God Sees Me and Cares

God sees me, God loves me, He has a plan and purpose for me

Abraham’s wife, Sarah, had what she thought was a brilliant idea to fulfill God’s promise to her and Abraham that they would have a son. Rather than waiting for God’s timetable, she convinced Abraham to conceive a child with her servant, Hagar, so Hagar could bear a child for them.

But once Hagar became pregnant she lorded it over Sarah, and in response, Sarah mistreated Hagar so badly that she took her baby and ran away into the wilderness. There, the angel of the Lord found her and told her to return to her mistress, promising her a future for the child she carried. Hagar was so touched by this encounter that she referred to God as “the God Who sees.” She said, “In this place, have I actually seen the One who sees me?”[1]

Although used by her mistress to fulfill her own plans, God Himself was looking over her and came to her personally to reassure her that He had a plan for her and her unborn child.

When she returned to Sarah’s household, peace did not reign between them. Likely still feeling used and belittled, Hagar’s attitude again turned sour when Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Furious, Sarah demanded that Abraham send her and her son away. With a heavy heart, he did.

This time she ran out of food and water in the wilderness, and her son was close to death. But again God did not forget her. He spoke to her again, assuring her of the plan He had for her son, and then miraculously provided water right there in the wilderness, saving her son’s life. [2]

This story has God’s redemptiveness and compassion written all over it. Abraham and Sarah stepped outside of God’s plan and involved an innocent bystander in their scheme to get what they wanted, without any regard for Hagar as a person. But God didn’t desert Hagar. God created and loved her as much as he did Abraham and Sarah. When others used her for their own purposes and then rejected and discarded her, He reassured her of His love and plan for her and her son, and took care of them both.

Hagar was by no means the last person to be used by others. Many individuals have been used by others for their own purposes, and then discarded. Sometimes it’s by a spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend, other times by a trusted friend or family member. The shame and rejection that follows can be overwhelming and devastating.

If you are going through such a situation, be assured God sees you and what you are going through. He loves you and cares about you and will come to your aid as you call out to Him. He will never forget you, never abandon you, never forsake you.[3] He has a purpose and plan for you, and regardless of the actions of others who seem to have destroyed your life, He will fulfill his plan for you.

He is the God who sees you, the God who loves you, and the God who brings good out of everything![4]

[1] Genesis 16:13

[2] Genesis 21:17-20

[3] Hebrews 13:5

[4] Romans 8:28

 

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No Greater Joy Than This

Love and fullness

I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth,” [1] was penned by the Apostle John who, far as we know, wasn’t married and had no biological children. He was writing this particular letter to Gaius, one of his spiritual children, commending him for his faithfulness to the truth. He then went on to comment about all his spiritual children, that he has no greater joy than hearing they are walking in the truth.

Many Christian parents through the years have quoted this verse referring to their biological or adopted children, which is fitting considering that parents do find great joy when their children follow after truth. But considering that it was originally written by a spiritual parent, it is even more fitting to claim this quote in reference to one’s spiritual children.

Today as we celebrate Father’s Day in the United States and elsewhere, I want to honor all fathers, but most of all those men who have “fathered” spiritual children, whether it is their own biological/ adopted child or someone else’s. Not only is there no greater joy than passing on one’s faith in Jesus to another, there is also no other lasting legacy.

For more encouragement and perspective, I offer these past articles to you today:

Better Than Sons And Daughters

Father’s Day? … Bah Humbug!

[1] 3 John 4, HCSB

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The Strength in Togetherness

togetherness

Last week we looked at the strength in aloneness – that state where we find God so completely our Source that the presence or absence of others does not affect our joy, meaning, and purpose in life.

This week we want to look at the strength in togetherness – that state where we enjoy a personal network of trustworthy people to connect with and share reciprocal counsel and encouragement.

As I have journeyed through life as a single woman, I have learned to be much more dependent on God and far less dependent on people. I have learned genuine contentment in my aloneness in God.

This was not always the case. In my younger years I feared being alone and avoided it at all costs. The idea of being single all my life terrified me because of this deeper fear. But God has graciously taken me on a wonderful journey of finding my core identity as His child, to the point that the presence or absence of others has little effect on my sense of well-being.

