If you grew up eating animal crackers and drinking fruit juice at Sunday School, there’s a good chance you’ll recognize this classic song:
“Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord. Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, nod your head, turn around, sit down!”
By that last verse, you’ve pretty much done a 15-minute HIIT workout, but what’s this song even about?
Galatians 3:6-7 says, “You remember Abraham. Scripture tells us, ‘Abraham believed God and trusted in His promises, so God counted it to his favor as righteousness.’ Know this: people who trust in God are the true sons and daughters of Abraham.“
So, Father Abraham is not just a silly song that gets preschoolers to expound vast amounts of energy; it’s scriptural. We are sons and daughters of Abraham, but notice, it’s not our DNA that proves we are true sons and daughters of Abraham, it’s our belief. It’s us trusting that we are made right with God by grace through faith, fully buying into the fact that we can’t work our way to righteousness. Abraham was the first to walk this out, so naturally, he’s referred to as the father of our faith.
The grace message was a hard pill for the law-loving legalists of Jesus’s day to swallow. They wanted to be made right by keeping the law, and they desired to relate as sons of Abraham based on their genetics–their bloodline. So, they went around proudly singing, Father Abraham had many sons, and I am one of them, but it seems as if they forgot that Abraham had two sons.
Ishmael and Isaac.
And that leads me to a question that the Holy Spirit has asked me several times over the past 21 days: Who is your momma?
God promised that Abraham and Sarah, who were childless and beyond their child-bearing years, would give birth to a son. But instead of patiently waiting to see the promise fulfilled, they took matters into their own hands. They decided to do things their way instead of God’s way. They stepped out of God’s will, and Sarah had Abraham sleep with her servant Hagar. Sarah’s faith was in Hagar’s ability to conceive and bear children, instead of in the promise God gave her. Of course, Hagar became pregnant and Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son, took his first breath nine months later.
From the moment Hagar saw the two pink lines on her First Response test, trouble ensued. I can’t imagine the drama in that household. Hagar thought she was better than Sarah. Sarah was abusive toward Hagar. And Abraham was caught in the middle of it all.
Thirteen years later God tells Abraham that Sarah is going to have a baby, and THIS baby, not Ishmael, will be the son of promise. The son born of Sarah would be the one through which God established His covenant, and a year later Sarah gave birth to Isaac.
Father Abraham now had two sons who were 14 years apart. And just as there was conflict between Hagar and Sarah, there was conflict between Ishmael and Isaac. In Genesis 21 Abraham threw a big party to celebrate Isaac being weaned, and during the festivities, Ishmael began to mock his baby brother. Sarah catches wind of this and here’s what happens next:
Genesis 21:10-12 So she [Sarah] turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. But God told Abraham, “Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.
As a mother, my heart hurt for Ishmael when I read this. It seemed so ruthless of Sarah and Abraham, and it didn’t seem to line up with the character of God. How could they just send this single mother and her teenage son out into the wilderness? I mean I get it, mama bear comes out when someone messes with your baby, but this punishment seemed too harsh.
I wasn’t able to move past it even though I knew if I studied it out I would fall behind on my Bible reading plan. My heart wasn’t satisfied with the mama bear excuse, so I started to dig, and God began to unpack truths that I know I’ll never forget. I hope you’ll stick with me a little while longer so He can do the same for you.
Galatians 4 is where I found all the answers my heart was hungry for. In verses 21-31 Paul contrasts Abraham’s two sons.
Ishmael was born of a slave in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. Isaac was born of a free woman and was God’s own fulfillment of His promise. Isaac was conceived by grace through faith. Ishmael was conceived according to the flesh.
Ishmael represents legalism and our human attempts to attain righteousness. Isaac represents the gospel, the good news that Jesus made a way for you and me to experience the miracle of salvation.
When I began to see that Ishmael embodied our flesh, our unbelief, and us putting our will before God’s will, sending him packing didn’t seem so harsh anymore. My heart no longer went out to him.
You see, spirit and flesh, unbelief and faith, human effort and the miraculous, law and grace, they just don’t mesh. They can’t abide together peacefully and in the same ruthless way that Ishmael was sent away, we must send away our flesh, our unbelief, and our endeavor to complete our Christian duty checklists to get on God’s good side.
Friends, we are sons and daughters of promise and we’ve got to stop feeling for our flesh!
Galatians 4:31 So then, believers, we [who are born again—reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, and set apart for His purpose] are not children of a slave woman [the natural], but of the free woman [the supernatural].
We are free! We have been given supernatural power over sin. We have authority over our mind, will, and emotions. We are the sons and daughters to which God has left a rich inheritance, and it’s time we start living in it! It’s time to be ruthless with our old man, our sinful nature, in the same way Sarah was ruthless with Ishmael.
