I recently read Genesis 18 in my devotions:
Then [the Lord and His messengers] said to [Abraham], “Where is Sarah your wife?”
So he said, “Here, in the tent.”
And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.”
(Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”Genesis 18:9-14
As I read this passage, after continued weeks of fatigue, weakness, brain fog, and other joys of chronic illness, I found myself relating to Sarah’s response in a whole new way.
Barren all her life, now beyond the age of childbearing, it was physically impossible for Sarah to have a child. And God said, “This time next year, you’re going to have a baby.”
“Have you seen me lately?”
Sarah laughed (commentators agree that her laughter came not from joy or surprise but from doubt and disbelief) because her perspective focused on her earthly circumstances and not on her Heavenly Father. When it came to a toss-up between her present situation and divine possibility, she chose her present situation.
So have I.
You may not be physically barren, but in the limitations of your chronic illness, you might consider yourself, like I do sometimes, figuratively barren. Unproductive. Incapable. Fruitless. Weak.
And then God gives you a task that seems beyond your ability, or a promise that you just can’t compute with your condition. Perhaps He has called you to a specific ministry, job, or responsibility. Or perhaps He has simply (but not simple at all!) called you to live a holy Christian life where you are right now.
How do you respond when God’s word and your world are completely at odds?
1. Nothing is impossible with God.
Just let these verses sink in:
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?”Jeremiah 32:27
“For with God nothing will be impossible.”Luke 1:37
“[Abraham was] fully convinced that what [God] had promised He was also able to perform.”Romans 4:21
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us . . .”Ephesians 3:20
REFLECTION: Do you believe, truly believe, that God can perform what He has promised? Do you really believe that God can do anything, beyond even what we ask or think? If not, pray with the man in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
2. God’s greatness goes hand in hand with human weakness.
Look at these Bible stories of human “can’t” paired with God’s “can”:
- Sarah and Isaac: the promised heir of Abraham, the beginning of the nation of Israel, from an aged, barren woman.
- Rebekah and the twins: the next generation of the beginning nation, leaders of two great peoples, from a barren woman.
- Rachel and Joseph: the man who would save the known world from Egypt, from a barren woman.
- Hannah and Samuel: the greatest prophet of the Old Testament who would anoint Israel’s greatest king, from a barren woman.
- Elizabeth and John the Baptist: the predecessor of the Messiah, from a barren woman.
- Mary and Jesus: the Messiah Himself, God’s Son, Redeemer of Israel and Savior of the world, from a virgin woman.
Clearly, barrenness–just one aspect of human inability–is a theme in Scripture and a major part of some of God’s greatest interventions in history.
Our weakness is an ideal precedent for God’s greatness.
REFLECTION: Maybe your “can’t” is preparation for a big “can” from God. Keep trusting Him, and keep your eyes open for whatever He might be doing–for you and for others–through your weakness.
3. Our inability highlights God’s ability.
God loves to show His greatness against the backdrop of our weakness–that way it’s beyond any doubt that the work comes from Him and not us.
This is exactly what Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians:
“God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence . . . that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.'”I Corinthians 1:27-31
He also writes in II Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (ESV).
We are clay jars–cracked, dirty, broken, finite–so that God’s perfect, pure, infinite power can shine through us.
We’re human on purpose: to show the glory of God.
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”II Corinthians 12:9
REFLECTION: Whatever you ARE able to do, it’s not you–it’s God. It’s His grace, His strength, His wisdom, His glory. Have you thanked Him for what He’s doing through you? Can you embrace your limitations that show off God’s unlimited power?
Here are some further words of encouragement from a few commentaries on Genesis 18:
“Nothing is incredible for those in covenant fellowship with the Lord because nothing is too difficult for Him.”The Bible Knowledge Commentary
“The word of promise characteristically falls outside of reason. . . . But faith transcends reason. Israel’s existence is supernatural, not natural (see John 1:13). God’s promises, embraced by faith, open the door of hope and future . . . We are not locked into lives of barrenness.”Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary, emphasis added
“Of course, whenever we doubt God, we are questioning both His veracity and His ability. Does He keep His promises? Does He have the power to do what He says He will do? The answer to both questions is yes!”Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary
“These obstacles in themselves are great enough to demonstrate that the promise, when fulfilled, came from God alone.”The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol 2
“For Sarah is not transported with admiration and joy, on receiving the promise of God; but foolishly sets her own age and that of her husband in opposition to the word of God . . .
“But her sin consisted in this alone, that, having fixed her thoughts too much on the accustomed order of nature, she did not give glory to God, by expecting from him a miracle which she was unable to conceive in her mind. [What a play on the word “conceive,” right?]
“. . . she limited the power of God within the bounds of her own [understanding].”John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries
“But if we thoroughly investigate the source of distrust, we shall find that the reason why we doubt of God’s promises is, because we sinfully detract from his power. For as soon as any extraordinary difficulty occurs, then, whatever God has promised, seems to us [impossible]; yea, the moment he speaks, the perverse thought insinuates itself, How will he fulfil what he promises? Being bound down, and pre-occupied by such narrow thoughts, we exclude his power . . . In short, he who does not expect more from God than he is able to comprehend in the scanty measure of his own reason, does him a grievous wrong.”John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries
REFLECTION: What promise or call from God makes you laugh in your present situation? Like Sarah, are you looking more at your circumstances than at your God? Or, like Mary, do you believe God will accomplish His work despite, because of, THROUGH your weakness?
“Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” Luke 1:45