Faith like Hannah

Today we started a sermon series on 1 Samuel. Here are my reflects on Hannah from 1 Samuel 1.

If I’m honest, I have mixed feelings about Hannah. On one level we share a deep sadness. We’re both childless women who desperately want that to change. But that’s where the similarity stops. Because Hannah got what she wanted. And so I wonder what can I learn from Hannah, when there’s no guarantee my story will end happily ever after.

For me there’s 2 things that really stand out about Hannah. Her mistake and then what she does right.

In the first 17 verses Hannah is miserable. Verses 7 and 8 tell us she wept. And her husband describes her as being downhearted. Verse 10 says in her deep anguish she wept bitterly. In verse 15 she tells Eli she is deeply troubled, then in verse 16 she talks about her great anguish and grief. She is utterly miserable.

She’s miserable because she’s made a mistake that many of us do. She has defined herself and her life and her happiness by what she doesn’t have. That’s the reason Peninnah is able to provoked her to tears. Both Hannah and Peninnah really only care about what Hannah’s life is missing. Not what she has already. Her Husband Elkanah notices this too. He asks her why are you downhearted? Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons? Elkananh loves her and makes sure she is taken care of. So it’s no wonder he is surprised that she is so utterly miserable.

Hannah is so focused on what’s missing, that she can’t see the good things that are right in front of her.

Don’t we do the same thing? I know I do. It’s easy to daydream about a husband and kids, and forget that I get to sleep in at least once a week. I don’t have to check with anyone before I make plans. My time, my money, my energy, my holidays are all my own.

What do you daydream about? And what good things are you missing while you daydream?

It’s not that wanting things is bad. Many of the things we really long for are good gifts from God. But focusing so much on the things we don’t have that we forget to be thankful for the good things we do have will only leave us weeping bitterly. Just like Hannah. That’s her mistake.

But then she does something right. It’s something that’s very ordinary. She prays.

Despite her sadness, she responds in faith. She acknowledges God’s sovereignty. She’s not bitter towards God, she’s not angry with him. She knows he is the Lord Almighty and she turns to him with the very deepest desires of her heart.

Verse 11 says

And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

As she’s praying Eli the priest, thought she was drunk. She quickly corrects him – ‘I’m not drunk. I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.’

Hannah’s response here challenges me in my own sadness and desires because I have to ask, is that how I respond? So often I’m very quick to pour out my soul to family and friends, or pretty much anyone else who’ll listen and be sympathetic.

But Hannah says “I was pouring out my soul out to the Lord.

It’s easy to be caught up with sharing your problems with everyone else and forget to share them with the one who can actually deal with them. If you are convinced that God is completely in control of all things, and if you are convinced that he is good and loving all the time, why wouldn’t you pour out your soul to the Lord? Hannah’s prayer is ordinary, but it’s the response that makes the most sense.

Hannah’s prayer was turning point for her. In verse 18 we read that as she got up and left the temple ‘Hannah’s face was no longer downcast.’

We could easily assume that Hannah’s attitude changed when she a baby – when she gets the thing she wants. But the changed happened before that. Her prayer changed her attitude, her disposition, her ability to cope with he sadness. That change happened well before God in his grace gave Hannah and Elkanah the child they longed for.

I have a mug at home that someone gave me years ago and it say ‘prayer changes things’. To be honest I’ve always found it a little cheesy and I never use it. But as I read Hannah’s story those 3 words keep popping into my mind. It’s true that prayer changes things. It changes us. When we pray we remember that our God, our Father in heaven knows us and loves us. Hannah prayed that he would not forget her. And he didn’t.

He hasn’t forgotten us either. To be sure of that we don’t need to look any further than Jesus. Hannah’s love for God lead her to keep her vow and give her son to live in service to God. God’s love for us lead him to send his son die in place of us. We have even greater reason to respond in faith than Hannah did. We know that in Jesus we have forgiveness, and the hope of eternal life. Our biggest need is already dealt with.

For all the other things we want, the deep desires of our hearts, we can pour out our soul to the Lord in confidence, knowing that he has not forgotten us.

Hannah prays again in chapter 2. She starts her prayer by saying ‘My heart rejoices in the Lord’.

You may never get the things you want. I may never get the things I want. Hannah teaches me to express my faith by praying. She teaches me the right response in sadness – to pour out my soul to the Lord. And she reminds me that I have many reasons for my heart to rejoice in him.

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