“Grief has an eloquent voice when mercy is the listener.” CH Spurgeon
“And the Angel of the Lord said to her: ‘Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction’…Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the God-Who-Sees…”
It’s been one of those seasons. You know, those times when you find yourself dealing with more than the usual number of disappointments, misunderstandings, and unfulfilled expectations…some of those light afflictions that don’t seem so light at the moment. Although trials like these aren’t nearly as weighty and ominous as some of the life-altering troubles we all face at one time or another, they are still no fun to walk through. But, as disheartening as they are, they are good for me. Yep, you read it right; they’re good for me. They remind me of what’s really important in this life. They cause me to remember that this fallen, broken world is not my home. They humble me. They are used by the Lord to cultivate a greater sensitivity, patience, and compassion toward others. However, I think the greatest benefit I experience from the frustrations, difficulties, and distresses life throws at me is that most of the time (I wish I could say all the time), they send me running into the arms of my heavenly Father, who sees, hears, and always cares. That’s what this trying time has done for me, and it has also motivated me to write about something that has been on my heart for a very long time.
I make it a practice to systematically read through the Scriptures each year, and back in January when I read the account of Hagar’s encounter with the Angel of the Lord in Genesis 16, I was moved, as I typically am when I read that passage. I always feel a little bit sorry for Hagar even though it appears she brought some of her trouble on herself. On the other hand, many of the events that took place in her life were beyond her control. She was simply a slave, who in obedience to the orders of her mistress, Sarai, became Abram’s wife and conceived. It is no surprise that the mistress-servant relationship was then broken. The handmaid, now carrying the child of the patriarch, looked down condescendingly at her barren mistress. In response, the indignant matriarch, inflamed with jealousy, treated her servant harshly. All alone, with no friends or family to console or help her, Hagar left the security and provision she had known in the home of Abram. And then, in the lonely seclusion of the wilderness, ‘the Angel of the Lord found her’. I love what Charles Spurgeon, the ‘prince of preachers’, had to say about this unlikely, yet precious, encounter.
“Grief has an eloquent voice when mercy is the listener. I think I see her there, her eyes red with weeping, her spirit broken down with the hunger of her journey, sitting a while and refreshed a moment, and resolved not to stoop and never to go back – and then, again, shuddering at the darkness that lay before her and afraid to go on. In such a state as that God met with her. To all intents and purposes she was a friendless, outcast woman. She had left the only tents where she could claim shelter. She had gone into the wilderness – no father, no mother, no brother, and no sister to care for her. She turned her back on those who had any interest in her, and now she was left alone – alone, alone in a desert land without an eye to pity or a hand to help. Under those peculiar circumstances of trial and sin comingled, God met with her….And there came home to her what she had often heard before but never felt. ‘There is a God. God is not an impalpable somebody up there who has nothing to do with me, but there is God here, here, and He sees me. God deals with me – not far away, asleep, or blind – but God sees me.’ Oh, it is a glorious thing when that conviction arises in the soul: ‘I am not alone. I am not friendless, after all. There is a God and a God who sees me and takes such notice that He speaks to me’.”
A glorious thing indeed! When we feel sad, discouraged, abandoned, betrayed, mistreated, or all alone, the greatest of all comforts is to know that there is One who sees our despair, who hears our cries, and who infinitely cares for us more deeply than we can ever imagine. If the Lord took notice of an Egyptian slave; if He responded to the cries of that slave’s son (Gen. 21:17-21); if He remembered scorned Hannah in her distress (I Sam. 1:19-20), if He pitied Leah, the unloved wife (Gen. 29:31), why should I believe that He does not care for me. I could list scores of examples from Scripture, as well as, church history, of those who would testify that God saw, heard, and responded to their cries. We can take comfort in the reality that He never turns a blind eye or a deaf ear to the sufferings of His own.
I’m sure there are some of you who have a hard time believing that God is even remotely interested in, much less, in control of the circumstances of your life. But, if you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you can experience the delight of God’s comfort in the midst of anxieties, as the Psalmist wrote about in Psalm 94:19, “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” You can know the reassuring presence of the Lord as the Apostle Paul did when he was abandoned by everyone else. “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me…But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me…” (II Tim. 4:16-17). It is a blessed thing indeed to know in our heart of hearts that our Father cares for us and therefore encourages us to cast all our care upon Him. (I Peter 5:7). What joy and peace the reassuring promises found in Isaiah 49 can give us in times of discouragement and defeat. “…For the Lord has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted…Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands…” I can’t think of a more beautiful picture of tender care and compassion than a mother nursing her baby, and that is the metaphor the God of the universe has chosen to use as a depiction of his love for and devotion to His children.
As a general rule, the Lord requires us to believe these realities by faith, but every once in awhile, He sends tangible evidence of His loving watch care over us. I had one of those faith building experiences when my youngest daughter gave birth to her second child. I was blessed to be in the labor and delivery room with Rachel, along with her husband and her sister, when suddenly something was obviously not as it should be. I called for the head nurse on the floor, and in a matter of moments my baby girl was being prepared for an emergency C-section. My other daughter, Hannah, and I went into the nearby waiting room to pray and wait. As we prayed, rather than trusting, I found my faith weak and my heart gripped with fear. My tears became sobs as I cried out to the Lord. I was almost oblivious to the older couple sitting across from us until suddenly the lady said, “Honey, you don’t need to be afraid because the Lord Jesus has promised that He would never leave you nor forsake you”. I glanced at her through tear stained eyes and muttered a faint “Thank you”. Barely coming up for air she continued, “The Lord loves your daughter and that little baby more than you do, and He said that He’s working all things together for good for those who love Him.” I looked up again and said, “I know. Thank you.” She still wasn’t finished. She continued to quote one Scriptural promise after another, and it began to dawn on me, “I know these things. I teach these things to other women. These promises are really true.” As peace started to flood my soul, my petitions turned to confident praise that I could entrust my daughter and my grandson to the One I had entrusted my soul to. Now, you may think it a coincidence that there were only two other people in that hospital waiting room on that Wednesday afternoon. You may suppose that those two people just happened to be Christians. You may even choose to believe that it was simply a fluke that a complete stranger began quoting the very verses of Scripture that I reference when I am encouraging or teaching other women to trust the Lord. Believe that if you must, but I don’t put much stock in coincidence or flukes. I prefer to believe; in fact, I know that my Father knew exactly what I needed to hear to incite me to get my eyes off of my circumstances and back on Him. He knew the familiar, yet precise, words that would impart the peace I needed at that very moment. He didn’t have to, but in loving compassion he sent a woman I had never seen before and never saw again, to remind me that I serve a God who sees, who hears and who cares. And take heart, dear friend, because you can too!
Soli Deo Gloria