This is the time of year when most Christians are wrapping up a fast of some sort. Maybe you’ve been fasting social media, coffee, bread, complaining, sugar, frivolous spending, or secular music. You’ve denied your flesh. And perhaps you’re like me, and you’d admit that a few times during your fast you felt sorry for yourself in the same way that I felt sorry for Ishmael at first glance. Maybe in those moments of sympathizing with your flesh you even gave in and snuck a Starbucks on a super stressful day, only then to feel guilty for the next 24 hours. We’ve all been there. Or maybe you’ve been perfect on your fast, but you can’t wait for it to be over so you can get back to giving your flesh whatever it wants whenever it wants it. That’s not the kind of freedom God’s called us to walk in.
We’re the sons and daughters born into freedom not so we can cave to our sinful desires, but so that we use our authority to send those sinful desires heartlessly into the wilderness, far away from the path on which God has set our feet. Sin has no hold on us.
During my fast this year the Holy Spirit revealed so much to me about my heritage. He helped me to see that when I’m tempted to feel compassion for my flesh, unbelief, and the pull to connect to God through works instead of through grace, that somewhere in my spiritual makeup is the power to say NO.
I am not called to make sure my flesh and my spirit live peaceably with one another. I’m not called to a life of comfort, temporary gratification or short-lived escapes from the world around me. I’m called to live a life of ruthlessly denying my flesh, so my spirit reigns the roost.
I want to experience more of the supernatural and less of reruns on Netflix. I want to experience more of the presence of God and less of the same-sounding top 40 songs. I want to experience more of the lasting comfort of God and less of the fleeting comfort of chocolate, caffeine, and long baths. I want to experience more joy and gratitude and less mood swings and complaining.
Whenever we send our flesh and unbelief away into the wilderness, our spiritual senses become more elevated. We can taste and see and hear and feel God all around, not because we’re working some formula, but because it’s part of our inheritance as sons and daughters of promise.
As you head into a new month and close out your time of fasting, continue to remind yourself that Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham, and you are one of them. You’re the one who represents the gospel and the freedom that Christ set you free to walk in.
Don’t catch feels for your flesh, be like your spiritual momma, and stand up for your spirit!
The American Hospital Association recommends healthcare providers use the following terminology when describing the condition of a patient. Undetermined: The patient hasn’t been diagnosed yet. Stable: The patient’s vital signs are normal, and even though they might be in pain, recovery is favorable. Serious: The patient is very ill, and vital signs may be unstable. Critical: The patient has unstable vitals that are not normal, and could be unconscious. Indicators for recovery are unfavorable.
No one ever wants to hear that a loved one is in critical condition. Those two words carry an awful amount of weight with them. Weight that sends you to your knees, begging God to intercede–to do something–to miraculously change the condition of the person whose life in on the line.
We live in a day and age where we have been conditioned to be critical, and because of this, there are far too many Christians walking around with spiritual condition health charts stamped: critical. Their vitals are not normal. They aren’t showing signs of joy, freedom, peace, and victory like they should be. Many of them are completely unconscious, painfully unaware that they suck life out of people with their steady stream of negativity. And unless things drastically improve, a full recovery is not looking good.
The old adage, “everyone’s a critic,” is truer today than it’s ever been. With just a few taps here and a few clicks there, we can let everyone know what we think about the new restaurant in town or the movie we saw over the weekend. We no longer need Siskel and Ebert’s thumbs; thanks to Facebook we’ve got millions of thumbs to communicate what we do or don’t like. There’s a whole entertainment industry built around judges who get paid millions to sit back and criticize performers. Hear me, I am a huge fan of apps like Rotten Tomatoes and Yelp. I’m an avid Facebook user, and I watch reality TV talent shows too, but if we aren’t careful, the judgmental nature of the culture in which we live can affect our view finder, causing us to focus on the worst instead of the best.
I’ll be the first to admit, I struggle with this. Sunday mornings are game day for me. My husband and I pastor a two-year-old church plant. We’ve put our heart and soul into this thing. It’s not just a hobby or something we do for fun, it’s our family’s mission. Every week we have amazing church services. There are people everywhere, worship is so good it makes you want to literally never stop singing, we have the best volunteers in the world, ministry is happening on every level. But even among all the good, my critical eye can spot something that could be better and sometimes instead of going home praising God for all He did, I find myself consumed with the one thing that wasn’t perfectly executed.
