8. How to Experience God’s Power in Our Lives (Genesis 17Related Media
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised… (Genesis 17)
How can we experience more of God’s power in our lives?
In this text, God appears to Abraham as El Shaddai—God Almighty (cf. Gen 17:1), which is the first time this name is used in Scripture.1 In Genesis 15:1, after Abraham fought a battle against the four kings of the east and rescued Lot, God appeared to Abraham and said that he was Abraham’s “shield”. He had protected him. To Abraham’s worries about refusing the wealth of the king of Sodom, God said that he was his “reward.” He would provide.
Many of us know God as Father. He cares, directs, and disciplines us. We know him as our Shepherd who meets our needs and guides us in life’s affairs. But very few know God as El Shaddai—God Almighty. The word pictures God’s strength and power to accomplish impossible things. El is the Hebrew word for God, but there is some debate over the word Shaddai. Some scholars say it comes from a word meaning mountain—again representing God’s strength. Others see it coming from a word meaning breast—where a child receives nourishment. Either way, it ultimately refers to “the all-powerful and all-sufficient God who can do anything and meet any need.”2
Very few know God as El Shaddai. They see a God in Scripture who delivers Israel from slavery in Egypt, splits the Red Sea, turns water into wine, raises the dead, and heals the blind, and they wonder why they never experience the miraculous in their lives.
Christ said that those who believed in him would do greater miracles than these (John 14:12). They would do greater miracles than his raising the dead, healing the blind, multiplying the bread, etc. How can this be? Certainly, the disciples experienced this. When Peter preached his first sermon, 3,000 people were saved (cf. Acts 2:41). Christ’s ministry was largely limited to Israel, but the disciples reached and turned the world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6). Certainly, this still happens today as nations and governments are transformed by the gospel. However, with that said, most Christians still have no personal experience of this.
Here, God reveals himself to Abraham as El Shaddai, God Almighty—the God for whom nothing is impossible. Then he renews the promise of a seed and making him a great nation. This is the God we need to know as well. We need him for our individual lives that continually fall short of his image. We need him to see our families, churches, and nations transformed. We need to know God as El Shaddai. Paul made it his mission to not only know Christ but his power. He said: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil 3:10).
Second Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” God is looking for people to demonstrate his power in and through.
How can we have lives that continually experience God’s power—that continually experience the miraculous? We learn six principles about this in Genesis 17, as God reveals himself as El Shaddai to Abraham.
Big Question: What principles can we learn about experiencing God’s power from the narrative in Genesis 17?
To Experience God’s Power, We Must Not Discount God’s Ability to Accomplish the Impossible
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (Genesis 17:1–2)
In Genesis 17, God appears to Abraham at ninety-nine years old to tell him that he was about to increase his numbers and that this would happen through Sarah. Both Abraham and Sarah were beyond the age of child bearing, and therefore, this word from the Lord seemed incredulous. In fact, at this point in the narrative, Abraham probably believed God already gave him the child of promise. In Genesis 16, he married Hagar and she conceived Ishmael. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar saying that her descendants through Ishmael would become too numerous to count (cf. Gen 16:10). Certainly, Ishmael was a donkey of a man and difficult to deal with, but Abraham probably believed God would fulfill his promise through him. No doubt, Abraham had not considered the impossible, that God could bring a child through barren Sarah.
However, that is exactly what God did. When God prophesied about this miracle child, Abraham laughed (cf. Gen 17:17). He probably didn’t laugh because he didn’t believe, but simply because the promise was incredulous. Not only would the child come through Sarah, who was barren and past the age of child bearing, but it would also come through Abraham at an age where his reproductive organs were essentially dead.
This is important for us to consider, for many times, like Abraham, we don’t consider the possibility of the miraculous. We ask questions like, “How can God fix this situation?” “How can God turn this around?” or “How can God use somebody like me?” We do not consider that God is in the miracle working business, and it is through miracles that he often chooses to glorify himself. It is not that he doesn’t work in the mundane. God is always working, but he especially shows his glory through the impossible.
Christ told his disciples about the impossibility of mankind being saved in Matthew 19:24–26. He said it was easier for a rich man to go through an eye of a needle. The disciples responded, “Who then can be saved?” Christ’s replied, “With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible.”
The greatest way we experience El Shaddai’s power is in our salvation. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God resurrected us (cf. Eph 2:1–5). We were resurrected from death to life, darkness to light. Salvation, essentially, is the greatest miracle we can experience. The natural mind is at enmity with God (Rom 8:7). It cannot accept or understand God’s Word apart from the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14). Man is dead to God and needs a miracle to be saved. And since, believers have experienced the greatest miracle, why would we not continually expect God to work miracles in our lives? Consider what Paul says,
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)
If God gave us his Son, the greatest gift he could give us, how much more will he not meet all our needs? How much more will he not move mountains to provide for us?
