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August 28, 2020

God Hears Tears as Well as Prayers


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Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Gen. 16:2).

The outline of Hagar’s story is simple: Sarah wanted to have a child, and so she gives her servant, Hagar, to Abraham. Abraham agrees with the plan. Hagar conceives, and this already fractured family is plunged into a web of conflicting loyalties and hidden resentments.

Hagar’s story comes right out of the Scriptures and speaks straight into the life of the person who has never felt deeply loved. Hagar was never first in anyone’s life. No one was close enough to Hagar to know who she really was and what she really felt. There was no one she could count on—not even the father of the child she was carrying.

Emotionally Abandoned

Abraham was the father of this child, and he had responsibility for Hagar. But Abraham did not stand up for her. He gave her up, just as Pharaoh and Sarah had done before. Hagar ended up alone, pregnant, and in the desert, which is like being alone, pregnant, and in the city today.

Who cared about this woman? Her whole life seemed to be a story of what other people wanted. She was pushed from pillar to post, according to what was most convenient for others.

This is a story for the person who feels that she has been like a pawn, moved around on the board of other people’s lives.

Spiritually Wounded

In the kindness of God, Hagar found herself in the family God had chosen to bless. Hagar would have learned about God from Abraham and Sarah. But they turned out to be desperately flawed believers. Try to imagine the impact on Hagar when the only believers she knew used her in the way that they did! How could this woman ever come to believe?

It’s not surprising that she ran from the family of faith. She ran from Sarah and from Abraham, and she ran from the God that they had failed so badly.

This is a story for the person who has learned about God, but now struggles with faith because of what he or she has seen in the lives of some believers.

Deeply Loved

The last part of Hagar’s story is full of hope for every person who feels emotionally abandoned or spiritually wounded. Hagar discovered that she was deeply loved by God.

Here are three glimpses of His love.

1. God finds lost people.

The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur (Gen. 16:7).

God appeared to Hagar in visible form, as he had to Abraham and Sarah. We know this because Sarah “called the name of the LORD who spoke to her…” (Gen. 16:13). It was Yahweh who spoke to her directly and personally. Hagar would never have found her way to God, but God in his mercy, found His way to her.

If God waited for us to find Him, none of us would get there. Lost sheep don’t have the capacity to find the Good Shepherd. It is the Good Shepherd who has the capacity to find lost sheep.

Hagar was running away from believers, and she was running away from God. She was angry and resentful; she felt a sense of injustice. This hardly seemed like a time when she could hear the voice of God. And yet it proved to be the great turning point of Hagar’s life!

2. God hears suffering people.

The angel of the Lord said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction” (Gen. 16:11).

This verse does not say “the Lord has listened to your prayer.” Up to this point, there is no suggestion that Hagar prayed. Why would you pray to God when running from Him? But God listens to your affliction. God hears tears as well as prayers (Ps. 56:8).

God told Hagar to give her son the name “Ishmael.” Ishmael means, “God has heard.” Since he turned out to be a difficult boy, this must have been a blessing to his mother. Every time she called out his name, she would be reminded that God hears.

There must have been times when Hagar said to herself: “Pharaoh didn’t look after me. Abraham didn’t look after me. Sarah didn’t look after me. Now I have found the One who looks after me!”

3. God sees all people.

She called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13).

It is fascinating that Hagar said this immediately after the prophecy made about Ishmael: “He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him” (Gen. 16:12).

Parents know what it is to see a reflection of themselves in the struggles of their children. I suspect Hagar saw a reflection of herself in the description of Ishmael. And Hagar said, “Truly you are the God who sees me!” You know me as no one ever has!

God sees not with the eyes of condemnation but with the eyes of love—this for a woman who was running from Him, in order to lay hold of her and bring her back.

Happy Ending?

Hagar did what the Lord commanded. She went back to Abraham and Sarah, back to the fractured household of faith. Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael (Gen. 16:15).

But Hagar’s obedience to God meant living with continued difficulty. This is not a story that ends with “And they all lived happily ever after.” They didn’t! The “happily ever after” stuff belongs to fairy tales and Hollywood movies from the 1930s! Even Hollywood doesn’t make movies like that today, because the world doesn’t work like that.

The Bible speaks to the real world—to the ongoing difficulties faced by single mothers, perplexed wives, flawed fathers, and troubled sons. The message is not “Come to Jesus and you will live happily ever after.” The Bible’s message is “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9).

If you come to the Lord Jesus Christ today, you will find that His grace is sufficient for you, too.

As you live in the tension of a home where there is little peace, the grace of the Lord Jesus is sufficient for you. As you live with the emotional abandonment and the spiritual wounding you have experienced, the grace of the Lord Jesus is sufficient for you. Living with and mastering the wild impulses that sometimes rage in your heart and your soul won’t be easy. But you will find that His grace is sufficient for you.

Learn from the Scriptures that you are deeply loved by God, just as Hagar was. He sees you, knows you, and hears your tears. He sent his Son to seek and to save you.

By God’s grace and through his Word, He draws near to you today with the command to repent, and also with a promise of blessing. And His grace is sufficient for you.


This article is an adaptation of Pastor Colin’s sermon, “The Single Mother”, from his series Faith for Fractured Families.


Photo: Pixabay

Colin Smith

Founder & Teaching Pastor

Colin Smith is the Senior Pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He has authored a number of books, including Heaven, How I Got Here and Heaven, So Near - So Far. Colin is the Founder and Teaching Pastor for Open the Bible. Follow him on Twitter.
Colin Smith is the Senior Pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He has authored a number of books, including Heaven, How I Got Here and Heaven, So Near - So Far. Colin is the Founder and Teaching Pastor for Open the Bible. Follow him on Twitter.