God of the Invisible
When you call on the God Who Sees, you’re praying to the One who gives purpose to pain.
Open a paper or turn on the news, and you’re bound to see a world that’s suffering. More than anything, you are acutely familiar with the chaos present in your own life. We’re told from our Christian infancy that God’s plan is never a mistake; there is no Plan B—not even man’s exile from Eden. But if God is operating on Plan A, how should we pray when He leads us through hardship?
The way we relate to God in prayer is a good indicator of our relationship with Him. Do we come before Him only to beg for change in our current circumstance? Do we petition Him on behalf of friends or strangers? Do we ask to see His character more clearly? Do we listen?
Next to biblical giants like Abraham and Sarah, the Egyptian slave Hagar seems at best to hold the role of supporting actress. But the spotlight is all hers in Genesis 16. At a time when God was spoken of only in broad, majestic terms like Elohim (the Creator God) or Shaddai (the Almighty), Hagar responds to hearing the Lord by giving Him an intimately personal name that still defines our theology today: El Roi, (the God Who Sees Me).
READ Genesis 16
The scene is set with a common theme in the biblical narrative: Sarai (whom we will later know as Sarah) has thus far been incapable of giving her husband an heir. She’s pushing 76, so according to the custom of her day, she makes her slave girl a surrogate. As if forced servitude weren’t dehumanizing enough, the young maidservant is commanded to sleep with 86-year-old Abram. She conceives, but in a culture where motherhood is a woman’s most prized career, Hagar knows she’ll be stripped of this right as well. Either the pending release of her child to Sarai’s waiting arms or growing pride in her ability to conceive drives Hagar to treat her barren mistress with scorn. And Sarai’s discipline of Hagar’s rebellion ultimately causes the servant to flee.
Feeling unseen, abused, and alone, Hagar runs away to a potentially more dangerous place: the wilderness. It’s unclear how long the pregnant girl wanders there, but she is undoubtedly lost, hungry, and desperate to be seen by someone who will fight for her. Then something life-changing happens.
God calls her by name, confirming that she is indeed seen. In fact, He “found her,” Genesis 16:7 says. He didn’t stumble upon her; He pursued her. During their dialogue—which is the heart of prayer—God calls her with a mission: to go back to the very thing she is running from. But He doesn’t send her back empty-handed. Before the age of sonograms, the Lord tells her that she is pregnant with a son and her descendants will be innumerable. More than promising that she will not die in the desert, God promises Hagar that He will continue to see her, hear her prayer, and give her a role in a story that will someday encompass both Hebrews and Gentiles. Hagar can return to a less-than-ideal life with the confidence that she is not alone, the knowledge that she has been a key piece in a bigger plan, and a message for her community: The Lord is a personal God who sees you.
When we encounter suffering, our natural instinct is to retaliate or run. Sometimes escaping from a bad situation is God’s plan. But often our limited human vantage point prevents us from grasping His eternal perspective.
In those situations, laboring through dark and lonely places teaches us to see beyond ourselves and help advance God’s kingdom in a broken world. Just like the time Hagar spent with the Lord, praying through our suffering equips us to know God’s character more intimately, to put others before ourselves, and to find purpose in pain.
REFLECT + EXPLORE
Reflect on these insights from supporting scriptures. If you have time, explore the passages and journal your responses.
• You are not invisible to God.
Read Psalm 33:13-15. Is the fact that God sees you enough for you to find purpose in dark and lonely places?
• “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
Have you sincerely prayed to see God’s vision for your life, even if it differs from your own?
• Daniel’s prayer life was unwavering in the face of hardship. God saw him and delivered him from the mouth of lions.
Read Daniel 6:10-23. Do you pray only in times of need, or is your communication with God daily and unswerving?
• Hannah prayed passionately to the Lord, and He remembered her.
Read 1 Samuel 1:1-20. Do you pour out your heart before God, believing that He is able to accomplish the seemingly impossible?
Answer the following questions, journaling your thoughts if possible.
• Recall a time past or present when God asked you to labor through a difficult season. What did it teach you about His character?
• How has God used your time of discomfort to bring comfort to others?
• If you were to give God a personal name while praying, what would you call Him? Write a prayer using your intimate name for God.
Illustration by Jeff Gregory