The angel of the LORD found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied.
The angel of the LORD said to her “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.”
Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.”
…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 16:7-10, 13
Last year, my three kids gave me a gift certificate for a “personal retreat” at a local conference center, to be used whenever I liked. I finally scheduled my two days away, and am even now enjoying the beauty and solitude of this gift as I write.
And I mean, I’m talking SOLITUDE.
It just so happens that I scheduled my retreat during a period of time when there are no other events or guests booked at the conference center. On this Sunday afternoon, it is utterly deserted; offices closed, no cars, not another person on the whole campus. That in itself is a little disconcerting! I turn to my Bible to get my thoughts re-oriented and focused, and I open again to the story of Hagar. As I read the words which I posted about in my last blog (see Known Pt. 1), my eyes fall on the question that Jesus asks her:
“What are you doing here?” (Genesis 16:8, The Message)
That question feels very applicable to me in this present moment. What am I doing here? No, I’m not running away from anything as Hagar was; but still God asks me to think about where I am, and why. In the original language, the question actually has two parts: “Where did you come from?” and “Where are you going?” Hagar quickly answers the first question (“I am running away from my mistress Sarai”) but she avoids the second question…because she has no idea where she is going.
These questions remind me of Genesis 3:9, where God walks in the cool of the evening through Eden, looking for Adam, who is hiding because of his sin. God calls, “where are you?” But it’s not as though God doesn’t know where Adam is. He hasn’t lost His humans. Rather, He calls, “where are you?” to force Adam to acknowledge and take ownership of where he is—in sin, and hiding from His Creator and Friend.
God asks Hagar these questions for the same reasons. He knows precisely where she has come from, and He also knows that she has no clue what to do next—friendless, alone, and pregnant. But once she honestly acknowledges to God what she has done to land herself in her current predicament (running away), He can begin to re-direct her; to set right what has gone wrong and to meet her needs. Alone at the well, without God, she has no hope for the future and perhaps little hope for survival. But with God’s presence and direction, she now has hope, and a purpose bigger than herself. It won’t be easy—God sends her back into a household fraught with jealousy and discord—but she goes with a fresh humility and a knowledge of God’s purpose for her clutched closely to her heart.
This lesson is also for me today. Before I can grasp God’s direction and purpose for me, and hear it clearly, I must acknowledge where I am and where I’ve come from. Having a deep sense of my own sin, and my utter lostness apart from Christ’s pardon, is the essential starting point. Especially working in ministry as I do, self-righteousness and pride can creep in. For many of us, a “works” mentality can be an insidious invader, as we subconsciously rack up all the “points” we are earning to gain God’s favor.
Yet like Hagar, in truth we sit in the desert; helpless and hopeless, all of our righteous acts like the filthy rags we ran away in. Hagar was nothing in herself. A lowly servant, the bottom rung of society. No family, no resources, no incredible giftings. Yet she had an encounter with the One who saw her as she truly was, and she became the mother of princes (Gen. 17:20)…all because of, and only because of, grace.
Let’s meet Him by the well in the desert today, trusting no more in our own knowledge or works, but only in the grace of the One who alone sees and loves us.
We should be astonished at the goodness of God,
stunned that He should bother to call us by name,
our mouths wide open at His love,
bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground…
Dear Lord, grant me the grace of wonder.