By Gary Khan
When I was in my early twenties, God gave me a word and a picture regarding His destiny for me. It was overwhelming and compelling, and I have spent the rest of my life waiting for Him to fulfill that vision. Yet it eludes me. Time is creeping forward, and I seem to be standing still, wondering when I will see the fulfillment of that promise from God.
Have you ever felt that way? God drops a word into your heart, a promise for the future, and then He goes silent and seems to have forgotten about what He said. For me it has resulted in doubt storms that rage within me. That doubt sometimes leads to rash decisions when I decide to “help” God fulfill His promise by forging ahead of Him.
Abraham had a similar experience. God spoke to him about his descendants being as numerous as the sands of the seashore when Abraham had yet to father even one child. After God gave him that word, decades passed with no fulfillment in sight. Abraham had to live in the waiting, and in that time of waiting he did some things we would be wise to avoid. The story can be found in Genesis 15 and 16.
Abraham made some major moves, literally, as a result of God speaking to him, moves that seemed to lack any immediate payoff.
Let’s put ourselves in that situation for a moment. God speaks to us regarding a major life change; then He goes silent. How many of us would obey Him right away? Or would we walk around wrestling with doubts about whether we really heard from God? How many of us are not doing the majority of what He has asked us to do right now because we are doubtful about the outcome?
I can hear it already. Some of you are thinking, But Abraham is different. He had God show up in person so he should not have doubted. I do not get personal visitations from God.
Maybe we won’t get a personal visitation like Abraham did, but today we have God’s Holy Spirit. He lives in us and is with us, leading us and guiding us into all truth. Conversely, imagine you did receive a visitation from God for a moment, but then you had to walk day in and day out in the reality that what God told you would happen has not happened – even though it has been years of waiting and various attempts at fulfilling His promise. In those “day-in and day-out” moments, doubts begin to visit, making statements that throw God’s promises into question.
Did I really hear God, or was it the pizza I ate that evening?
Really, I know God can do anything, but would He do that for me? I’m not that special. Maybe I’m doing something wrong. Remember, “God helps those who help themselves,” so if I want to see this happen, then I need to make it happen.
We need to learn to anticipate those doubts. If you are like me, you want God to reassure you every moment until the promise is fulfilled, and then you want Him to continue to reassure you that everything is on track. We want constant reassurance — but God wants us to trust in Him. The need for constant reassurance does not build our faith in Him.
Dealing with Doubt in the Waiting
The enemy’s tried-and-true tactic is to cast doubt on what God said to us. It’s a trick as old as time. In Genesis he asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1, NIV).
We need to recognize this tactic and be prepared to deal with it. In the New Testament, James tells Christians that we can be victorious over Satan and his doubting trick: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, NIV).
Submit and resist. We submit by believing God’s Word, and we resist by standing on that Word in faith and declaring it over our lives. We resist when we live in the reality of what God has spoken instead of reacting to the doubts Satan is stirring up. We can win over doubt, and the way we win is by reminding ourselves and the enemy of God’s Word to us.
When Abraham and Sarah were plagued by the doubts that came up because of God’s silence, they would have done well to remind themselves what God had said to them. They would have saved themselves a lot of trouble and heartache. The same goes for us. The enemy is looking to steal, kill, and destroy the work of God in us, but God has promised that His Word will not return empty. How do we remind ourselves of God’s precious promises?
- Memorize His Word and repeat it as needed.
- Read it often and hold on to His promises. He will fulfill His Word to us.
The doubts will keep coming, one after another. The enemy’s incessance combined with the seeming slowness of God and His silence lead us to a crossroads where many of us act on our doubts instead of standing on God’s promises. That never ends well.
We will encounter these realities if we trust our plans over God’s:
- We can never see the big picture like God does.
God is not bound by time and space and sees how every little thing affects the big picture; we can never do that. When we choose to trust our plans instead of God’s plans, we take huge risks. We may be able to plan three steps ahead of us, but even that is fraught with trouble because we can never predict how a person may react to something we do, and we do not know what will happen in the bigger scheme of things.
- Our motivations become a problem.
When God plans, He is weaving together a masterpiece that will be for the good of all humankind. When we plan, we are usually concerned with ourselves and getting what we want. Just look at what happened with Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael.