One of the things we must take from God’s appearance to Abraham at ninety-nine years, when it was physically impossible to have a child, is that God often works in the impossible.
What is your impossible situation? Many Christians will not even bring some circumstances or situations before God. Why? It’s because to them, it seems too impossible. Can God change hearts? Absolutely. He is in the heart transplant business. He can take a stony heart, remove it, and place a fleshy heart in its place (cf. Ezek 36:26). He can give people hearts that beat for his Word, desire him, and desire righteousness. Can God change a government? Can God change a nation? Absolutely, our God works in the impossible.
With Israel, he took a small nation in slavery to Egypt, delivered them, and made them a great nation. Under Solomon’s reign, the nations of the world came to Israel to bask in its glory.
What situation is God calling you to bring before him? Our God is the God of the impossible. Let us bring our problems, fears, and hopes before him because that is exactly where he works. He works in the impossible.
As we consider Abraham’s situation, we must come to the realization that we should not discount the impossible, no matter how bleak the situation. In fact, by discounting the impossible, we often miss the glory of God. In Christ’s hometown, he said that he did not perform many miracles there because of their unbelief (Matt 13:58). Mark 6:5 says, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.”
Sometimes our lack of faith in the impossible will actually keep God from moving. Is your faith keeping God from breaking into your circumstance in a special way? Whatever our situation, we must not discount the impossible if we are going to see El Shaddai—God Almighty—move.
In fact, we gain some insight by peeking at the end of Abraham’s story. We know that when God gives Abraham the child of promise, Isaac, he eventually asked Abraham to sacrifice him in Genesis 22. Hebrews 11:19 says he was willing to do this because he knew that God could raise him from the dead. After decades of walking with El Shadai, Abraham starts to expect God to perform the miraculous.
Are you expecting miracles in your life—in your difficult situation? Some people stay discouraged, depressed, and bound to sin because they have no expectation—no faith. We must not discount the miraculous when it comes to God.
Application Question: How have you experienced El Shaddai? In what ways have you seen him work the impossible to glorify himself?
To Experience God’s Power, We Must Walk Blamelessly before the Lord
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (Genesis 17:1–2)
When God appears to Abraham, he tells him to walk before him and be blameless. The word “blameless” does not mean “sinless.” “The word means “single-hearted, without blame, sincere, wholly devoted to the Lord.”’3
Walking is a picture of continuous repetition. It may not be exciting. It is not running, jumping, or climbing. God wants us to faithfully walk step by step with him. When believers walk faithfully with God day by day, he moves in mighty ways.
It was said of Enoch that he walked with God and he was no more (Gen 5:24)—God took him to heaven. We learn more about Enoch from Jude. Enoch prophesied about Christ’s second coming before the first coming, as he called people to turn from sin (cf. 1:14–15). He was a person willing to walk blamelessly before the Lord. This was, also, said about Enoch’s grandchild, Noah. He was blameless and walked with God (cf. Gen 6:9). God did not keep him from the flood, as with Enoch, but he, miraculously, saved him through the flood on a great ship.
This is true for us, as well. We must understand that if we want to continually experience God’s power, we cannot walk in sin. David said this about God, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps 66:18).
Even for God to hear our prayers, we must separate from sin and live a holy life. James 1:7–8 says a double minded man—a person not living in faith, a person trying to live for God and the world—will receive nothing from God.
Abraham needed to walk blamelessly to experience God’s power. Yes, God was going to fulfill this covenant through his power and based on his faithfulness alone, as it was a unilateral covenant, but Abraham still needed to walk blamelessly, through the grace God provided.
We will see later in the biblical narrative that Israel also had to be blameless in order to receive the land promised. When Israel did not walk blamelessly with God, they missed out: They wandered in the wilderness, were conquered by their enemies, and eventually were exiled from the promised land.
This is also true for many Christians. They miss the miraculous in their lives because they fail to walk blamelessly in response to God’s grace. Paul said: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor 15:10). We must respond to God’s grace to experience the miraculous.
Are you walking blamelessly before God?
God has given us grace as well. He gave us his Holy Spirit, his Word, and his church so that we can be blameless. We cannot expect to see El Shaddai move, when we are not walking, step by step, with him.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced missing out on God’s best because of unfaithfulness? Are there any specific areas in which God is calling you to be blameless?
