Steven Furtick — Unexpected Blessings
I'd like you to write down, on the page where you're taking so many notes, I want you to write down these two words, "approval" and "achievement." Approval and achievement. These are the two foundational things that drive most of our lives and we never even know that we're being driven by them. Approval and achievement. We're going to see both of them, quickly now, represented in the lives of these sisters.
First Leah. Verse 31 says: "When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved" — you know, I'm grateful that God sees unloved people. "When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, He enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless."
When the Lord saw that Jacob had no interest in Leah, when the Lord saw that Jacob had rejected Leah, when the Lord saw that Leah was crying herself to sleep at night because she knew that she was the ugly one, the unwanted one, the Bible says that God himself took action and initiative.
Let me tell you why: Because God selects what man rejects. I'll take a moment today to speak to every unloved Leah in our church, everyone who has known the pain of being unwanted at times, every son that's growing up without a dad because he made the decision that it wasn't worth it for him to stay around, for everyone who was rejected in a marriage and somebody chose something else over you, for everyone who has been rejected or ostracized or isolated by groups of people.
I want to speak for a moment to every unloved and lonely Leah. I'm not just talking about women here. I'm talking about every man, every woman, every boy, every girl who doesn't get invited to most of the parties on Friday night, who doesn't have a seat saved for them at the table at lunch, who doesn't get included all the time, who doesn't get asked out all the time, who doesn't really feel like many people light up when you walk up.
I want you to know that God has this way of selecting the ones that people end up rejecting. He just has a way of doing. It says when He saw that Jacob didn't want Leah, He said, "I want Leah. And I'm going to enable her to do something that her sister can't do because I am the God who selects what others reject. I am the God who will find a good use for what other people wanted to throw away. I am the God who will make the most out of a situation that other people have given up hope of. I am the God of the widow and the orphan. I am the God who selects the rejected. I am the God who chooses the unchosen, the last chosen. I am the God," this is a word now, "for a lonely, unloved Leah, wondering when's my time."
God says, "I see you, Leah. I see you lying there unwanted at night. I see you being picked over, skipped over, and left out. I see you, Leah, and I know Jacob doesn't love you, but Jacob doesn't like himself. See, Jacob is a fool, and if he knew what was in you, Leah, he'd choose you, too. I choose you, Leah."
All of us will deal with rejection from time to time. You know what rejection is? It's not a dead-end. It's a redirection. When people reject you, it's a sign that they weren't the right one for you anyway. When groups of people reject you, sometimes it's a sign that they're flying too low and you don't have any business in their altitude anyway, and God is taking you higher.
I'm going to set some teenagers free from a popularity contest in this church. Y'all can all look at me crazy, but there's some really stupid things you've done in your life because you were trying to get acceptance. And if you would have known that God chose you before the foundations of the earth and you don't have to win the approval of a committee of jacked-up Jacobs who are trying to find their own way, too, but the perfect God has declared His righteousness as a banner over your life, it might have saved you.
Come on, find seven people and tell them, "I'm chosen, I'm chosen. I'm absolutely chosen. I'm God's first round draft pick, baby. I didn't get cut. I'm chosen. I'm here because I'm chosen." So Leah is chosen. Ooh, I feel something happening in somebody today. It's going to be a whole different school year for somebody because you know you're chosen. You're chosen. You're chosen. And yet Leah, even being chosen by God, still has something to prove to others.
So she starts having babies. Nothing wrong with having babies. Having babies is a lot of fun in certain ways. Having babies is productive, it's fruitful, it's God's plan to replenish the earth, it's helpful for church growth. In so many ways, it's good to have babies. But why are you having babies, is the question. Like, it's good to achieve and it's good to succeed, but why are you succeeding? Look at verse 32. We have a hint here.
It says: "Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, 'It is because the Lord has seen my misery.'" That's true. But look at her conclusion: "Surely my husband will love me now."
