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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God redeems the despised things

At church we’re coming to the end of a 14 week sermon series in Levitcus and Numbers. I’ll admit that I was not particularly looking forward to 3 months in these Old Testament books but I’ve loved the way we have been constantly pointed to Jesus. I have been (once again) amazed at what Jesus achieved for us on the cross.

Today’s sermon was from Numbers 21

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

I was especially struck by this thought from the sermon:

A few chapters earlier (Num 11:6) the people had complained about the manna God gave them to eat. They took what should have been hope of life (food in the middle of the desert) and made it detestable. In chapter 21 God takes what is detestable (a snake) and turns it into hope of life.

Then this from John 3:

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

Once again, God takes what looks detestable and turns it into the ultimate hope for life everlasting.

Complementarianism and Egalitarianism: the coming divide

Some great posts happening at The Sola Panel.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

(via Mark)

*Edit: Part 4 is now up.

While I think these posts are excellent, I do think there is an aspect that is missing in this discussion. In my own exchanges with egalitarians it has been made very clear that for them there is an experiential aspect to their conclusion. For them (the people I have had interaction with) the basis of their exploration and final conviction of egalitarianism is that when complementarianism goes wrong, it goes *extremely* wrong, and generally for the woman. Some of the woman were themselves the victim of this – their husbands and/or pastors using complementary teachings as an excuse for behaviour that is nothing short of abuse of the woman in their lives. We need to engage in this part of the discussion too. First and foremost recognise that what these women have experienced is absolutely wrong and terrible, and (remembering our unity in Christ) humbly walk with them through their healing process.

If you want a glimpse into what I’m talking about read the comments on this post (particularly those from molleth).

“You want to be ordained in Sydney???”

I had a conversation today about studying at college and what I do at church etc etc. At one point I was asked what I planned to do after college and the conversation went something like this.

Guy: So what do you want to do after college?
Me: Well I’m hoping that after college the Sydney diocese will ordain me and then I’ll work in a church somewhere in Sydney.

 

Well, the smug, superior look on his face told me exactly what he thought of that. But to confirm it the next question was

Guy: As a minister?
Me: As a deacon, yes.
Guy: So not as clergy.

 

The conversation continue briefly while I tried to convince this man that the Sydney diocese of the Anglican church does in fact respect and value the ministry of women.

His response communicated to me that he was making judgements about me, and as it turns out they where judgements from nothing but ignorance. I patiently answered his questions, although it was clear he didn’t believe a word I was saying, but what I really wanted to say was that you might think the Anglican church hates me, but your ignorance, snap judgements and smug look show me that you’re the one that lacks respect. You’re the one that doubts my ability to make an informed, intelligent and biblical decision. You’re the one who thinks I’m less than based on what I do/don’t do and because I don’t agree with you. In that 5 minute conversation I felt less valued than my church has ever made me feel. Thanks for that.

Your adversary, the devil, is prowling

I’m always saddened and angered by sexual misconduct within the church but this is particularly disturbing

A TEENAGER fighting for her life in hospital was raped before her attacker splashed petrol over her and set her alight, an out-of-sessions court heard last night. [read more…]

14 year old girl. 24 year old youth group leader. Devastating.

And yet this man is no more a sinner than you and I. The devil is powerful. Beware.

Be sober! Be on the alert! Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. (1 Peter 5:8-9a)

He is looking for ANYONE. Please … I beg you … don’t let it be you.

Thinking about church planting

Yesterday our team spent some time hearing about a church plant gone wrong from the minister who eventually made the decision to shut it down.

It was interesting listening to his reflections on what may have gone wrong and how it do it better but the most striking statement for me was his warning to us not to fall into the trap of thinking MTC needs more practical subjects. Practical things are best learnt as we get out there and do them. Theological study is important because it shapes our doctrine, which in turns shapes why we do what we do. We must get our doctrine right first.

Progressive Christianity??

Steve Kryger (Communicate Jesus) writes an interesting post responding to this poster displayed outside of a New Zealand church.

Xmas-billboard-09

I share Steve’s confusion and offense at the poster, but after a little reading on the website of the church I found so many more things to be offended by that the poster faded into the background.

The church describes itself as practicing ‘progressive Christianity’. They feel the need to describe their type of Christianity because

being “Christian” does not tell us much about a faith community beyond the probability that Jesus plays a part in its beliefs.

According to their explanation of Progressive Christianity, the difference between different kinds of Christianity lies in what authority is most important to a particular group: Scripture, Church Teaching and Tradition, or Reason.

Progressive Christians take all three authorities seriously but make none of them supreme.  Progressives are more interested in spirituality than right belief or proper worship. The identity of Progressive Christians is centred in ethical living.

So, what kind of Christians are they? According to them they are Christians who

Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus.

Not perfect but a good start. Next?

Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God’s realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this second point is a problem for me. I’m about a million percent sure that John 14 records Jesus saying “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So I’m not sure how a church who claims that Scripture has any authority can also acknowledge that other people’s “ways to God” are as true for them as our ways are for us. But I guess that is the result of holding the authority of Scripture equal to that of human reason.

Really thats just the beginning of a bunch of stuff that bothers me but it was this comment on their post explaining that poster that started it

I am deeply saddened, dismayed and horrified by your billboard. Instead of trying to convey the true meaning of Christmas and promote Christianity you have only succeeded in being controversial. I will never again attend an Anglican service.

Excuse me?! This is an ANGLICAN church displaying this poster.

The reason it bothers me that this is an Anglican church is because I too am part of the world-wide Anglican Communion. And I’m uncomfortable with the thought of appearing to be in communion with people who clearly don’t believe in the God of the Bible.

True Christian communion is not about denominations, it’s about sharing in the same Spirit of God – which crosses denominational lines. But in the case of this church in NZ, because we share a denomination, we have is the appearance of unity, where no true unity of Spirit exists.

But it does remind me that New Zealand is a great mission field – and that possibility excites me!