To Experience God’s Power, We Must Continually Be Filled with the Holy Spirit
No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you… (Genesis 17:5–7)
The next thing God does is change Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram meant “exalted father” and Abraham meant “father of a multitude.” The name change pictured a change in character or destiny, but it also pictured God’s Lordship. To name someone in the ancient world, as it does today, pictured lordship or sovereignty (cf. 2 Kgs 24:17). Only one in complete ownership of another could name them. Mothers and fathers named their children. Kings at times renamed their subjects (cf. Dan 1:7). Adam named the animals in the field and his wife Eve. God named Abraham because he was his sovereign.
However, there is more to this name change. This will not stand out to us, but it would stand out to those in the ancient culture. God adds a breath sound to Abram’s name. No longer would he be Abram but Abraham. The “ha” sound was added.
What does that mean? Pastor, scholar James Boice pointed this out in his commentary. He said that the breathy sound would jump out to the ancients—it represented the spirit. In Hebrew, ruach is the word for wind or breath, but it also means spirit. The creation story says the “Spirit” of God hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2). It also could be translated the “wind” of the God. Similarly, when it says God breathed into man the “breath” of life (Gen 2:7), it could also be translated the “Spirit” of life.
Not only was this true in the Hebrew culture but also in the Greek culture and the Roman culture. In Greek, the word pneumos, spirit, also means breath. In Latin, the word spiritus, spirit, similarly, means breath.4 God gave Abraham the breath sound, and he did the same with his wife, Sarai. Sarai meant “my lady” or “princess,” and her new name Sarah meant “princess of a multitude.”5 The breathy “ah” sound also represented God’s Spirit. His Spirit would accomplish this great work through Abraham and Sarah. The Spirit would give them a son in their old age.
One of the necessary components of experiencing God’s power is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to the disciples that they needed to wait in Jerusalem until they were endowed with power through the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit was crucial for them to accomplish God’s will and to have God’s power in doing it.
In order to experience God’s power, like Abraham and the apostles, we must experience God’s Spirit. God essentially tells Abraham that he would complete the work through his Spirit. In fact, there are twelve “I will” statements in this passage.6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations out of you, and so on... Even Abraham’s walking before the Lord and being blameless would be done through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is true for us as well.
Do we want to experience God’s power in our lives to conquer sin and to accomplish great works? This can only be done through the Holy Spirit.
Application Question: How can we experience the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
1. We must be indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit happens at salvation. The Holy Spirit comes and indwells every believer who is truly saved. Christ said the Holy Spirit was with the disciples and would be in them (cf. John 14:17). This happened at Pentecost in the book of Acts (chapter 2). Now, Scripture teaches that we each are indwelled by the Spirit, as we are his temple (1 Cor 6:19).
This should go without saying. In order to experience the power of the Holy Spirit, we must first be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which is true of every believer.
2. We must daily be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Every true believer experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; however, the “filling” of the Holy Spirit is a continual experience we must seek. There is one indwelling at salvation and many fillings throughout the believer’s life. Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
The Greek word for “filled” actually means to be “continually filled.” It is not a one-time experience. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God came upon the prophet and empowered him to prophesy. He came upon the king and empowered him to lead and fight wars. God does the same to us through the Spirit’s filling. He empowers us to accomplish his works; therefore, we must daily seek it.
How can we be filled with the Spirit? We see part of the process described in Ephesians 5:19–21. It says,
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
In this text, we see the need for corporate worship, “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” and individual worship, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” When we live in worship, God’s Spirit comes upon us in power. In fact, we see this in 2 Kings 3:15 when Elisha calls for a harpist. The harpist plays, and the hand of the Lord fell upon him empowering him to prophesy. Worship empowers us today, as well.
We also are filled by the Spirit through practicing thanksgiving. It says, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” The complainer and the worrier will not experience the power of God. This power goes to the one who practices thanksgiving.
In addition, we see that the person who submits to others out of reverence for Christ also will be filled with the Spirit. When I am living in discord—fighting with other brothers or sisters—I lose the filling and, therefore, the power of the Spirit.
Two other ways that we are filled by the Spirit are through prayer and time in the Word. In Acts 4:31, the apostles and the early church got together to pray, in response to persecution, and the place they gathered was shaken. They were filled with the Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly. It says, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
Living in God’s Word is also a critical aspect of being filled with the Spirit. Colossians 3:16–18 is a parallel passage to Ephesians 5:18–21. It says,
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
The believers were commanded to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly, and the characteristics or results of this would be teaching one another, worshiping, having gratitude, and also practicing submission. These are virtually the same results as being filled with the Spirit. This means that being filled with the Spirit is synonymous to allowing the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly. It produces the same fruit. Therefore, we must live in God’s Word to be filled by the Spirit.
