Bad Timing, Bad Results

“Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away,” woodblock print, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860.

Genesis 16:1-6 (NRSV)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.


This piece of a larger story can sound foreign, but there is a behavior within that should be familiar to us.

In the previous chapter in Genesis, we hear the Lord make powerful, ceremonially bound promises to the man we now know as Abraham, including the promise of a son. This son was to result in an uncountable multitude of descendants.

While no details were given regarding how the son would be born, there also were no codicils added to the promise—God simply told Abraham, “No one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”

Rather than simply accepting the promise, the ancient man and his old wife, who believed she was far beyond child-bearing years, tried to figure out what they must do to make the promise come true. The plan to impregnate a young servant sprang from Sarai’s mind, but her husband, who had witnessed God’s dramatically presented covenant, did nothing to dissuade her.

What ensues is a story of rivalry, jealousy, and some painful choices that have to be made once the real child of promise arrives.

Need I say it? God’s timing is what matters, not ours. In our haste, in our eagerness to see things the way we want them to be, we may take some of the shine off the miracle that will eventually happen.

It seems to me that the best strategy is to be faithful in our everyday tasks, trusting that God will lead us to better places and situations than we could ever devise on our own.

Lord, we are all afraid to pray for patience, but we do need it. May we rejoice one day in how perfect your timing has been throughout history. Amen.

Timing

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Joshua 6:1-20 (NLT)

Today is election day, and as I look at the recommended Nov. 3 Scripture readings, the irony of finding a particular story from the Book of Joshua does not escape me.

In the story there is a wall, and the wall collapses. The story has inspired many people through the years, including Black slaves who once sang, “Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumblin’ down.” It is a story of change, chaotic change, but change designed to benefit the people of God.

First and foremost, let’s be praying that any change to come from today’s voting process is according to God’s will, and to the benefit of Christ’s kingdom on earth. There also is a lesson in this story about timing, a lesson any culture can benefit from in any era.

Joshua asked the Israelites to do a difficult thing—trust God’s timing. It must have been strange, marching around a city’s high wall day after day in silence. I wonder, once back in camp in the evening, did anyone mutter, “When are we going to actually do something effective?”

Timing is difficult to master. If you’ve ever played sports or music, you know how critical timing is. My father has been a drag racer for decades; races are often won or lost by thousandths of a second. In karate, there’s an ancient saying: “The time to strike is when opportunity presents itself.” You can be too quick or too slow. 

People sometimes like to act as if God isn’t fully awake. The solution we’ve deemed right must be forced, it seems: Here, Abram, go impregnate Hagar. Other times, we lose focus, and we’re too late to be effective. (I plan to preach this “too late” text Sunday.)

Jesus’ earthly ministry relied on timing. He repeatedly warned the disciples and others not to reveal too much about him, not just yet. It was as if Jesus knew exactly which beams and nails had to be available for his crucifixion if heaven and earth were to be joined through him.

If we’re going to master timing as Christians, we need to be sure we’re hearing clearly from God. Let’s neither rush nor miss those moments when our Lord says, “Blow those trumpets! Shout!” Again, prayer and study of Scripture are the best ways to unstop our ears.

Once we know God has issued a call to action, we can be confident our efforts to change things for the better will be effective, even if it turns out we’re just one move in the Lord’s long game.


Today seems like a good day for John Wesley’s covenant prayer. Here’s a modern version:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.