I wonder who you're trying to get to love you today by something that you can produce. Well, apparently it didn't work, because then she conceived again, next verse says, and when she gave birth to a son, she said, "Because the Lord heard that I'm not loved, He gave me this one, too." So she named him Simeon. Simeon means "the Lord hears."
Well, that didn't work either, so again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son, she said, "Now at last my husband will become attached to me because I've borne him three sons." So he was named Levi. Again she conceived, and then she gave birth to a son and said, "This time I'll praise the Lord," so she named him Judah which means "praise," and then she stopped having children for a minute.
But what we see here in Leah is a picture of so many lives, producing things that we hope will win us approval. Can I tell you that until He is enough for you it will never be enough either? Leah is popping out babies like Michelle Duggar and still can't get Jacob's attention.
And I'm telling you, you can pop stuff out and make As and do stuff and be fast. It's great, it's great, it's great, it's great. But there comes a time where you've just got to decide to praise God for who He made you to be. Because check out Rachel. She's the pretty one, right? And you would assume that Rachel who is so beautiful and so loved and so wanted by her man would be happy.
But watch, Rachel, it says verse 1, chapter 30: "When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children," so Jacob is a picture of the woman who has got it all going on, on the outside, but is unproductive on the inside. She's loved by Jacob, but she's not able to give Jacob what he wants the most. She's wanted by Jacob, but she's unable to get what she wants. And so she became jealous of her sister, and she said to Jacob, "Give me children or I'll die."
See, both sisters are miserable. One of them weak eyes, one of them with a hot body, both miserable. And this made Jacob mad. Look at verse 2. Jacob became angry with her and said, "Am I in the place of God who has kept you from having children?" In other words, you know, this is your problem. My stuff is working fine just getting a look at Leah.
I wish you could see the uptight people in church. Hilarious, you uptight people, you're great. I mean, this is so dramatic, right? "Give me children or I'll die." So she's got the approval, but she doesn't have the achievement. She's got the approval. Jacob loves her, but she can't produce what she wants to produce and she's miserable about it.
Let me tell you something, students, some of the people that you're jealous of are miserable on the inside. Some of the most popular people that you go to school with cry themselves to sleep at night. And if you're not careful, you'll spend all your life trying to imitate people who are barren inside. Just because your life looks beautiful on the outside doesn't mean it's fruitful on the inside.
And Rachel has a beautiful figure and Rachel has a low body fat percentage and Rachel has the attention of a man, but she can't have children. Leah can have children, but she doesn't have beauty. Why are we all so drawn to see what we don't have? God was working in both of their lives, but it wasn't enough.
Leah's having babies, saying, "Oh, if Jacob would just love me, if Jacob would just accept me, if Jacob would just notice me, if that crowd would just invite me." Rachel's trying to have babies, saying, "If I could just have a son, if I could just bear a child, if I could just, if they would just, if I could just, if they would just, if I could just, if they would just."
And God says, "When are you going to look to Me? Because I already have. I already have." But Rachel can't accept this, so what does she do? She tries to help God out a little bit. Verse 3, she said, "Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so she can bear children for me and I, too, can build a family through her." And Jacob goes like, "Well, all right, if you think I ought to do it, I'll take one for the team. Whatever you want, baby-doll."
So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob slept with her. And she became pregnant and bore him a son. Now, I'm going to read this real fast. It's all real crazy. Don't try to keep up with it. I just want you to see how dramatic it got and that the confusion and issues in the world are nothing new. I mean, this is better than an episode of Pretty Little Liars. The Bible is so full of drama.
I should have called this sermon "The Real Housewives of Paddan Aram," because what's about to happen right now will freak you out. Then Rachel said, "God has vindicated me. He has listened to my plea and given me a son." Because of this, she named him Dan. Verse 7. And Rachel's servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. And then Rachel said, "I've had a great struggle with my sister and I've won." So she named him Naphtali.
