Genesis 16:7-15 – God Sees

The God Who Sees Me by UK artist Chris Duffett

The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her,

“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;
    you shall call him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
He shall be a wild ass of a man,
with his hand against everyone,
    and everyone’s hand against him;
and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”

So, she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” Therefore, the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. (NRSV)

“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

st. augustine

It wasn’t easy being Hagar. She was the servant of Sarah, who was the wife of Abraham. It was a tough gig being Sarah’s slave girl. Not only was Hagar bound as a servant; she was mistreated by her master. However, Hagar was not alone. There was someone watching who specializes in hard cases.

God sees everything. The Lord saw Hagar’s adverse living condition. And so, God did something about it. The Lord came alongside Hagar and spoke a promise to her that she could hold onto in her time of trouble. It was a promise way beyond what she could have dreamed of, far above her station in life.

Hagar gave a name to God. “El Roi” means “the God who sees.” What a great name! At a low point in Hagar’s life when it seemed she was a nobody, unseen and only enduring affliction, God showed up and let her know that she is seen, that divine eyes have been watching and observing, all along.

I’m sure there have been times in your life, just like there have been situations in my life, where you wonder if anybody sees you, including God. You feel if you stepped off the earth today that nobody would even notice. To not be seen by another is one of the saddest realities of living in this fallen world full of people too busy and too self-immersed to notice another human being.

Conversely, to be seen brings wonder, joy, and awe into life. To know that God sees you is to be transported into the garden of paradise, enjoying divine presence and fellowship.

You are not alone. God sees you. The Lord knows your every move. God watches because God loves and adores you. The almighty Lord is not a god who is aloof and distant. The One true God looks upon you and me with the kind of affection a new parent has standing over the crib of her infant child. It’s a look of care, protection, joy, pride, and compassion.

One of the most fundamental theological statements we could say about God is: The Lord sees each individual person, and the Lord of all creation cares for each one. Yes, terrible tragedies and gut-wrenching evil exist in this twisted mixed-up world. God does have anger and wrath and is not okay with all the injustice throughout the earth. Yet, God’s wrath exists because of his love. God will do something about it and will do it in the proper time.

God is working out good purposes and plans. God will judge the living and the dead. The Lord has not forgotten you. God sees you, created in the divine image and likeness, and will act on your behalf.

Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all, to you be praise and glory forever. In your tender compassion the dawn from on high is breaking upon us to dispel the lingering shadows of night. As we look for you to come among us this day, open our eyes to behold your presence and strengthen our hands to do your will so that the world may rejoice and give you praise. Blessed be you God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 102:12-28 – God Hears

But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
    your name endures to all generations.
You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
    for it is time to favor it;
    the appointed time has come.
For your servants hold its stones dear,
    and have pity on its dust.
The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
    and all the kings of the earth your glory.
For the Lord will build up Zion;
    he will appear in his glory.
He will regard the prayer of the destitute,
    and will not despise their prayer.

Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
    so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord:
that he looked down from his holy height,
    from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
    to set free those who were doomed to die;
so that the name of the Lord may be declared in Zion,
    and his praise in Jerusalem,
when peoples gather together,
    and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.

He has broken my strength in midcourse;
    he has shortened my days.
“O my God,” I say, “do not take me away
    at the midpoint of my life,
you whose years endure
    throughout all generations.”

Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you endure;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
    but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall live secure;
    their offspring shall be established in your presence. (NRSV)

When you are destitute and hurting, it is easy to feel alone, as if no one really understands. The healthy, the wealthy, and the powerful do not often take notice of the needy. Whether in chronic pain, constantly dealing with sickness, continually drowning in bills, laboring long hours in obscurity with little pay, or all of them at the same time, there is good news: God specializes in such situations.

Contrary to popular characterizations of the Old Testament, God is merciful, gracious, and kind. The dominant motif is not a God of wrath but a God of steadfast love – a God who makes and keeps promises to people. God’s wrath is reserved for those who have the power and privilege to care for others, but instead, fleeces them of what little they possess.

This was the situation for the psalmist. He had no idea why he was the victim – he just knew he needed God.  So, he turned to the Lord – trusting that God is good for his promises – knowing that God will be attentive to the great needs of his life.

It is interesting there is no wonderful or miraculous answer to the psalmist’s plea to God recorded for us. There is only pain, petition, trust, and hope.

Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, all we have is faith, hope, and love. Yet, and I am just throwing out a notion to consider, if we possess these three virtues, we are the ones who are healthy, rich, and strong.

The Lord’s eyes watch the righteous, and his ears listen to their cries for help.

psalm 34:15, ceb

God is attentive to your prayer. God hears you when you adopt this psalm for yourself and pray it with fervor and flavor. The lack of immediate Divine intervention does not necessarily mean God overlooks a person’s situation. It just means the Lord is planning something supremely spectacular for you. 

To pray in a time of trouble is to dwell in the presence of God. To be in the presence of God is to find an answer to prayer you might not have been looking for to begin with. God hears. God will respond… in the proper time.

O God Almighty, sovereign of all, and the One in whom is my hope: Help!  I pray to you alone.  I know you bend your ear to pay attention, so hear my prayer for mercy in the middle of my hardship.  You are always the same, even though everything and everyone else changes.  Be my rock in a time of trouble; in Jesus, through the enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Psalm 147:1-11 – Awaiting Divine Love

Praise the Lord!
    Because it is good to sing praise to our God!
    Because it is a pleasure to make beautiful praise!

