remain in our faithlessness. He does not change. He keeps His word. And His promises.
I am fifty-five years younger than Sarah when she came face to face with the faithfulness of God. I reflect on my own short life: filled with so many moments of my own distrust, disobedience, discontentment, and dishonesty... and I'm reminded of the words of Isaiah, "He longs to be gracious to you, He rises to show you compassion." I'm reminded that the God of Abraham and Sarah is our God. And He changes not.
Some years ago, God spoke a promise to my heart. It was a promise that defied logic and circumstances. It was a promise that I often doubted - and it was that doubt that often led to discouragement, discontentment, disobedience. Years passed. Life moved forward. Everything changed. Face to face with the faithfulness of God, even in the midst of my unfaithfulness, I can hear Him whispering through the pages of His word, the pages of Sarah's story, "I am the Lord, I changeth not". And with tears brimming the corners of my eyes, I laugh.
"In your heart you plan your life.
But the Lord decides where your steps will take you."