One of my favorite things to do every now and then … and only every now and then … is to spend time brainstorming about a particular topic or problem with a handful of creative people—people whose minds are wired to generate idea after idea after idea. Few things are as inspiring to me as a lengthy conversation where most sentences begin with “What if we ….” I love the arena of ideas.
Of course, I can’t LIVE in the arena of ideas. At some point, I have to make a decision and choose one of those ideas to execute.
Choosing is often hard. I work and live with many sharp, creative, intelligent people. While we have our share of bad ideas, we have a lot of good ones, and it can be difficult leaving good ideas on the creative cutting floor and walking away with only one to work with. Sometimes we leave with some anxiety or angst about our decision, but more often than not, we walk away with a great deal of confidence we’ve chosen the best idea.
But confidence is no guarantee that a preferred, chosen idea was the right idea.
In a sense, this was the dynamic taking place between God and Abram.
In Genesis 17:5-8, God reiterated His promise to Abraham: “I will make you the father of many nations.”
What a great idea!
But how? How could this promise be fulfilled given their history of childlessness and now their old age?
So Abraham came up with idea: “If only Ishmael were acceptable to You!” (Genesis 17:18).
What a great idea for solving this problem! They’ve already got a son fathered by Abraham! When you consider the other possibilities (an old man and an old woman naturally conceiving, carrying and birthing a child as middle eastern nomads), the Ishmael idea sounds a like winner.
Technically speaking, it’s a good idea.
It just wasn’t God’s idea.
“No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his future offspring. As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father 12 tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will confirm My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.”
“Good idea, Abraham … just not my idea. Ishmael will, indeed, be the father of many, but he is not my choice for who I want to be the next in line for the people I am making for myself.”
You see, when we have seemingly good ideas that contradict God’s ideas, God wins every time. In the same way that God’s idea determined who would be His covenant people, God’s ideas shape our lives as well. We can have lots of good ideas, but what’s best for us are His ideas. His ideas decisively shape us more than our own.
Of course, no one has ever known God’s ideas perfectly. Even Abraham faltered many times in his journey of faith in God’s ideas. Graciously, God sent One who knew His mind and plan perfectly, and also executed it perfectly, even when seemingly better ideas abounded. How grateful we are for Jesus who never had an idea that wasn’t God’s idea, and who faithfully obeyed God’s ideas when we could not. The only way we could ever believe and act on God’s ideas over others is because He did it for us and gives us the Spirit to do the same.
What a great idea.