Posted in Christian Living, Faith

To Think Like Hagar

Hagar by Edmonia Lewis
Hagar by Edmonia Lewis

I have read the story of Hagar and Sarai many times, and I always come away with a new lesson.  This week, I was struck by Hagar’s response to her encounter with God:

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her.  She said, “You are the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

You know the story:  Abram has been promised by God that he will be the father to descendants that outnumber the stars in the sky, but even though Abram believes God, his wife Sarai gets impatient.  She talks Abram into lying with his servant Hagar, who gives Abram a son.  Jealousy ensues.  Hagar, a lowly servant who has now managed to out-do her mistress can’t help but get a little cocky about it.  Even though Sarai talked her husband into sleeping with Hagar in the first place, when the pregnancy comes, Sarai makes Abram send Hagar away.

Even though she gets to come back, Hagar and her son, Ishmael, are eventually banished again.  God promises Abram that Ishmael will also be the father of a nation, but He tells Hagar that Ishmael will always be set apart and in contention with his brothers.  Still, Hagar finds a reason to praise.

You are the God who sees me, she says.

It’s hard to know the mind of a servant woman more than three centuries ago in a culture and world far removed from our capitalistic, electronic reality.  But we can at least know that she would have had no thoughts of ever being any more than a mere servant.  In other words, to be seen by God was to be validated as a person and not as a mere thing owned by others.

Having read these words this morning, I was struck by the beauty of the Cross.  For, when Christ died for us, did He not see us?  What a wonderful gift it is to realize that we can go forward each day knowing that God sees us because of Christ’s love for us.

Thinking like Hagar means knowing the enormous gift it is to be seen by God.  Never take it for granted.  If you hold this truth to your heart each day, how much easier it will be to walk in the steps of Christ, loving others as we ourselves want to be loved.  We, too, have the ability to see. 

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Stuck in the Mire?

Murky Water Have you ever had just a blah kind of day, where your mind and body both felt just out of whack or irritated, and you just couldn’t put your finger on the exact cause?

Have you ever considered that the exact cause might just be your own unconfessed sin before God?  Sometimes, we get in such an easy habit of beginning or ending our prayers with a blanket “forgive us our sins,” that we forget the awesome power that can be gained from picking apart our sins before God.  He knows what they are already, of course.  But do we?

I started thinking about how not getting specific with God gets me stuck in the mire as I have been reading the Psalms.  In these wonderful poetic prayers, the various authors pour out their sentiments to God in imagery, metaphor, and splendid detail.  The more I read these prayers, the more I am struck by how helpful it is to be specific when you are talking to God.

In a world where there is often 26 hours of things to do in each 24 hour day, we often let getting specific fall between the cracks of all the materialistic things we have convinced ourselves need to be done for our existence not to fall apart.  But God has all the time in the world to listen to us, no matter how long we speak.  So should we.

In Psalm 32, David gives an apt description of what it feels like to be trapped in our sins: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your [God’s] hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’–and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (3-5).

David, who lived in a time without the guarantee of Jesus as intecessor, had many reasons to hide his sin from God, even though God already knew the sin.  Essentially, by not confessing to God, David was only denying the truth to himself, and this denial effectively shut him off from God!  How much simpler it should be for those of us who have the Great Intecessor to go freely to God to admit to ourselves the sins we have committed against Him.  After all, we have all assurance through the grace of Christ that God will forgive us, whereas David did not.

Are your bones wasting away?  It shouldn’t be that way for those who believe.  “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered,” David begins the psalm (32:1).  “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (32:2).  The person David is describing is every Christian.  We all have the right through grace to claim this state of being.

But we have to be honest with ourselves.  There is no lying to God, of course, though we say those lies anyway, the things we want to believe about ourselves even though the tiny voice at the back of our mind is telling us we are wrong.  Oh, to be the spirit with no deceit before the Father!

What we lose when we don’t confess our specific sins is the chance to grab what David prized most in his relationship with God, and that is the ability to feel the full joy of God, to grasp God’s righteousness, and to praise Him in full understanding of the depth and breadth of God’s goodness.  David finishes Psalms 32 with just such a declaration: “Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (11).

There is no way to get there without first stripping ourselves bare before the One who already knows.  By acknowledging to Him where we have fallen, we effectively admit it to ourselves, casting off the heavy hand upon us and freeing ourselves to truly rejoice!

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Masks

I recently had to attend a convention-type event for my day job, which turned out to be a very pleasant experience. For an introvert like myself, that outcome for such events is not usually the case. At any rate, for myself, as with even the extroverts in the room, events like conventions are places where we can become aware of the different faces we wear in the world because these are the types of places where we meet a lot of people we do not know. In a psychology or literature class, you might call these faces “masks.” For an introvert like myself, I have to put on a brave face in crowds. I make myself smile, nod at people’s comments, and try to think of good questions to ask so I can add something to the conversation. Around my family, I can immediately allow my displeasure to be shown. When I am around strangers, I have to find more delicate ways to get a negative opinion across, if that is what is called for.
When I start to think about the different masks I wear, the different roles I play in this life–from wife to daughter, from sister to friend, from employee to boss–I am struck by the realization that God sees all my masks, every one of them, not just the mask I put on to pray or go to church on Sunday morning.
You understand, I am not talking of masks as fake facades, but as differing projections of the self. We are, after all, slightly different if not enormously different, in different situations. But God sees the person underneath and the projected self all the time, even the much of the time that we forget He is watching.
How alike would my masks become if I could see myself through God’s eyes all the time? I would become a better person, certainly, but would I be a different person at home visiting my parents than I am teaching a class to my employees?
I would hope that any differences would be of such little importance (perhaps better posture in one situation than another or slightly less formal language, for example) that my masks are all essentially the real me. And, hopefully, the real me is the projection of God any true believer in Christ should always strive to be.