Lesson 2: God Is Bigger than Your WeaknessesRelated Media
“For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.…like Sarah…You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” 1 Peter 3:5-6
Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you through this lesson.
A little bit of history
Sarah lived during the biblical time of “The Patriarchs” (2100-1800 BC). The term patriarch denotes the father or male leader of a family or tribe. In the Bible, “patriarchs” usually refer to the three main characters whose lives are documented in Genesis 12-50—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
During Sarah’s life, the great civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia dominated the Ancient Near East. Archeologists have discovered that Ur (in today’s Iraq) was a thriving city of Mesopotamia with efficient government, impressive buildings and lots of amenities (like flush toilets). Yet, it was also characterized by idol worship.
Under God’s direction, Abraham willingly left Ur, with its culture and conveniences, for the land of Canaan (today’s Israel). Patriarchal life was semi-nomadic as they wandered from place to place, searching for grazing land and water for their animals. Wealth was measured in animal herds and movable goods such as silver, gold, and tents.
The patriarchal era is important to us. Through Abraham and his descendants, God began to develop a people of His own. The Abrahamic Covenant (God’s unconditional pledge to Abraham) contains many precious promises including numerous offspring, dedicated land, and a plan to bless all people of the earth. These promises passed on to Isaac and Jacob. Jacob’s sons formed the nucleus of the twelve tribes of Israel. Through one son’s kindness (Joseph), the infant “Israel” (72 people) entered Egypt and grew into a mighty nation. Sarah accompanied her husband Abraham on this adventure.
Sarah is mentioned more times in Scripture than any other woman, even Mary the mother of Jesus. She is the matriarch of the Jews and the first woman mentioned in Hebrews 11, what is often called “The Faith Hall of Fame.”
Though she lived 4000 years ago, God uses Sarah as an example for us to follow in 1 Peter 3:3-6. We should, therefore, want to find out about Sarah. Who was she? How was she like us? How can we be like her? Let’s join her journey.
Moving from home (Sarah is ~65 years old)
Although they are called Abram and Sarai in the early passages, for consistency’s sake, we’ll use the more common “Abraham” and “Sarah” (names later given to them by God).
1. Read Genesis 11:29-12:5. Describe Sarah and her circumstances in life at this time.
Barrenness for a woman in Sarah’s time was very painful, not unlike for a woman in our time. Sons, in particular, were needed to carry on the family name and livelihood. When Sarah left Haran, moving to who-knows-where, she was willing to cooperate with God’s plan for Abraham even when it was tough for her.
2. How are you at encouraging your closest friend or your spouse to follow God’s leading, even if it changes your life?
3. Read Genesis 12:10-20.
- How is Sarah described (verses 11, 14)?
- What situation did Sarah find herself in (verse 15)?
- What might have been Sarah’s emotions during this time?
- When Abraham failed to protect Sarah in this incident, what did God do for her?
Abraham’s “Tell them you’re my sister” plan, though making no sense to us, seemed to have merit in his time. One historian said that if a married man of Abraham’s day found himself in enemy territory, he could be killed for his wife. But, if Abraham were known as her brother, someone wanting her would have to make marriage arrangements with Abraham because in that society, a woman’s brother gave his sister in marriage. Thus, Abraham would have been the negotiator, supposedly giving him the chance to act in his own interest.
Sarah went along with Abraham’s “Tell them you’re my sister” plan because she was willing to do what he thought was needed to preserve his life. Remember that as the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write his letter, God honored Sarah for not giving way to fear (1 Peter 3:5-6).
10 years later (Sarah is now ~75)
4. Read Genesis 15:1-6.
- What was Abraham’s concern (verses 2-3)?
- What was still God’s plan (verses 4-5)?
In ancient times, a man who had no son could adopt a favored servant as heir to his possessions. Or, a man who had no son could take a second wife to produce an heir. Some marriage contracts even spelled out this provision. A wife was obligated to have children. We would consider that “Plan A.” If she could not, she was required to let her husband take another wife who could (Plan B). Abraham, however, had not already sought a second wife.
5. Read Genesis 16:1-16. What was Sarah’s “Plan B” to fix Abraham’s need for an heir (verses 2-3)?
Sarah’s “Plan B” becomes a nightmare! Our example was no perfect woman. She was just like we are. Look at her behavior!
6. How did Sarah react to Hagar’s pregnancy (verses 5-6)?
7. What was threatened in Sarah’s life, and what confirmation do you think she needed from her husband?
13 years later (Sarah is now ~89)
8. Read Genesis 17:1-2, 15-22. God once again told Abraham His plan to provide descendants for Abraham and a faithful people for Himself. How does God’s plan include Sarah (verses 15-16)?
9. Read Genesis 18:1-15.
- When the visitors came by Abraham’s tent, what was Sarah doing (verses 6-9)?
- What did the Lord give Sarah for the first time (verse 10)?
