May 14, 2012

Step Up: Hannah 1 Samuel 1:1-20

In May of 1999, I was working as the youth pastor at a church in Kansas City, Ks. It was a rather traditional church. I had to wear a suit every Sunday. I did the welcome and the announcements during the service, and sat in one of the chairs directly behind the large wooden pulpit during each and every service...making sure that I behaved as much as anything. Following the closing prayer the congregation would sing the doxology, and Lori and I would follow the pastor and his wife to the back of the sanctuary where we would shake people’s hands as they left.

It was Mother’s Day so it had been a great day of celebrating Motherhood. As the women passed we would use the customary greeting and say, “Happy Mother’s Day!” and congratulate them on enduring the things their children had put them through. As they passed they would wish the pastor’s wife, “Happy Mother’s Day.” But since Lori and I didn’t have any children at the time, most would simply say good bye or “Good to see you” or something innocuous like that.

Until one woman came through through the line. She wished the pastor’s wife a “Happy Mother’s Day!” and then said to Lori, “Happy Moth...oh, I can’t wish you a Happy Mother’s Day because you are not a mother.” Those words were like a knife to Lori’s soul. She had been fine up to that point. But the way this woman said what she said caused Lori to break down, and leave the church crying. I followed after her, but that afternoon and the next few months were some of the toughest of our marriage.

What this lady didn’t realize is we had been trying without success for 3½ years to have a child. We had been on many doctor visits, had been trying the various prescriptions and suggestions, and even had the difficult discussions about the “other” possibilities. We didn’t have to go through the difficulties of a miscarriage like many couples endure. We simply hadn’t been able to conceive.

Mother’s Day is a tough day for us because it can be a day of celebration or a day of struggle. It is a celebration for those who have children and celebrate their own mothers, but it is a struggle for those who long to have children or struggle to find anything good in their own mothers. In the midst of special days like this we wrestle with the biblical call of Romans 12:15 to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

How do we rejoice for the person whose mother was the best thing since June Cleaver when our mother was absent or abusive?

Can the joy of motherhood make room for someone else’s brokenness and emptiness as they struggle to have children?

What about those struggling to have children...can they celebrate with those who have something they have been denied?

If we takes Romans 12:15 seriously, we quickly realize how difficult it is to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn”

We have been working through a message series called Step Up where we have been looking at little known or unknown people of the Bible who stepped up and made a difference for the Kingdom of God. These aren’t the heavy hitters we normally hear about...Moses, David, Paul, but they serve as proof that every act of obedience and faith in God has a purpose.

Today we are talking about Hannah. Hannah is a woman well acquainted with the struggle to become a mother, and the heartache involved, and yet she was able to come to peace with things well before she gave birth to her first son. Let’s take just a few moments to look at Hannah, and then we have the privilege of dedicating 4 of children to the Lord this morning.

Follow along in your Bibles, on your phone, or on the screen. 1 Samuel 1:1-20
1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons? ”

9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 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.”

12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him. ”

18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes. ” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”
Hannah’s husband Elkanah really seems to be a good man. Hannah is listed first signifying her importance and primacy as Elkanah’s wife. Out of his love for her, Elkanah would give Hannah a double portion from the sacrifice when they went up to worship. He even attempted, though like any other male he failed miserably, to comfort her in her trouble.

But a barren woman, in this culture, was not easily comforted. The biblical term “barren” refers to something that has no fruitfulness...not life. Society survived and thrived on the ability of a woman to bear “be fruitful and multiply.” If a family or tribe was to be prosperous...they had more children. It was expected that a woman bear children so the family name could live on.

In the Old Testament, five women are referred to as barren: Sarah (Genesis 11:30), Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), Rachel (Genesis 29:30), Hannah (1 Samuel 1:2), and Manoah’s wife (Samson’s mother, cf. Judges 13:2). And one woman in the New Testament, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was barren (Luke 1:7).

But barrenness also refers to the dryness or lifelessness of the land...a very common metaphor for the state of those living in the land. There are many people, who like Hannah are living with a barrenness...a lack of fruitfulness in their lives. For Hannah it meant life without a child, but for us it can mean something completely different.

Many people have barren marriages. The man and the woman have become so focused on the children they no longer have any real relationship with each other. He is an income and she is a taxi. Or they have drifted apart over the years and the life has gone from the relationship.

