The barren, desolate wilderness is treacherous for anyone passing through. For a runaway pregnant girl, it is deadly. At the beginning of her flight, anger empowered her, moved her steadily forward. Now the fury had spent itself and she realized her dilemma. Her foolish act placed herself and her unborn child into danger. The wilderness was an unmerciful place to the weak and feeble ones.
It was becoming obvious there would be no search party. She glanced back now and then, expecting to see them coming after her. Why should she be surprised? Why would they care about a rebellious slave girl? Good riddance to trouble! Let her go back to Egypt. If the desert takes her first, so be it.
The desert may claim her life, yet it was doing something else too. Any pretense of arrogance, of self-importance was stripped away. She now saw herself as she really was; a wretched woman; weak, rebellious and contentious. Perhaps she deserved to die.
The barren wilderness has a way of exposing our weaknesses and faults. We lose control, and we don’t feel strong and confident anymore. Those pretenses we work so hard to maintain are stripped away, and we feel vulnerable and powerless. We see that truly we are poor and needy of spirit.
I remember well experiencing a spiritual wilderness like this. I call it my winter of discontent. The people I depended on to meet my need for approval and love disappointed me over and over again. Either they weren’t available or just not responsive. The ministries I led weren’t being attended and I interpreted that as rejection. Perhaps I had done something wrong to be snubbed.
I began to notice a subtle shift in my attitudes. I lost my temper at work and even at home. I withdrew from people, fearing their rejection. I found myself in a barren wilderness and I didn’t like what it was doing to me. I didn’t like what I saw in myself.
I was desperate for change. I felt like a piece of burnt toast, and I knew I needed help soon. An opportunity arose for me to escape to a personal retreat. Escape I did, at least that’s how it felt at first. Perhaps going to a cabin in February isn’t appealing to many people, but it drew me like a vacation to Hawaii.
I went alone, feeling misgivings, wondering if I was being selfish leaving my family. Yet God had me right where He wanted me. Now I was free from distractions and I could hear His voice. He had much to say.
Up ahead Hagar spied an oasis of green that indicated a spring. She quenched her thirst and rested. She felt so strongly about fleeing the camp, she didn’t care about the consequences. Now she began to waver, wondering what her next move should be. She then heard the voice.
“Hagar, servant of Sarah, where have you come from and where are you going?”
Have these questions ever rung in your mind? Have you ever just blew it and wondered how I got here and now where can I go from here? Have you ever spent time despising yourself? I’ll raise my hand along with yours. Yes, unfortunately I’ve been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.
Hagar was ashamed to admit why she fled yet how could she hide from Almighty God?
Abraham and Sarah tried to fulfill God’s promise of a son by their own efforts and included her into their plan. She conceived with Abraham. Her pregnancy definitely improved her status in the clan. She went from a lowly slave now to carrying her master’s child.
Every chance she got, she popped an attitude and flaunted her pregnancy, especially in the face of barren Sarah.
Things turned ugly. Sarah mistreated her badly until she had enough and fled.
Where was she going? Her intention was to go back to Egypt. Yet would things be better there? Truth be told, her life was altered now. Hagar had no answers. She couldn’t justify her actions. The Lord saw behind her tough, independent mask and saw the ugliness, saw her inadequacies. He saw it all.
Yet God sought after her. He found her and gave a promise to bless her offspring. He had a purpose for a selfish, prideful slave girl. He breathed life into a desolate wilderness. He lifted a head bowed low. She experienced God in such a personal and intimate was she even gave Him a new name.
“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are the God who sees me’, for she said I have
now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13 NIV
Hagar I am sure wasn’t the same after this encounter with the God who sees. God sent her back to Sarah. She was able to go back to the same circumstances, but with a new perspective, with new strength, and a fixed assurance that God knows her and loves her.
Why would God desire such a woman as this? Why would He desire me? I know He does, yet I will never understand why. I’ve been known to pop an attitude now and then. I have been prideful and selfish. I’ve indulged in depressing pity parties much too long. Yet He still comes to meet me and speaks such tender words. How can I hold myself back from such a powerful love as this?
I was blaming others for my troubles, just like Hagar blamed Sarah. But the real issue was a fierce need for approval. My need wasn’t being met, bottom line: it could never be fully met. My spiritual wilderness exposed these inadequacies and left me feeling vulnerable and weak. Yet my discontentment with myself proved to be the beginning of a new growth spurt in my spiritual life.
This discontentment is actually a great blessing. Without it I would be content with the status quo. I would be satisfied with my position and with who I am. I wouldn’t experience the lavish grace of God, or know Him in a more intimate way.
This makes our discontentment a Divine thing. Its purpose is to turn us toward God. It deepens our relationship with Him. Yet the enemy wants to use it to his advantage as well. He would rather we waste time and energy lamenting over failures and flogging ourselves in punishment.
When our focus is turned inward, we alienate ourselves from God. When we feel sufficient time has passed, we ceased punishing ourselves and then turn to Him ragged and beat down.
Why not turn to Him at first? Why don’t we admit to Him we are poor and needy of spirit? Wouldn’t this save us much heartache? Surely His heart’s desire is for us to come quickly to Him. Aren’t His arms always open in welcome?
Yet even when we choose to alienate ourselves, He still seeks after us. He meets us in the lonely, barren places and draws us back to Him. I have always found Him to be this way even when I am like Hagar.
I entered my cabin retreat with my faith shaken and my head bowed low. I left with a new assurance of His love and fresh strength to face what He called me to do. Just like Hagar, He met me in my wilderness. He didn’t abandon me, or cast me aside in frustration. He still had a purpose for me. He still desired me.