- What was Sarah’s initial response and why (verses 11-12)?
The Hebrew word translated “pleasure” in verse 12 is “eden,” a term synonymous with sensual pleasure. By the way, Abraham also laughed (Genesis 17:17). Does it surprise you that Sarah might have given up hope of ever having a baby?
10. What confirmation did God give to her (verse 14)?
Someone once said, “God’s plan is completely different from what you could ever imagine and much more glorious than you would ever expect.”
Have you noticed this in your life? Is anything really too hard for the Lord?
11. When the Lord confronted her about laughing (verse 13), what did Sarah do?
12. What was the Lord’s response (verse 15)? Do you think He knew her pretty well by now?
Shortly after the “tent” visit. Abraham nearly jeopardized the whole situation by again placing Sarah in another man’s harem (Genesis 20). He fails in the same area of faith in which he failed 25 years earlier. At 90 years of age, she was taken into a harem of the reigning king. This gives further information regarding Sarah’s beauty. God must have turned on her hormones again in a big way—super estrogen!!
13. Read Genesis 21:1-7.
- What is declared in verse 1 about God?
- What did He do for Sarah (verse 2)?
- What story did she have to tell (verse 6)?
- The name Isaac means “he laughs.” In what ways is Isaac an appropriate name for this baby?
- Through this whole experience, how do we know that God loved Sarah as much as Abraham?
When she got pregnant, can you imagine the hope building in her heart? I think she was smiling and giggling to herself all nine months. Then, Isaac is born; his name reminds her of their laughter. Is it possible that God delighted in making these two old people laugh?
3 years later (Sarah is now ~92)
14. Read Genesis 21:8-13.
- What problem did Sarah recognize between Ishmael and Isaac (verse 9)?
- What was Sarah’s solution (verse 10)?
- How did Abraham respond (verse 11)?
- What was God’s solution (verses 12)?
Every wife loves that God told Abraham to listen to his wife! God faithfully took care of Hagar and Ishmael, too (verses 14-20).
I’m so glad God gave us Sarah for an example—a beauty queen whose life was rarely smooth or easy. She went childless for many years. Her husband’s fears put her at risk by his decisions. And, she made a huge mistake that made life miserable for her. She was an everyday woman like you and I are. We can relate to some things about her life. It’s more difficult to relate to someone who did everything right. Sarah is one example to follow in believing that God is worthy of our trust.
Your Faith Walk
15. What situations in Sarah’s life could have “terrified” her?
16. Considering those “opportunities” for being terrified, in which ones did Sarah, by faith, do what was right and not give way to fear?
God loved Sarah. He knew what was going on in her life. He was able to do something about it. But, God did not give Sarah a child early in her marriage nor did He prevent her from making a bad decision or spending time in a king’s harem. During her walk, a loving God said “no” to some things. Yet, she chose to trust Him rather than submit to fear. And, God rewarded her faith with an outpouring of His blessing in other ways.
Likewise, God may not choose to rescue you from poor decisions made by you or someone close to you or those circumstances of life beyond your control that bring you pain. But, in any and all situations, you can count on these truths…
#1. God loves me
#2. God knows what is going on in my life
#3. God can do something about it
#4. I can trust His goodness in whatever He chooses to do
That’s your walk from fear to faith.
Journal Your Faith Story
17. Consider poor decisions made by you or someone close to you that have brought fear into your life. How did you respond? What have you learned that could help you respond with greater faith in God in your future?
Faith-in-Action: “Press on Beyond Any Weakness”
What happens when something goes wrong in your life? You know, not the way you planned or imagined. Do you feel dazed, embarrassed, or angry?
You may look at your life and only see weaknesses. You feel helpless as a victim of circumstances. You dwell on your mistakes. You focus on your inadequacies, not being enough of…whatever. And, sadly, other people like to point out all those weaknesses in your life, too, making you feel even worse about them.
God calls us to live by faith. Faith involves trust in a God who loves us, who cares, who can guide us, but who hasn’t promised to remove all the obstacles in our paths. And, He knows about our weaknesses.
Jesus is able to empathize with our weaknesses because He knows what we are going through. So, we can go to Him with confidence and get help in our time of need. Paul wrote that the Spirit of God helps us in our weakness in accordance with God’s will for our lives. You can see this in Hebrews 4:15-16 and Romans 8:26-27.
Our God has bigger purposes for our weaknesses than what we can see or know each step of the way. He knows what causes us fear. It doesn’t matter if our fear is driven by circumstances we cannot fix, stems from making mistakes, or is caused by feelings of inadequacy. Our God is bigger than our weaknesses. He asks us to trust Him and His purpose when we don’t understand.
God is bigger than your circumstances
Circumstances = those conditions that affect our lives that are beyond our control or our ability to “fix.”