On this same wonderful journey my appreciation for the people God has placed in my life has grown and continues to grow. I would never be where I am today without the network of people God has strategically placed in my life. Some are biologically related to me, but some aren’t. This network has become my family.

Family Redefined

“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile, and who love you no matter what.”  -Unknown

Many have found it’s not necessarily those we are related to by blood who most accept us for who we are and stand loyally by us no matter what. Blood isn’t always thicker than water. What binds people together most securely is the love God puts in our hearts for each other, and the grace He gives us to extend to the other. Securing that bond even more is when we share common goals and passions.

Jesus redefined “family” when He said, “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.” [1] This didn’t exclude His biological family unless they chose not to be part of His redefined family, but expanded it to include those adopted into His Heavenly Father’s family.

As disciples and followers of Jesus, we are also part of this family Jesus referred to, making us brothers and sisters to each other. Whether or not we are part of a loving and supportive biological family, we are part of a much larger global spiritual family. As in our biological families, we may not find all to be “trustworthy people to connect with and share reciprocal counsel and encouragement,” but we do have a much larger pool to select from to be part of our personal network.

Jesus and Paul as Examples

As we’ve already observed, Jesus had “family” beyond his biological family. For most of his ministry years, at least, it seems He spent much of His time with people. His selection of disciples to form His own “network,” as well as an even smaller group within that network to form His “inner circle,” gives us an example of forming similar groups for ourselves. Jesus both ministered to and received ministering from this group, strengthening Him to minister to crowds of needy people.

Barry Danylak points out in his excellent book Redeeming Singleness, that although both Jesus and Paul were free as single men to invest all their time and energy in advancing the kingdom of God, neither lived a life alone.[2] He goes on to say that, “Intimacy has other dimensions, beyond the physical. A bond of spiritual unity as brothers and sisters in Christ can emerge through a oneness of mind in corporate prayer and worship, a shared eternal hope, and a common mission…. The freedom and flexibility of the single life will often open access to levels and opportunities of spiritual intimacy with other believers that those who are married do not have available in the same way and to the same degree.”

Danylak also observes that, “Though Paul did not have his own wife and family, he experienced profound familial intimacy within the spiritual family of God in which he had utterly invested himself.” [3]

I’m grateful for these two biblical examples of singles who exemplify strength both in aloneness and in togetherness with others.

Identifying “Safe” People

The best of relationships are those which are life-giving, not destructive. We’ve likely all experienced the difference. Destructive relationships often leave us gun-shy in developing new relationships in which we reveal our true selves.

In their book titled Safe People, Cloud and Townsend describe the characteristics of “safe” and “unsafe” people with who to share our innermost thoughts and feelings.[4] They point out that Jesus is the ultimate example of a trustworthy person, and use John 1:14 to define the three characteristics in Jesus we should look for in others:

  1. Connection – Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us,” connecting with us right where we are. Safe people for us are those who are able to connect with us and walk alongside us through the difficulties and joys in both our lives. It’s difficult to share deeply with someone we don’t feel a connection with.
  2. Grace – John said that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” Grace is showing favor and acceptance to another, rather than shame and condemnation, even when the person’s faults emerge. We want people in our lives who love and accept us even when our ugly side shows its face, which it will sooner or later. It is in this atmosphere of grace that we can grow and genuinely change, rather than pretending to be someone we aren’t in order to gain another’s acceptance.
  3. Truth – Not only was Jesus full of grace, He was also full of truth. Truth indicates honesty and genuineness. When we know a person to be “full of truth,” we know they won’t tell us we are “okay” in our thinking and behavior when we aren’t, because they want the best for us. They know how to be honest with us without condemning or shaming us.

These three characteristics combined describe a person who is safe and trustworthy to be our real selves with. In order to establish genuine relationships for reciprocal counsel and encouragement, we also need to portray these characteristics in our relating to them.

Purpose in “Unsafe” Relationships

From within their personal networks, both Jesus and Paul experienced abandonment and betrayal: Jesus from His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Paul when standing trial.[5] In both cases, Jesus and Paul defaulted to their dependency on God who never leaves nor abandons us,[6] while at the same time extending grace to those who failed them.

