After Abraham heard God’s promise, he must have reasoned with himself and said, “Well, I suppose, I
should help God out in this situation, since Sarah is barren”. And so, he readily accepted Sarah’s
suggestion to unite with Hagar his maid. He sincerely desired to help God. He felt that God was in a tight
spot, having made a promise that could not, humanly speaking, be fulfilled. God’s reputation was at stake.
And so, to save God out of this awkward situation, Abraham united with Hagar and produced Ishmael!
But God rejected Ishmael as unacceptable, for he was the product of man’s self-effort.
So much of the motivation for Christian work in our day, alas, arises out of the same carnal reasoning that
Abraham had. Believers are told that God is depending on their efforts and that if they let Him down, His
purposes will not be fulfilled! Things apparently have not worked out exactly as God planned and as a
result He is in a tight spot now! Some exhortations to Christian service give us the impression that the
Almighty is now at His wit’s end and is desperately in need of our help!
No doubt, God uses human agency for the outworking of His purposes. He has voluntarily accepted this
limitation because He wants us to have the privilege of cooperating with Him in His work. But that
certainly does not mean that if we disobey God, His work will remain undone. No. He is sovereign. There
is certainly a work for Jesus that we can do; but if we don’t do it, He will just pass us by and get someone
else to do the job – and we shall miss the privilege of being God’s co-workers. Puny men are not going to
hinder God from carrying out His program.
God can carry on His work very well without our help. We need to recognize this fact. If our service for
God originates out of any idea that we are helping God out of a tight spot, we shall only produce
unacceptable Ishmaels. That service which has its roots in human energy, fleshly wisdom, human ability
and natural talents (even at their very best) is totally unacceptable to God. Ishmael may be very smart and
impressive. Abraham may even cry out to God saying, “Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee” (Gen.
17:18). But God’s answer is “No. He was born through your strength, Abraham. So I cannot accept him,
however good he may be”.
And so with service that originates from ourselves. God did not accept it then and He will not accept it
today! If there is any human explanation for our Christian service – if it is merely the result of excellent
theological training that our sharp minds have assimilated, or made possible because we have access to
enough money to support ourselves in Christian work – then however impressive our work may appear in
the eyes of men, it will be burnt up in the day of testing as wood, hay and straw. That day will reveal the
multitude of “Ishmaels” produced by well-meaning Christians, who were never emptied of their selfsufficiency.
The only work that will abide for eternity is that which is produced in humble dependence
upon the power of God’s Holy Spirit. May God help us to learn that lesson now, instead of having regrets
at Christ’s judgment-seat.