Are you being filled with the Spirit of God?
God symbolized this by adding the breath sound to Abraham’s and Sarah’s names. God has, also, given us his Spirit to indwell us and fill us. Are you daily being filled with the Spirit in order to experience God’s power?
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s power when being filled with the Spirit? Do you daily seek this experience? Why or why not?
To Experience God’s Power, We Must Have a Revelation of Our Weakness
This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:10–14)
Interpretation Question: What is the significance of circumcision for Jews? What did it represent?
After God renews the seed promise to Abraham and gives him a new name, God commands him to circumcise himself and every man in his household. Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The males were to be circumcised eight days after birth.
When God covenanted with Noah to not destroy the earth by flood, he gave the rainbow as a sign. Here, God gives the sign of circumcision. We can understand this symbolism by considering the wedding ring often used in marriage ceremonies. It is a picture of the enduring love and commitment of a married couple; however, it is not the marriage. It’s only a symbol of the marriage.
Similarly, circumcision was meant to be a picture of one’s spiritual commitment to God. It never was meant to be salvific, even though, sadly, many Jews believed circumcision was equal to salvation. Circumcision was only meant to symbolize one’s inner commitment to God. We see this in several verses:
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)
Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it. (Jeremiah 4:4)
Circumcision was meant to be an external sign of an internal work. It was very similar to baptism for believers today. Baptism does not save, but it represents our death, burial, and resurrection with Christ in our salvation. It is an act of obedience that represents what happened in our lives.
With that said, circumcision also seemed to represent more than an internal faith commitment for Abraham. Kent Hughes said this about the act of circumcision for Abraham:
Significantly, circumcision involved Abraham’s powers of procreation—the area of life in which he had resorted to fleshly expediency—and had so failed. Man’s best plans and strength of will would never bring about the promise. For Abraham circumcision was an act of repentance and a sign of dependence upon God for the promise.7
James Boice adds,
Abraham’s obedience did not mean that he was contributing anything to the covenant. In fact, it meant the opposite. The cutting away of the flesh meant the renunciation of human effort, which arises out of the flesh, and the willingness to bear about in the body the mark of the individual’s identification with God.8
Circumcision would always represent to Abraham the failure of his flesh. He tried to secure a seed through his own works, instead of through faithfully trusting God. Circumcision would always remind him of that. I think we also see this symbolism in how Paul described our spiritual circumcision in the New Covenant. He said: “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3). In addition to commitment to God, circumcision represents putting no confidence in the flesh.
Similarly, if we are going to experience God’s power in our lives, we must have a revelation of the weakness of our flesh. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63). God cannot work through the flesh. The flesh is at enmity with God. If it is of the flesh, it is not of Spirit. Every work of the flesh must be put to death. We must learn our weakness to truly see and experience God’s power.
Because of this reality, God often allows us to experience failure, pain, and suffering to show us how weak we really are. Consider what Paul said about his weaknesses and trials:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9)
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)
Paul realized that sometimes God allows us to experience what feels like death for us to experience God’s resurrection power. Sometimes, he allows us to have a thorn in the flesh so his power might be made perfect in us. Pain and suffering is God’s gracious reminder of how much we need him.
Sadly, we often need reminding of this just like Abraham because of the pride in our flesh. With Jacob, who was also pridefully dependent on his flesh, God wrestled with him and hallowed his thigh. He would forever limp, which reminded him of his weakness. He needed to know his weakness to know his need for God.
Those who, by God’s grace, learn their weakness and strength in God often experience more of God’s abundant grace and his power in their lives.
But the independent and prideful only experience his power in discipline. James 4:7 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” He fights against the independent and prideful—those who trust in their strength and resources. But, he gives grace to the humble—they experience his power.
Are you striving to experience the promises through your own power and wisdom? Or have you learned your weakness and that of the world? Have you learned to depend upon God? Often God brings trials—he often allows us to be humbled in order for us to experience his power.
John 15:2 says that those who bear fruit, he prunes so that they can bear more fruit. He cuts—he allows pain in our lives—so that we can truly be conduits of his power. Certainly, we can discern a sense of this in Abraham’s circumcision. He and his descendants would forever be reminded of their weakness and need for God’s power.
Application Question: Are there any special ways that you feel that God allowed you to endure pain so that you could know your need for him and experience his power?
To Experience God’s Power, We Must Be Others-Focused
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” (Genesis 17:17–21)
As God shares the miracle of Sarah birthing a child, Abraham couldn’t help but laugh. This laugh does not seem to be out of unbelief but simply because this miracle was incredulous. We can discern this by the fact that God doesn’t rebuke or become angry with him. This was unlike Sarah’s laugh in Genesis 18, when God rebuked her. He said, “Why did Sarah laugh?”