If you are like me, I want you to know that being able to spot things that could be better is not a bad thing. It’s actually a really great gift God has placed in you, and if stewarded well can be used to improve your sphere of influence. But, if the bad is all you seem to focus on, you will lose your ability to enjoy life, and that doesn’t sit well with the One who came so that you might have AND ENJOY life.
I have known a few professional fault finders in my day. They don’t get paid in cash to look for shortcomings in every person or situation they have ever encountered, instead, they get paid with the temporary gratification of feeling a little bit better about themselves when they criticize others. They tirelessly read into everyone’s every word and endlessly examine everything with intent to find dirt so that it makes them appear a little shinier.
I have also known some people who aren’t negative toward others, but they’ll be the first and fastest to point out their own flaws. They don’t want to give anyone else a chance to criticize them, so in an effort to protect their heart, they criticize themselves.
Neither of those kinds of people could be described as joyful because when we spend our days criticizing ourselves and others, or focusing solely on the negative, we negate the cross. We make null the above-and-beyond life that Jesus wants for us here on earth, as it will be in heaven.
So how do we overcome? How do we condition our hearts to see and celebrate God’s goodness instead of being negative?
First, we have to recognize that having a critical spirit is a critical situation. We have to see that it’s hurtful to God, ourselves, and others, and we must earnestly desire change.
You are probably familiar with Luke 6:37, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” But let’s look at in The Message paraphrase:
Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.
This isn’t a suggestion. It’s a command from Jesus Himself. Don’t criticize people. Don’t dig for dirt, dig for gold. Don’t waste your time judging every human’s words, actions, or motives, unless you want your every word, action, and motive to be judged.
In Matthew 14, Mary pours out a very expensive jar of perfume over Jesus’ head, and the disciples jumped all over her.
Matthew 14:8-9 But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”
I love Jesus’ response in verse 10, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me?”
Maybe the disciples criticized Mary because they were jealous. I’m sure the fact that she was able to bless Jesus with such an extravagant gift and they couldn’t made them feel like they were in competition with her. If you find yourself criticizing others, there may be some jealousy issues that need dealt with. Or maybe they genuinely thought she was being wasteful. So what if they did. It was not their place to judge her intentions, and Jesus wasn’t about to let them slide. This is a serious issue to Him, and it should be to us as well.
Secondly, we have to repent.
Repenting is more than saying you’re sorry or asking God to forgive you. True repentance is when you realize that what you are doing is sin, and then you turn away from it. It’s proving that you’ve had a change of heart.
Matthew 3:8 So produce fruit that is consistent with repentance [demonstrating new behavior that proves a change of heart, and a conscious decision to turn away from sin].
How are you going to demonstrate that your critical condition has changed? What’s your plan for producing fruit that is consistent with a repentant heart? If we don’t have a plan in place, I’m afraid we’ll fall right back into our negative ways. Your plan may look different from the plan of the person sitting next to you, but here’s one thing both plans must have in place: allow your Creator to create again.
Luke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
If your heart is full of negative thoughts toward yourself, others, or just life in general, then it’s going to be difficult keeping criticism from coming out of your mouth every time you open it.
So how do you change what’s in your heart? There are several typical Christian devotional answers that apply here. Read your Bible more, pray more, fast more, go to church more, serve more, give more, more, more, more and while more of these things are always a great idea, I believe in order to overcome a critical spirit, we need more than more, we need new.
Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast spirit within me.
Create and Renew. We need to ask God, like David did, to create in us a new heart that would be, “firm in the purposes of virtue; that would not yield to temptation; that would carry out holy resolutions; that would be steadfast in the service of God” (Barnes 88). We need to ask God to renew a right spirit in us, because even though we are new creations in Christ, wrong spirits still like to hang around.
You can’t change on your own. You can’t, in your own strength, go from a glass-half-empty person to a glass-half-full person. You can’t go from always seeing flaws to always noticing God’s goodness. You can’t create a new heart for yourself. But thankfully, you have a connection. The Connection! You can walk boldly into the throne room and ask Him to create in you a clean heart and to renew a right spirit inside you, and what you thought might take weeks, months, or even a lifetime to overcome, He will change in a moment. Instead of reading and praying to try to run off negativity, you’ll be reading and praying because your clean heart desires to be full of His Word and your right Spirit desires constant communion with Him.
Let’s not be okay with a chart that reads critical. Instead, let God take the places of our hearts that have been tarnished by negativity and allow Him to make them new again. Let’s get our joy, peace, freedom, and victory levels steady again so we can be living testimonies of his goodness.
For a free small group study guide to go along with this article, click here.
Barnes, Albert. Notes, Critical, Explanatory, and Practical, on the Book of Psalms. Vol. 2, Harper, 1869