The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem, gathering up Israel’s exiles.
God heals the brokenhearted
    and bandages their wounds.
God counts the stars by number,
    giving each one a name.
Our Lord is great and so strong!
    God’s knowledge cannot be grasped!
The Lord helps the poor,
    but throws the wicked down on the dirt!

Sing to the Lord with thanks;
    sing praises to our God with a lyre!
God covers the skies with clouds;
    God makes rain for the earth;
God makes the mountains sprout green grass.
    God gives food to the animals—
    even to the baby ravens when they cry out.
God does not prize the strength of a horse;
    God does not treasure the legs of a runner.
No. The Lord treasures the people
who honor him,
    the people who wait for his faithful love. (CEB)

Early each morning I rise, take the dog for a short walk, make a cup of coffee, then open the life-giving message from the God of the Bible. I read out loud – slowly, mindfully, carefully – allowing the words to seep and make their way down into my soul. 

The Holy Spirit of God gently nudges, sometimes forcefully hurls, me toward a verse, phrase, or word from the text. Contemplating, ruminating, thinking about the Holy Scripture begins to set the trajectory of my day. God is throughout the hours, as I move from one to the next. Sometimes the Lord and Scripture are very much at the forefront of my thinking, other times in the background shaping how I speak and act, and always on my heart enlarging it and filling it with his grace.

Most of life is lived in the mundane. The banality of life is the norm, even in times of change. While others run from prayer to prayer looking for miracles and the next big spiritual high, the one who is patient… waits… and honors God… has a treasure within which transcends language or outward fanfare. The settled conviction of the person in continual communion with the God of the universe peacefully waits for faithful, steadfast, committed, divine love.

There is no description for such a divine/human spiritual relation which exists, giving patience to the penitent and joy to the heart of God.  Such love exists beyond the plane of daily news crises and the continual hum of the crowd. Indeed, the Lord God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, has stooped to cup his hands and treasure the creature formed in the divine image. 

“Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.” 

Teresa of Ávila

Patience is not a bore. To wait is to be at peace. Because God is there. And it is good to be full of God.

O God of peace, you are the one who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your gentle Spirit, lift us, we pray, to your loving presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 86 – Theology Proper

Psalm 86 by Ann Williams

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
    for you will answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and bow down before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

O God, the insolent rise up against me;
    a band of ruffians seeks my life,
    and they do not set you before them.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
    give your strength to your servant;
    save the child of your serving girl.
Show me a sign of your favor,
    so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
    because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. (NRSV)

Today’s psalm is a prayer of David, asking God for help against enemies. David was a guy who knew what it was like to have evil men hate him and pursue taking his life through no fault of his own. I am not sure about your experiences with such people. Although I have never faced adversity to such a degree as David, I do know something about people who, to put it bluntly, just flat-out hate my guts. It feels awful, and it can be terribly draining emotionally and spiritually. Having disrespectful and rude people talk behind your back (and sometimes even to your face) is in direct contrast to who God is.

God is described by David as merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and faithful. Whereas insolent people objectify others and seek their own selfish agendas, God always acts in accord with a basic character of love and grace. Based upon the nature of God, we can choose to cry out, just like David did, to show us a sign of God’s favor. We can pray for God to provide us with some tangible communication of divine love in ways we can understand so that we can be helped and receive the kind of comfort we need through our adversity.

Psalm 86, chalk art by Scottish pastor and artist John Stuart, 2009

Be assured that with such a God, our pleas, cries, and tears will be noticed, affirmed, and answered. We can trust the sovereign Lord of all creation to address the insolence and injustice that exists around us and toward us.

All of this gets down to our view of God, our theological understanding of the basic Divine nature and purpose.  For some people, God is up there, somewhere, like some white-bearded old guy who is aloof to what is going on down here – there is neither anything personal nor personable about him, at all. For others, God is a force which binds all things together. In this theology, God exists, but you are never quite sure how to connect – it is like a crapshoot trying to get in touch with him.  For yet others, God is perpetually perturbed about something; he has a bee in his bonnet, and it is apparently our job to figure out what he is so sullen and upset about all the time so that we can appease him in some way.

However, the psalmist, David, sees God in wholly other ways than this. For David, God is personal, knowable, and reachable. David thought about God in ways which transcend either gendered or personality-type categories. Note the descriptions David provided: a willingness to forgive; an abiding, consistent, and steadfast presence of divine love; always having the time and desire to listen; possessing the power and ability to provide help and protection; being kind and merciful; not being easily angered; and extending needed comfort and consolation.

Now this is a God you can sink your teeth into – attentive, engaged, and anything but upset all the time. This is the reason why David has confidence to ask for deliverance, direction, and delight. Such a God is like a caring grandmother who seeks to always love and serve, and not a crotchety old curmudgeon who always seems bothered by everyone and everything.

If your theology, your view of God, cannot support and bear the weight of life’s hardest circumstances, then you need a different view of God! I invite you to see the God of David. Theology proper discerns the being, attributes, and works of God as fundamentally faithful and loving. This God has both the ability and the will to meet and satisfy your life’s greatest needs.

Great God of David, you are above all things and beside all things and with all things. You are uniquely positioned and powerful to walk with me through all the situations of my life. Thank you for sending the Son of David to make real your promises to me.  Amen.