In response to God’s promise, Abraham said, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Abraham does not ask for more blessings on himself. He wants God to not forget about his son, Ishmael. He was selfless. In fact, all of God’s promises to Abraham are really about others. It was through his seed that all the nations would be blessed. God was going to bless Abraham so he could be a blessing to others (cf. Gen 12:3). Therefore, Abraham’s prayer to experience God’s power was selfless. He wanted God’s blessing for others.
I think this is also a necessary attitude for people to have in order to experience God’s power. We must practice a selfless, others-focused attitude. Abraham is not all about himself. He is a man growing in the character of God. He is all about others. In the conflict between Abraham and Lot in Genesis 13, Abraham speaks to Lot and says, “Take your pick of the land.” Though, it was his right to choose the best portion, as the patriarch, he wanted Lot to have the best. He was unselfish.
In talking to the scattered Jews that were warring among one another, James said:
You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2–3)
These Jewish Christians were very much like the world. They were fighting and bickering because they were not getting their own way. Consequently, it led to wars and even murder in the church. This even made their prayers corrupt. James said their prayers weren’t being answered because they were selfish—consumed with their own desires. However, this was not true about Abraham. Abraham’s hope and prayer was selfless. He desired for God to bless Ishmael, and in response, God affirmed him.
No doubt, this is true about Christians who experience God’s power. They are not living for themselves—seeking their own blessing—but they are like their Savior—selflessly seeking the blessing for others. Christ said that he did not come to be served, but to serve others and give himself as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28).
Why do you want to experience God’s power? Is it so that you can bring glory to yourself or gain your desires?
There was one man like this in the early church. His name was Simon. He approaches Peter with money, hoping to receive power to pray and for people to receive the Holy Spirit. Peter, in anger, responds to him:
“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (Acts 8:20–23)
Simon wanted to experience God’s power so that he could bring glory to himself. However, Abraham had different motivations. He selflessly, cared about Ishmael.
No doubt, this was Paul’s desire as well, when he said that he wanted to know the “power of the resurrection” in his life (Phil 3:10). Paul wanted to be just like Christ, which included blessing people through his prayers, preaching, and serving. He wanted Christ’s power in his ministry for others.
Do you cry out to God, “If only my family might live under your blessing!”, “If only my church might live under your blessing!”, “If only my nation, might live under your blessing!”? Are you seeking his power so others might be blessed and that God might receive the glory?
Many Christians want to experience resurrection power for their glory instead of God’s—for their selfish desires instead of the Lord’s desires. No doubt, there are Simon’s in the church today, who, instead of receiving God’s blessing, receive his condemnation, because of their selfish motives.
Paul said, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). Let this be true of us, as we desire to know and experience El Shaddai—God Almighty. Let us seek for God’s power in order to bless others and to glorify God (cf. John 15:8).
Application Question: As we seek to experience God’s power in our lives, how do we make sure that we have right motives? Who has God currently put on your heart to pray for like Abraham prayed for Ishmael?
As we consider Abraham in this passage and God’s call on his life, we cannot but think about Abraham’s grandson, Jesus (cf. Matt 1:1). Jesus was given a name by God, just like Abraham was. Jesus means “God is salvation” or “Savior” (cf. Matt 1:21). He was filled with the Spirit from the womb. He was led by the Spirit throughout his life and in a special way during his ministry. He experienced weakness—he hungered, thirsted, felt pain, and even struggled with depression, as he was weary unto death. He was others focused—he did not come to be served but to serve others. He was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham, as he is a blessing to the nations. He was a man full of God’s power, and we are called to follow in his footsteps.
How can we experience God’s power in our lives?
- To Experience God’s Power, We Must Not Discount God’s Ability to Accomplish the Impossible
- To Experience God’s Power, We Must Walk Blamelessly before the Lord
- To Experience God’s Power, We Must Continually Be Filled with the Holy Spirit
- To Experience God’s Power, We Must Have a Revelation of Our Weakness
- To Experience God’s Power, We Must Be Others-Focused
Copyright © 2017 Gregory Brown
The primary Scriptures used are New International Version (1984) unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and King James Version.
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All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.
1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 63). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 63). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
3 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 64). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
4 Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (p. 583). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
5 Guzik, David (2012-12-08). Genesis (Kindle Locations 2919–2920). Enduring Word Media. Kindle Edition.
6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 63). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
7 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 248). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
8 Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (pp. 585–586). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Related Topics: Christian Life