Summary: If we are to make progress in life, then we must let go to go on.

SERIES TITLE: Making Progress

Sermon Title: Letting Go

Sermon Text: Genesis 21:9-14

(C) louis bartet, 2003


While visiting India, I had the opportunity to minister two and three times every day. The opportunity was there, but from my vantage point I wasn’t being very effective. Communication is more than sharing information, it demands that the hearer is interested and understands what the speaker is saying. My technical approach wasn’t connecting with my hearers. Not only was I a foreigner speaking a strange language, the content of my message was irrelevant. I noticed that this wasn’t true of the national speakers. The people responded positively to their preaching. So, I asked one of the interpreters to tell me what James was saying. The story went something like this.

The small village needed food, so two men from the village were elected to go to a nearby town for the much needed supplies. The men boarded the canoe and paddled across the lake that separated them from the city where they were to purchase the food. They spent the day purchasing the list of items and loading the boat. Among the items they bought were four bottles of wine. The sun was going down when they finally made plans to row back across the lake. Feeling like they owed themselves something special the men uncorked two of the bottles of wine and sat down for some refreshment. As they consumed the wine a fog settled in on them and the lake. Undaunted by the darkness and the fog, the men began to row for home. They rowed all night except for those times they stopped to drink from the other two bottles of wine. When the morning sun dispelled the darkness and dissipated the fog, the men realized that although they had been rowing all night they had made no progress. Why? They were still tied to the dock.

The Indian pastor then made his point. "Some of you haven’t been making any progress in life because you’re still tied to the dock."

There are some of us here this morning who aren’t making any progress in life because we’re tied to the dock. Our emotional and mental grip on past failures, past successes, impossible relationships, unforgiveness, rejection, and such like are preventing us from moving forward. After reading self-help books we’ve bought new oars, doubled our efforts or purchased a new streamlined boat, but we’re not going to make any progress until we untie the rope that holds us to the dock.

In Genesis 15:4, God promised Abram a son—"…one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." Abram had lived in Canaan for ten years (16:3), but he still did not have a son. It was then that Sarah made her suggestion—"…the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her" (16:2). One night with Hagar produced more results than a lifetime with Sarah—"And Abram went in to Hagar, and she conceived…" (16:4).

Believe it or not, the flesh is capable of producing something that will satisfy you and even appear to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to you. In Genesis 17, God appears to Abram and informs him that Sarah would conceive and bear a son. In that instant the distance between Abram’s desire and God’s desire becomes apparent. Abram was totally satisfied with a son, but God’s purpose demanded a Savior. Abram says to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before You!" (Gen. 17:17), but God’s response is "NO, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant…" (17:19). Indeed, God will bless Ishmael, but Isaac alone will fulfill God’s desire and purpose.

For a season Abraham is able to maintain his fantasy, but in time a conflict arises between Ishmael and Isaac. Abraham is compelled to send Ishmael away.

"So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba" (21:14).

I can assure you that this verse does not come close to describing the pathos experienced by Abraham. Abraham had taught Ishmael how to fish, hunt, tend sheep and pitch a tent. When he looked at Ishmael, he saw himself. Perhaps Ishmael did not fulfill God’s purpose, but he was the fulfillment of Abraham’s desire for a son. How do you send what has satisfied your heart for 17 years away without dying yourself?

Abraham watches as Hagar and her son walk toward the distant horizon. Their distinguishable forms become silhouettes that eventually disappear in the distance. The old man collapses and drops to his knees under the weight of intense grief. His spirit is crushed. His once satisfied heart is grieving the tremendous loss of Ishmael.

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