Sometimes We Must Submit to Mistreatment

Few people like to be mistreated. I say few because I have known some who aren’t happy unless they are miserable. You know the type. However, for the rest of us, we like being treated with respect and dignity. We don’t like staying in a situation where folks take advantage of us, insult us, or cause a multitude of other hurts. However, there are times that God calls us to do just that.

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, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing 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 surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”  – Genesis 16:7-10, ESV

Hagar was abused by Sarai and she left, rather than taking it any more. However, leaving the household meant she was on her own. At a spring of water, an angel caught up with her. He has a rather surprising message, “Go back home.” Go back home? Back home she was treated wrongly. Back home she wasn’t respected by the man she was married to. Back home meant more indignity, more mistreatment, more abuse. Why in the world would God ask her to go back home? We’re never told. About 14 years later, she will be put out, this time for good. So even though she would go back, there would come a time when she would have to leave again, and the cause was her conflict with Sarai.

We could speculate that God wants her with folks who will care for her when the baby is born. That might be true, but God could have provided a total stranger to take her in and care for her. Instead, He sends her back. She is obedient and goes back and then has Ishmael. She goes back and we see nothing in Scripture about Hagar until the birth of Isaac. We see a little about Ishmael, when circumcision becomes a sign of a new covenant, but all the males of Abram’s household underwent that. So again, we’re not sure why God tells Hagar to go back to the source of her mistreatment. We only know that’s what God said and she obeyed.

Practical application of this is hard. Even if we know God wants us to be some place in particular, if we’re not being treated right we don’t typically want to be there. Even if we are remaining in place physically, our mind and heart go elsewhere. We may even wonder what we’ve done or why life is unfair to warrant our mistreatment. Certainly few of us consider that we are where we are supposed to be and, yes, we’re supposed to suffer because there is something greater involved. We’re part of a bigger plan. But when we’re the ones taking the heat, when we’re the ones shouldering the abuse, it’s hard to think this way. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that God wants us in that situation.

And that’s where the lack of sound doctrine in the Church really shows up. The doctrine of the Church is that suffering for Christ is a privilege, as per Christ’s own words. It is a recognition by God that we can handle it and also that we will be blessed for it. The message we’ve heard too often is God wants us happy and content and that accepting Christ as Savior means everything is going to be okay. That’s simply not true. It wasn’t true for Hagar. It wasn’t true for any of Jesus’ apostles. It wasn’t true for the Old Testament prophets, many of whom were mistreated or even martyred. So the first thing we must do is come to terms with the fact that God may ask us to stay or go into a situation where we’ll suffer mistreatment. And the second thing we must do is willing accept such a calling. We don’t have to like it, but we have to want to be there because our Lord, whom we love, called us into it.

Are you in a situation you don’t want to be in right now? Have you examined yourself to see if it’s a situation that you brought about because of your own sin? If it is because of your sin, repent and go back to God for forgiveness. He may not remove or lift away the consequences of that sin, but you will have restored a right relationship with Him. On the other hand, if you’ve examined yourself and you, through prayer and Scripture, have come to the conclusion that the situation you’re currently in isn’t because of sin on your part, seek to see if you are where God wants you to be. If you are, embrace the situation as one where you’ve been counted worthy to suffer for His name’s sake. Seek God to see what He wants to do with you in that situation. And then make the most of the opportunity. It is not surprising that our greatest moments usually happen in the midst of adversity. Also, we may be the most inspirational to others around us when we are in the midst of challenges and we conquer them confidently with a Christ-like attitude. And if you’re facing the fact that you’re about to go into one of these situations, again, turn to God. Make sure that’s the direction He wants you to head in. And if so, determine what His will is for you in that situation. Then go for it!

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