Today's section of Galatians actually refers back to a story in Genesis. Let's read through the verses in Galatians 4:21-31 together:
"Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:
'Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.'
28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? 'Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.' 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman."
I know it's a lot of reading, but it'd be great to look at the story to which Paul is referencing in Genesis. You can find it in Genesis 16 (that's the story about Hagar and Abraham having a son) and again in Genesis 21 (that's when Sarah actually conceives). A lot happens in between, of course, and is also worth reading.
If you're not up for that much reading this morning, here's the basic facts of the story. Abraham and Sarah got married. They went through a lot together but never got pregnant. Both grew old. Abraham received a promise from God that he would multiply Abraham's descendants so that there were more than the stars in the sky. But he still had no son. And so, Sarah convinced him to sleep with her servant, Hagar, in order to force the miracle to happen. Hagar became pregnant. She and Sarah fought. Eventually Sarah did become pregnant and, one thing lead to another, Hagar left with her son. God saw the two crying as they hid and promised her that he'd make him into a great nation as well.
Here's what I feel like God wants me to share from today's reading (rather than a verse by verse analysis of the passage):
We do this all of the time. We get a promise from God (we think) and then we try to force it to happen in our own time. But our time isn't God's time. If you truly believe that God has made a promise to you, wait on him! He will follow through on what he said. God doesn't break promises!
But how can you know if what you think is a promise from God is truly from God and not just all in your head?
Here are some things you should do to check on the validity of what you're hearing:
1. Read your Bible. Is there anything in there that would go against what you're hearing? For example, God isn't going to promise to give you a new person to love while you're married. That's adultery and it's not okay, according to the Bible. He isn't going to make a promise that goes against his own word. It doesn't work.
2. Do a lot of praying. Continue to talk to God about it. Is it a new job opportunity? Talk to God. An adoption overseas? Talk to God.
3. Check with trusted friends. Do they have any valid concerns? Do they think you sound loony? Ask them to pray with you for the next several days (weeks, whatever seems appropriate) for clarity on the issue.
4. Read your Bible Again! The best way that God speaks to us is through his word. Talk to God and ask for clarity in the words you are reading.
5. Take a step if all seems okay so far. I read a quote from Mother Theresa today that went like this: "I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust." Most of the time, God doesn't lay out his entire plan in one pretty little picture for us. He wants us to take simple steps in his plan. Stormie Omartian wrote a book years ago called "Just Enough Light for the Step I'm On." In that book, she goes on to explain this very thing. God doesn't give us all of the steps he wants us to take. He gives them to us one at a time. Maybe that's all we can handle. But it definitely forces us to just trust in his plan if we can't truly see where we are going. We have to follow the One who is guiding us.
As you take each step on God's path for you, continue to follow the above steps. It's easy to think that you know where you're headed and get off the path. Keep checking in with God. Is this what he wants you to do?
Let me give an example from my own life. I was a homeschooling mom for several years of my life. Slowly, one at a time, my kids have gone off to public school starting with the oldest and ending with the youngest who will start for the first time this fall. I prayed and prayed about this. I've been reading my Bible and talking to trusted friends and family members about it. My biggest question: what am I supposed to do when they are all in school? I didn't get a clear answer on that one. I moved forward anyway and enrolled the youngest in school.
At this point, I still don't entirely know what the school year will hold. I know I need to be fully present here in my summer with my husband and kids. I also know that I will be given many chances to overfill my time. I have to take the time to check in with God for each one so that I know I'm not just filling time.
Now I know that this post wasn't entirely what Paul had in mind when he shared this story in Galatians 4 so many years ago. This is really about being children of God and a part of God's promise. It's about pushing aside the law and embracing our roll as the children of the free woman. But like I said above, we have to allow God to lead us where he wants us to go and this is what I felt led to share. Take a few minutes and talk to God. Ask him to reveal what next steps he wants you taking. Where is he leading you?