And when Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she stopped praising the Lord and went back to trying to have some more kids, because now she's comparing herself to Rachel because Rachel has a child now. Well, not really; it was through her servant, but Leah doesn't like the fact that Rachel has now been able to do something that approximates what she was only able to do.
So now in an effort to do it again, she gives her servant to Jacob, and Leah's servant bore him a son. And now verse 11. Then Leah said, "What good fortune," so she named him Gad. Verse 12. Leah's servant bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, "How happy I am." No, I don't think you are, Leah. "How happy I am. The women will call me happy." By the way, anytime you tie your happiness to another person's appraisal of you, you'll never be happy.
Now she's gone from maybe Jacob will love me to maybe the women will see what I've done, and maybe they'll... maybe, now maybe, maybe they'll envy me. Maybe that'll make me happy. So she named him Asher. Verse 14. During wheat harvest, crazy little sub-plot, Reuben went out into the fields, that's Leah's son, and found some mandrake plants, which were thought to help with fertility and also known as an aphrodisiac, which he brought to his mother, Leah.
And Rachel said to Leah, "Please give me some of your son's mandrakes." But she said to her, "Wasn't it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son's mandrakes too?" "Very well," Rachel said, "He can sleep with you tonight in return for your son's mandrakes."
So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. "You must sleep with me," she said. "I hired you with my son's mandrakes." So he slept with her that night. Maidens and mandrakes all representing our attempts to control our future which ultimately only God can steer. You see how this manipulation — the mandrakes and the maidens and the — but God listened to Leah. And she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son.
See, God is working in your life even when you're going about it the wrong way. Then Leah said, "Well, God is rewarding me for giving my servant to my husband," so she named him Issachar. Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, "God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor because I've borne him six sons," so she named him Zebulon. Sometime later she gave birth to a daughter and her name was Dinah. Then God remember Rachel. He listened to her and enabled her to conceive.
See, all this stuff that Rachel was doing to try to achieve was eclipsed in one moment when God remembered her, because one moment of receiving from God outweighs a lifetime of what you try to achieve without Him. Isn't that true? Isn't that true, all of you who have tried mandrakes and maidens and everything else to try to get what you wanted out of life, but then you woke up and you didn't even want what you had? And she became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, "God has taken away my disgrace," and she named him Joseph and said, "May the Lord add to me another son."
Now, stop there. In the book of Matthew, when it starts out it gives what's called the genealogy of Jesus Christ. It tells all of the different generations through which Jesus was born. It traces it all the way back to the top. It's like Jesus' version of Ancestry.com. And if we could show Leah Matthew chapter 1, I don't think she would have been as frustrated. You know why?
Because in Matthew chapter 1... I'm getting ready to blow somebody's mind in the back of the room, okay? In the back of the room, get ready. This is going to freak you out. Matthew is telling us how Jesus came into the earth, and he said, "This is the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham." Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah.
Wait a minute. Judah was Leah's son. Leah was the one Jacob never even wanted to marry. And if you keep reading Matthew... I'm not going to do it because it's got a lot of names that I don't know how to pronounce, but it says, "So and so begot so and so begot so and so begot so and so begot so and so." And it goes for 14 generations, and then 14 more, and then 14 more. And it's just a long list. And normally I would skip over it, but it says... we need to think about this.
It says that Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, Jacob begot Judah. Now skip all the way to verse 16. After all of the so and sos and the begots and the so and sos and the begots, it says, "And then there was Jacob, the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
Now, here's why I said it was going to blow your mind. Because Jesus came from the line of Judah. Judah came from Leah, the one that Jacob never even wanted. The Savior of the world was born out of the rejection of a woman who was unloved by Jacob.
Now, I want to tell you, if you're feeling rejected today, feeling like a failure today, God has a plan to bring forth Jesus in your life, out of your rejection, out of your frustration, out of your failures, out of your defects, out of your flaws. So isn't that cool? Isn't that amazing? Stand up; I'm closing. Isn't that amazing? Isn't it amazing that God will turn rejection into a blessing?