Think of Sarah’s circumstances. Her barrenness was out of her control. She didn’t do anything wrong. And, in her specific case, God had a bigger plan for her that depended on the right timing, which she knew nothing about. Sarah endured long periods of drought, which brought on the famine, which caused Abraham to go to Egypt to find grazing land for his herds, where she ended up in Pharaoh’s harem. That famine wasn’t her fault. She didn’t do anything wrong. Yet, she suffered.
You may be facing your own version of desperate circumstances—health problems, lack of income, bad relationships, or something someone else has caused. Having to face those circumstances leaves you with choices. You can become
- He calls her by name, acknowledges her misery, and makes her state what steps she is taking to solve her problem.
- He tells her to do what is right. Go back to Sarah and submit to her. What? She’s the one who is beating me. He doesn’t say, “Go on home. I’ll make you rich and famous there.“ No, go back to the place I had for you. You have a responsibility there. Abraham can take care of you and your boy very well. And, God gave Ishmael the opportunity to choose to follow his father’s footsteps of faith.
- He promises her a future with a son and lots more after him so she’ll be cared for in her old age.
whiny and bitter. Or, you can depend upon God to get you through them. It is even likely that you will learn to see and appreciate God’s gifts to you in a greater way. God is bigger than your circumstances. If He wasn’t, He wouldn’t be God.
God is bigger than your mistakes
Mistakes can fall into one of two major categories:
1) Willfully going against clear Biblical guidance about what is right and wrong.
2) Attempting to “fix a problem,” without clear Biblical guidance. When it doesn’t turn out as expected, we can regret that decision as a “mistake.”
Sarah made one gigantic mistake in her life that’s recorded for everyone to know and point fingers at her. She took something acceptable from her culture and tried to use it to obtain the promise of God. That mistake had huge, painful consequences. But God’s purpose wasn’t thwarted because of her mistake. She experienced God’s graciousness to her and gave birth to Isaac. I bet everyone within earshot of Sarah for the rest of her life heard this marvelous story of God’s faithfulness to her.
But, what about those things not clearly defined as right and wrong in the Bible—where you live, where you work, or where to invest money? God has given us a mind to use for making decisions in those areas of life. So, we should pray, ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit, get advice from other believers, check to see if it’s legal, then make the decision and act on it.
Living by faith includes the whole process of trusting God while making a decision and trusting God with the results of it. It’s all about faith. Not about being perfect. God is bigger than your mistakes. If He wasn’t, He wouldn’t be God.
God is bigger than your inadequacies
To be “inadequate” means to fail to reach an expected or required standard, to be insufficient and lacking.
Some of us wallow in our inadequacies. God knows all about those things in which we feel insufficient and lacking. Sometimes, He leaves us to ourselves so we will recognize how insufficient we are without Him. Then, we will desire Him more. Have you noticed this in your life?
Sarah was inadequate in her barrenness. And, I think she had lost hope. Have you ever lost hope? The angel of the Lord appeared and personally gave her the good news she would soon be a mother. Sarah laughed, was confronted by the angel, became afraid and lied about her laughter. But, God didn’t zap her. Instead, He rejuvenated her body and filled it with the long-promised son.
Thankfully, God has compassion on our inadequacies. What do you feel is inadequate in your life? I’m not talking about material things right now, but where do you feel you lack as a person? Your character, your abilities. God is bigger than your inadequacies. If He wasn’t, He wouldn’t be God.
Press on beyond any weakness
So, instead of responding to desperate circumstances with hysteria, or replaying mistakes over and over in our minds, or wallowing in our inadequacies, what are you going to do today to move forward? Beyond circumstances you’re in. Beyond mistakes you’ve made. Beyond any feelings of inadequacy that you have.
The apostle Paul knew he had dragged Christians to prison to be beaten and killed. But, he also knew God was bigger than his past, so he writes in Philippians,
“…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” (Philippians 3:12-13)
How will you trust God now to show you how to press on toward a new future? And, as you press on, you can count on these 4 truths that are not nullified by your weaknesses.
#1 God loves me.
#2 God knows what is going on in my life.
#3 God can do something about it.
#4 I can trust His goodness in whatever He chooses to do!
We have a big God. He can take whatever is looking ugly in our lives and make it something praiseworthy. Maybe all that you’ve been through in life—desperate circumstances, blaring mistakes, and obvious inadequacies—have led to this moment when God has brought you to hear this message and trust in Him. God is bigger than your weaknesses. He could be showing you that today.
18. Take just one of the questions below and apply Philippians 3:12-13 to it. How will you press on, trusting in God? What are you going to do today to trust God and press on beyond that weakness?
- Have you faced desperate circumstances, maybe because of health problems, consequences of someone else’s sin, or relationships that have failed?
- Do you live in fear of making mistakes or of others making mistakes that affect you? Have you have made a big mistake with unwelcome consequences?
- What do you feel is inadequate in your life? Not just material things, but where do you feel you lack as a person?
Pray about your fears and decisions you are making to trust God in them. Thank God for His grace toward you and His love for you.