Sarah was not concerned with God’s great plan of bringing salvation to the world through Abraham. Her motivation for a child was to unburden herself from the stigma of not being able to bear a child for her husband. When it seemed like God was taking too long, she decided on a plan to get that child through a surrogate. Hagar was her handmaiden, so she was with Sarah all the time. Hagar probably saw Sarah’s sadness and heard her as she sobbed and complained about how she could not have a child for her husband. I don’t know whose idea it was, whether Sarah suggested it or Hagar offered it, but however the idea was conceived, I can safely say that Sarah was not thinking about Hagar’s well-being. She simply saw her as a means to an end.
One of the problems that occurs when we doubt is that instead of trusting God’s timing, we run ahead and use people around us “in the name of God,” leaving a trail of destruction and brokenness behind us.
- People don’t always respond the way we expect them to or as they promised they would.
Hagar may have told Sarah she would do this as her friend and handmaiden. She may have had good intentions. As a kid hearing this story, I simply assumed that Hagar got pregnant after a one-night stand. But the reality is that Abraham probably went in to Hagar more than once, and when Hagar started having sexual relations with Abraham, things changed. It always does when you start having sex – because God made it that way.
When Hagar discovered she was pregnant, things changed even more. She began to believe that she would now mean more to Abraham and Sarah. But the sad reality is that in Abraham’s and Sarah’s eyes Hagar was always the slave girl, still just a means to an end.
Not only did Hagar not respond as planned, but Sarah did not respond as she thought she would. Sarah could not and did not predict that she would become extremely jealous of Hagar. She watched every night as Abraham went in to Hagar. After a while it started to get to her, no matter how enlightened she thought she was. She kept telling herself it was for a greater cause, but I can guess that something changed in the relationship with her and Hagar as well. Hagar probably started acting less like a slave girl and more like an entitled family member. She probably started using more familiar language with Sarah, and Sarah began to get insecure and jealous.
“Who does this girl think she is? Abraham is my husband! She needs to remember her place!”
When Hagar found out she was pregnant, Sarah may have thought to herself, “I should be happy, but I am not. I am angry that this woman is stealing what should be mine! I hate her!”
These are not the feelings Sarah thought she would have when she laid out the scheme to do God’s job for Him, but that is the problem. We are far too shortsighted to be the Master Planner.
- Our bad decisions give God a bad name.
After Hagar gave birth to her son, Sarah grew jealous and began to treat her badly. I wonder how Hagar saw Sarah’s God then? After all, Sarah must have talked about the Almighty as loving and caring, one who protects and provides for those who follow Him. Yet, here was Sarah treating Hagar with disdain and dislike. People often determine the character of God based on how we His followers treat them.
One of my closest friends had a sign in her kitchen that read, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” Those words are true, and Abraham found that out. Sarah demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away because she did not want “that woman” and “that boy” around her precious Isaac. She made life difficult for Abraham. Finally, he reluctantly gave in and sent Hagar and Ishmael away. The crazy thing is that God agreed with Sarah’s conclusion (maybe not her actions) and told Abraham to send them away. Let’s speculate a bit with some understanding of human nature.
Abraham, distressed about having to send Ishmael away, had a conversation with him:
“Son, I really don’t want to do this, but you know Sarah. She is going to make life difficult for me. The truth is I would put up with her, but God told me to send you away, so I must do it.”
What do you think Hagar’s and Ishmael’s impression of God was? I would think that they would believe He did not care about them. They would see Him as mean and vengeful, unkind and manipulative.
Thirty years have passed since that word God gave me regarding my destiny. I have made many of the mistakes that Abraham made, but here is the good news: God’s promises to us are ironclad. He will do what He says He will do. So in the waiting, trust that He will accomplish what He said He will do. Resist the doubt the enemy stirs up that causes us to want to run ahead or give up completely. Abraham may have doubted and made a few missteps along the way, but thankfully he corrected his course, and God was faithful to fulfill His word.
About the Author
Gary Khan served as pastor of Desert Streams Church of the Open Bible in Santa Clarita, California, for 32 years. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Operations for Marketplace Chaplains in Southern California. He also serves on Open Bible’s National Board of Directors and as district director for the Southern California/Arizona/Hawaii district. Gary is author of the devotionals Greater and Reset as well as his soon-to-be-published book, That Didn’t Go the Way I Thought: Navigating the Ups and Downs of Our Journey of Faith. Gary’s greatest achievement and joy is that of being husband to DeLaine for the past 32 years and father of three amazing kids (two biological and one “adopted”).