Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 3. It’s what should be!
Gen 25:21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren.
Abraham’s Unfulfilled Vision: The writer to the Hebrews spoke of Abraham, “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10) which suggests a hope or expectation that Abraham had, that out of his family would come such a community of people that, instead of living the nomadic life he had known, they would settle down with God in what would surely be a city. Yet in his lifetime that never came to be. He would have rejoiced over a future Jerusalem if he had been able to see it at its peak in say Solomon’s day. But that was yet the future.
Isaac’s Waiting: Then came Isaac, the child of promise, born miraculously when both his parents were well beyond child-bearing age. No doubt as he grew they would have shared with him their story. He now is part of the fulfillment of the start of a people who would eventually become like the sand on the seashore, so numerous you cannot count them (Gen 22:17). Isaac grows up and Abraham gets him a wife: “Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah” (Gen 25:20) Eventually, and it was very much a case of ‘eventually’ Rebekah has two twin boys, Esau and Jacob: “Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.” (Gen 25:26) If that was all you knew of the story it would be unremarkable but actually there is a verse in between which speaks volumes: “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” (Gen 25:21)
Isaac’s Frustrated Expectations: A quick calculation shows that Isaac had been married twenty years before he became a father, twenty years of waiting to see how he was going to be part of the fulfillment of God’s word to his father, which he later reiterated to Isaac (26:3-5). So we have a picture of another from this family tree of Abraham, Isaac, who had this sense of expectation formed by the Lord, and expectation of something that was in addition to his natural inclination and expectation as a husband. Although in our somewhat distorted world today in the West it is not always the case that husbands, let alone their wives, want children, in most societies throughout history having children is the natural expectation of being a husband or wife. In fact, apart from the natural expectation of a child to grow up and enter into a (sexual) relationship with a partner (husband or wife), this is probably the most basic expectation in the human race. So, when that expectation is frustrated, as was both the case with Sarai and Rebekah, it is especially hard, as those today know who try for children to no avail. It is often heartbreaking.
Prayer: It is in this context that we find only the third reference in the Bible to someone praying. The first instance had been Abraham who prayed on God’s instructions for Abimelech (Gen 20:17), then there had been Abraham’s servant, sent with the task of finding a wife for Isaac (Gen 24:12), and now we have just read that, “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife.” Prayer is the natural response to desperation. We don’t know how many years Isaac waited and waited before he started praying and we don’t know how long he prayed, but it was twenty long years before Rebekah conceived and tomorrow we’ll see what followed.
Delayed Visions: But here is the thing about expectations that come, either from natural inclination or following a word from the Lord – they can be frustrated and delayed in their fulfillment. I spoke yesterday morning about a long-term vision the Lord has given me, something I have in which to play a part, and it was only later in the day I found myself gazing on the situation in question thinking, “This is never going to happen,” and I had to take hold of myself and remind myself this is God’s vision, not mine.
Delays Weary: A while later I was talking with a lovely Christian lady who had been married for 38 years to a non-Christian husband and she has anguished for him and prayed for him for that whole period, apparently to no avail. Last year they went through a particularly tough time in respect of his poor health and I found myself saying, “Would it help if I told you that I believe this last year has been a preparation for what is coming in this next year?” She answered in the affirmative, because she is a “good evangelical Christian”, a ‘strong’ believer, but I sensed in reality it went straight over her head (despite the fact that someone else apparently has recently said the identical thing), because year after year of frustrated praying can wear down the soul.
Our Delays: Many of us harbor these hopes, these expectations; it may be about wanting a child, it maybe about wanting a partner, it maybe about wanting your partner to come to the Lord, it maybe about wanting your children to come to the Lord, it may be about a desire for healing. In all of these instances, it seems, there can be frustration. Solomon apparently knew this when he wrote, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Prov 13:12) That is the natural response to this hope being dashed again and again, but to stop it killing us (spiritually at least) we need to somehow grab His grace to help keep us faithful. The enemy would seek to make us jaded and cynical, but the Lord works to deepen our faith and our confidence in him
Being Examples: I wrote fairly recently in a Christmas meditation about how Abraham was an example to us, of faith, and then how important example is. Sometimes our example can impact others, whether it be others seeing your fortitude in the face of anguish or simply they see the sort of life you live as you wait in expectation. Mostly the Bible doesn’t have a great deal to say about such situations. Peter did say, “Wives …. be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,” (1 Pet 3:1) and we could substitute for that word ‘behaviour’ the word ‘example’, and there are of course general guidelines as to how we are to live as husbands, wives, parents, children, workers, members of society etc. but that’s about it.
And So: Being an example will not get you pregnant, just help others. That’s why some of these things feel so hard. We feel helpless to bring change, and yet we have this as yet unfulfilled hope. It is one of the hardest areas of being a Christian because you know God could step in and yet, for whatever reason, He has decided not to. So all you are left with is prayer and more prayer and a seeking for grace to maintain a right attitude. After that we have to leave it up to Him. We never said this series on expectations and hope would always be easy, and so it is important, early on, that we see just how difficult it is sometimes. The Lord knows, He still loves us, He is no doubt still working within us to bring changes in us, but He does know what we feel, and He feels it with us (see Ex 3:7). When the Lord says He is concerned by what He sees, He means it! At Lazarus’s tomb that concern was shown by tears. I believe the Lord anguishes with us, but sometimes He sees that the best, as hard as that is to receive, is to wait, and in what follows we’ll see some reasons why. Try and hang on in there while you wait.