Sometimes God has a purpose in allowing us to experience betrayal and thoughtlessness from others, as both Jesus and Paul experienced from some of their closest relationships. In some of those cases it meant the severance of the relationship when there was no change in behavior or attitude. In other cases, there was repentance and the relationship was restored. People aren’t perfect, and neither can we expect our relationships with them to be perfect. But when we’ve learned our strength in aloneness, their imperfection doesn’t need to leave us devastated. Sometimes it can shake us, but we learn from it and move on, either in reconciliation with them or in relationships with others.

Finding Safe People for Our Network

By now some of you may be despairing, wondering how to find even one other person to include in your own personal network. I totally understand. Trustworthy people who are willing to journey with us in life don’t appear out of thin air. They are worth their weight in gold because they are rare in this transient age where people become scattered and relationships become disposable. How do we find them?

First is to recognize that God, our Provider to supply all our needs,[7] does the best job in selecting people for our personal network, in His time. He wants us to learn to depend on Him first and foremost, so sometimes He delays in providing people for us, or allows rifts in relationships to occur, to encourage us to lean on Him more. All good things, friendships included, are gifts from Him. And so we wait on Him to give us His good things for us, as He chooses.

Second is realizing the truths of Proverbs 18:24 and Luke 6:31: “A man who has friends must himself to be friendly” and “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.”  To establish our personal network, we will want to develop and portray the characteristics to others that we would like to have in those we want close to us. Sometimes we need to take the risk of trying to connect with others, rather than waiting for them to come to us. Asking questions and listening carefully to their answers is the best way to find common interests and values. Often a friendship progresses naturally from there, especially when we find we do connect on various levels and then make the time and effort to spend time with them.

Conclusion

While it’s important that we find strength in aloneness in God, it’s also important that we find strength in togetherness with others. God never meant for us to live in isolation. Many assume that when God told Adam it wasn’t good for him to be alone, He meant it wasn’t good for him to be single. But at the time Adam was the only human on the face of the earth. How lonely that must have felt! God knew that Adam needed human companionship – someone like him, but not exactly like him – to journey with in life. And so do we. Married or single, we all need others – multiple others – to be strengthened through reciprocal counsel and encouragement.

 

[1] Matthew 12:46-50

[2] Danylak, Barry. Redeeming Singleness (Foreword by John Piper): How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life. Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[3] Danylak gives many examples of Paul’s relationships: “We are struck by how many different companions, partners, co-laborers, and underlings are mentioned from the period of his Gentile ministry. [E.g., Barnabas (1 Cor. 9: 6), Silas/ Silvanus (1 Thess. 1: 1), Luke (2 Tim. 4: 11), Mark (2 Tim. 4: 11), Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18: 18), Timothy (Acts 19: 22), Titus (2 Cor. 8: 23), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2: 25), Erastus (Acts 19: 22), Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4: 2), Clement (Phil. 4: 3), Urbanus (Rom. 16: 9), Tychicus (Col. 4: 7)]. His use of family language is robust as he addresses those in his church constantly as ‘brothers’ (Rom. 1: 13; 1 Cor. 3: 1; Gal. 4: 12; Phil. 1: 12; 1 Thess. 1: 4), and ‘sisters’ (Philem. 2), ‘children’ (Gal. 4: 19; 1 Cor. 4: 14), ‘legitimate sons’ (1 Tim. 1: 2; Titus 1: 4), and ‘kinsmen’ (Rom. 16: 7). He speaks especially affectionately of Timothy, who ‘as a son with a father . . . has served with me in the gospel’  (Phil. 2: 22). Timothy is instructed to treat old men as fathers, young men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters (1 Tim. 5: 1– 2). There are numerous indications in the New Testament of the deep spiritual intimacy Paul shared with his converts and fellow believers. To the Thessalonians he writes: ‘So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.’ (1 Thess. 2: 8). Similarly, he ‘yearns’ for the Philippians with the ‘affection of Christ’ (Phil. 1: 8); he longs to visit the Romans so to be ‘refreshed’ by their company (Rom. 15: 23, 32); and he weeps and embraces the Ephesian elders (Acts 20: 37) upon his departure from Miletus.”

