God made a promise to bless Abraham and his descendants, but Abraham and Sarah did not have children of their own. Instead, Abraham had a son, Ishmael, with his servant Hagar. When God reiterated His promise to give Abraham offspring, Abraham responded by asking God to simply make Ishmael the covenant child since he was already alive. Abraham thought he knew better than God, or that perhaps he could make things easier for God. God responded by telling Abraham, "No," and promised to give him a son, Isaac, through his wife Sarah. Abraham saw the difficulty of his circumstances, began to doubt God, and thought he could come up with his own solutions. Do we do the same thing that Abraham did?
The following is from a sermon on Genesis 17 by Alexander Maclaren.
It is often so in regard to our individual lives; and it is so in regard to the united action of Christian people very often. A great deal of what calls itself earnest contending for 'the faith once delivered to the saints' is nothing more nor less than insisting that methods of men's devising shall be continued, when God seems to be substituting for them methods of His own sending; and so fighting about externals and church polity, and determining that the world has got to be saved in my own special fashion, and in no other, though God Himself seems to be suggesting the new thing to me. That is a very frequent phenomenon in the experience of Christian communities and churches. Ishmael is so very dear. He is not the child of the promise, but he is the child that we have thought it advisable to help God with. It is hard for us to part with him.
Dear brethren, sometimes, too, God comes to us in various providences, and not only reduces into chaos and a heap of confusion our nicely built-up little houses, but He sometimes comes to us, and lifts us out of some lower kind of good, which is perfectly satisfactory to us, or all but perfectly satisfactory, in order to give to us something nobler and higher. And we resist that too; and do not see why Ishmael should not serve God's turn as he has served ours; or to think that there is no need at all for Isaac to come into our lives. God never takes away from us a lower, unless for the purpose of bestowing upon us a higher blessing. Therefore not to submit is the foolishest thing that men can do.
God has given us tremendous promises and simply asks us to place our trust in Him, but we often only trust our own understanding and attempt to pursue the fruit of God's promises through our own means. For example, in the church, we understand that God wants us to expand the kingdom, but we're tempted to seek growth through attractional experiences that may fill pews but don't save souls. In our own lives, we believe that God wants us to have joy, peace, and contentment, but we're tempted to seek after them in worldly things. God doesn't need us to take things into our own hands; He simply wants us to take His hand.
God is almighty. He is able to do whatever it takes to deliver on His promises. And God is faithful. He will never abandon the promises that He has made to His people. Our circumstances may seem hopeless, but, with God, there is always hope. Our circumstances may make it seem like God has abandoned us, but He hasn't. If we trust God and follow His ways, he has promised to give us everything we need to faithfully get through this life, and He has promised an eternal life free from all of the effects of sin forever. Circumstances can make that hard to believe, but, in those times, remember that God is God. What He will bring us to is better than anything we can attain without Him. Submit to Him. In the words of Alexander Maclaren, "Not to submit is the foolishest thing that men can do."