In New Year’s resolutions and Character Goals, I talked about the difference between desires and goals, suggesting that goals are superior.
“The trouble with desire,” I said, “is that it tends to be passive” (a negative). “Furthermore, desires need not be within our power to achieve.” In other words, desires can be futile. But this week I’m flipping those assumptions on their heads.
That’s not to say that goals aren’t good. As creatures made in God’s image and imbued with fundamental skills, as well as His choice of special talents, we all have the ability to achieve certain pursuits in this fallen world. But as children of God, born again into His kingdom, we also need dreams beyond what we can achieve in our own strength… dreams beyond all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
Which brings me back to my recent studies in Genesis and my contemplations of the Patriarchs. What can we learn from their successes and mistakes?
The promise God made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15 (which I describe here) transferred to their son Seth, then eventually Noah and his descendants leading up to the first patriarch, Abram. In the first divine promise made to this man, God said:
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
On some level, Abram believed God (for he proceeded at least in partial obedience to the LORD’s command), and yet—when his wife Sarai failed to conceive—he tried to simplify the promise—to achieve it in his own strength by using Hagar as a substitute.
What lessons can we learn from Abraham’s story?
First of all, we can’t force God’s timing or even His methods. Receiving a promise isn’t about being in control; it’s about trust. Obtaining a promise isn’t about working hard and then asking God to bless our efforts. As I said in my review of Havah (by Tosca Lee),
“God’s promise fulfilled in man’s strength is no promise at all.”
But why is that?
God told Abram, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Among the prose of promises listed in Genesis 12 above, that one line is the most important—and it could never have been fulfilled in man’s strength—through Ishmael’s descendants and the lineage of Hagar, the slave girl (as explained in Galatians 4:21-31).
It’s true that Ishmael would fulfill other aspects of the promise—such as becoming a great nation—but partial fulfillment wasn’t enough for God. Partial fulfillment wouldn’t lead to the Messiah, the cross, and the redemption of all mankind. Partial fulfillment wouldn’t satisfy the promise made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15. For the enemy to be crushed and mankind to be freed, the essential lineage was the one leading to Jesus. For that, only Isaac—the son conceived in God’s strength—would do, because…
It’s only through God’s power that all people can be blessed.
Perhaps that’s why God alone—and not Abram—bore the weight of the Genesis 15 covenant:
“I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half…
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram… (Genesis 15:7-18)
Note how Abram never sets foot between the severed pieces. That’s because this isn’t a covenant both parties entered into. It’s not a two-way street with promised blessings shifting back and forth. Instead, the blessing flows in one direction only: to Abram (and all peoples) from God. As such, God alone is accountable. His cutting a covenant in this manner is the same as if He’d proclaimed: “Let Me become as these severed animals if I ever go back on this promise.”
In other words, “I’ll be dead before I fail you in this.”
And that’s just what transpired. God died—willingly. On a cross. To fulfill the promise He’d made to Adam and Eve, then to Abraham, and—eventually—to all the inhabitants of this fallen world. A promise made in His wisdom, carried out in His strength, and fulfilled for His glory (and our benefit).
A promise to bless mankind. If we can only cease our working and striving to receive the promise only God can fulfill.
But how does that transfer to our writing—or whatever God-given passion we pursue?
“I will make you into a great nation…”
Do we only want great influence (numerous descendants) in order to feel we’ve made our mark?
“I will make your name great…”
Do we only wish for notoriety and fame so everyone knows our names? Or would we rather make a name for God?
Do we want our writing to be only an escape from reality—or to be instead an escape into a reality only comprehensible in God’s strength?
“…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
If we want the most important part of God’s promise to be true for us—for our writing, our ministry—that it would be a spiritual blessing to our readers (or whomever our audience may be), we’ll need more than an Ishmael. More than our own efforts and strength.
We’ll need a dead womb submitted to God, every earthly hope fading—until all our hopes center on God.
As Allen Arnold says in The Story of With:
“Let go of your preconceived notions of what is possible and ask God about His dreams for you. They will likely be far bigger than anything you’ve yet imagined.” After all, “The only way to experience a miracle is to put yourself in a position to need one. That is part of stepping into dreams so big that only God can make them come true.”
The Power of Promise?
So God says, I’ll give you a land. A place of belonging. A name, a son, a nation (Genesis 12). This in itself is a great promise, but I wonder if Abraham fully understood what God was saying.
Consider how Abram asks God for proof: “how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” (Genesis 15:8)
God indulges Abram with the outward sign of a covenant (the severed animals, and the ceremony), though I believe the words God speaks just prior to this moment serve as a pre-answer to Abram’s doubt:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
A son was nice. A nation, too. But here God whispers what really matters… “I AM… your reward.” In other words…
“Don’t trust in the promise, my son. Trust in the Promise-Giver.”
This, I believe, was the very reason God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. To ensure that his trust was properly grounded. Not in Isaac—but in God.
If the Sovereign Lord once planted a son in a dead womb, He could do it again. Or raise the sacrificed boy from the dead so he might again become the son of promise. The Creator of time itself can do above and beyond anything we can ever ask or imagine.
So… when we think we’ve finally produced a novel that could be our very own “son of promise,” instead of rushing out to the printer, we need to lay it on God’s altar. Give it back to Him to do away with or to use however He wishes.
We submit our work to God—or else it becomes an idol, a snare.
We need to realize that the tangible product in our hands is nothing apart from God’s divine power. Furthermore, God is more concerned with our relationship to Him than with our productivity. Rather than any blessings He might bestow, God Himself is our greatest reward.