[4] Cloud, Henry; Cloud, Henry; Townsend, John; Townsend, John. Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t. Zondervan.

[5] 2 Timothy 4:16b-17a

[6] Hebrews 13:5

[7] Philippians 4:19

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The Strength in Aloneness

Aloneness

“A servant of God must stand so much alone that he never knows he is alone.”  –Oswald Chambers

“Everyone deserted me…. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” –Apostle Paul, 2 Timothy 4:16b-17a HCSB

We need people. I’ll get that declaration out of the way at the beginning! God never meant for us to live in isolation. I highly value the network of trustworthy people God has given me to connect with on various levels, and encourage others to find and embrace their own network.

But having a connection to people is secondary, not primary.

If you’re scratching your head at this point, I understand. Most of the messages we get from society and even from church indicate that a meaningful life comes from being connected to other people, especially a spouse and family. The truth in that assumption is that living for something or someone other than ourselves gives us meaning in life. The lie in that assumption is that being attached to another person or persons gives us value.

True Value and Meaning

The full truth is we have value because God created us and loves us, and we find meaning in life when we live out our God-given purpose. People can come and go in our lives, and circumstances can change, but the truth of what gives us value and meaning in life remains constant and can never be taken from us. This is the secret of learning to stand so much alone that we never realize we are alone, as Oswald Chambers said in his devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.[1]  When God is our sole Source for joy, meaning, and purpose, the coming and going of people in our lives, as well as any change in circumstances, does not affect our joy, meaning, and purpose.

A great example of this was Paul and Barnabas after it became apparent they had differing opinions about including John Mark on their missionary trip. While they both felt so strongly that they parted ways, each continued to pursue the calling God had given them personally. If either had believed they needed the other to accomplish their individual callings, the disagreement would have been disastrous. Instead, it freed them both to live their own God-given life purpose: Paul to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, and Barnabas to encourage Christians young in the faith.

The person who has served as the greatest example of this in my own life is my father. He first heard and accepted God’s calling to serve Him when he was in his early 20s – first as a single man in Germany and Nepal, and then as a married man in Belize and numerous locations in the States. After 50 years of marriage to my mother who was his ideal partner and companion in life, he is now single again. But while it is evident he misses my mother tremendously, her death hasn’t affected his joy, meaning, and purpose in life. His God-given purpose to live for Jesus and encourage others to live for Him is as primary in his life now as it was while his wife was living, and as it was before he married her.

The strength of learning to stand so much alone that we never realize we are alone, is that we are freed to live God’s purpose no matter who or what comes and goes in our lives.

The Benefits of Learning Aloneness in God

Aloneness with God is not just for singles. As I pointed out in my father’s life, knowing his purpose aside from his marital status has given him a meaningful and joyful life – before marriage, during marriage, and after marriage. There are significant benefits for everyone in learning aloneness with God:

  • We live joyfully and purposefully no matter what happens, because we know our God-given purpose is not dependent on circumstances or people
  • We become strong and confident – not because of self-reliance or self-sufficiency, but because we rely fully on God alone
  • We live in freedom from fear and anxiety because we know that no matter what, God is with us
  • We have a strong connection with our Heavenly Father because we realize while everything and everyone else may come and go, He alone remains constant

Advantages for Singles

As Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 7, singles have more freedom to have an undivided focus in living for the Lord and in learning this aloneness with God:

  • Freedom to follow God’s calling without needing to make it fit in with a spouse’s purpose and calling
  • Freedom to choose if and when to be with others according to God’s purpose for us, rather than to fill a marital obligation
  • Freedom of more time alone with God to strengthen our relationship with Him
  • Freedom to rely on God alone as our Provider, rather than being tempted to rely on a spouse to fill that role

Of course, those who have a life partner in marriage have their own set of advantages, and often the life purposes of a married couple fit hand in glove, adding strength to both.

The bottom line is, no matter our circumstances, learning to stand so much alone with God that we never feel alone is a blessing and gift for every Christian, and one I urge you to grasp firmly and value deeply!

[1] Chambers, Oswald (1927). My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition (April 22; Kindle Locations 1848-1849). Discovery House. Kindle Edition.

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