Some are living with barren careers. He did a good thing and got a job to pay the bills and care for his family, but pretty soon the apartment wasn’t enough. They bought a house which came with more bills, which required more hours. The boss took notice of his hard work and promoted him. He now had to meet those expectations and work harder. And before long this job, which is a necessary thing, has become the tail that wags the dog. There is no life. It is simply a way to provide money for the family.

In the spiritual life, we see barrenness in someone whose life isn’t connected to God. When we attempt to do life on their own, apart from God...even living in willful rebellion against him...and though they may be filled with some really good things...we are barren and fruitless. This form of barrenness also happens to “Christians.” We get so busy with everyday life and doing things for God we forget to spend time with God. We don’t pray or spend time in God’s word or with God’s people in life-giving we become fruitless...lifeless...barren.

When faced with barrenness, like Hannah, despair can set in. For Hannah it was worsened by her circumstances. She was the loved wife, but her barrenness caused Elkanah to take another wife named Peninnah. Because Peninnah could have children she taunted and provoked Hannah to tears. In his attempt to show compassion, Elkanah only made things worse with his actions and words...once again drawing attention to all that Hannah lacked.

As if all this wasn’t enough, this pilgrimage to Shiloh to worship was most likely the Feast of Tabernacles. This particular feast was a religious ceremony at the end of the harvest season celebrating the fruitfulness of the land and all that God had done to bless the family. So the fruitless, lifeless womb of Hannah stood out in stark contrast to the exuberant celebration of fruitfulness going on around her.

It was more than she could take. She wept. She lost her appetite. More importantly, she decided to do something about it. Verse 9 simply says, “Hannah stood up.” These three words demonstrate Hannah’s determination to do something about her situation.

So she does what we should do...We must allow our despair to push us to our knees.

Hannah leaves the celebration and rushes into the sanctuary. She pours out her heart to God. 1 Samuel 1:10 says, “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.” She released all that despair into the hands of God. She laid it all out before God, and left it to him.

So often we like to wallow in our despair. It is like the scab or sore spot that we keep touching, and rather than turn it over to God...we hold on to it because our worry will do so much to correct the situation. Or, we attempt to find ways to fix the situation on our own and rush into decisions that end up costing us more in the long run. We will avoid confiding in others because we are supposed to be strong and handle things on our own.

We will hold on to the pain rather than let it push us to our knees in prayer, but only there can we learn to offer our problems and trials to a God who loves us beyond all we can imagine.

Hannah also discovered something else...Our prayer should lead us to surrender.

This is probably the most difficult thing to learn in prayer...that we must surrender. Hannah prays, “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...”

She has been trying to have a child for years...and here she is promising to give her first-born son back to the Lord. We know that after the birth of Samuel, Hannah literally commits Samuel back to the Lord and leaves him with Eli in Shiloh at the temple. Hannah was just speaking metaphorically. She surrendered the very thing her heart desired back to God.

We see this in Abraham. God promised to make Abraham into a mighty nation and to bless him through his son Isaac...and then tells Abraham to take Isaac to a mountain and sacrifice him there. I don’t know what was going through Abraham’s mind. In obedience he took Isaac to the mountain and was willing to sacrifice the son through whom God had promised to do something great. He was willing to surrender the very thing he desired most in order to live in obedience to God.

The reason we don’t get what we pray for is we don’t really have a surrendered heart. James 4:2-3 says, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Hannah wanted a child...but this wasn’t going to be just any child. Samuel would lead the people through the difficulty of God’s judgment on Eli and his sons. He would lead them into choosing a King. She had to be able to release this child into God’s custody. This could not just be to satisfy Hannah’s unhappiness and desire for a child...she had to have God’s greater intentions in mind.

Why do we ask God for more money? Is it because we will invest in the Kingdom of God and care for others...or is it because we have stuff we want to buy and a more comfortable life to live?

Why do we pray for more spiritual gifts? Is it because we want to work harder and use them for the Kingdom or because it will demonstrate we really are spiritual?

Why do pray for that better job? Or for health?

If we are going to make a difference for the Kingdom of God...if our lives are going to be used for His purpose...we must surrender deepest desires, longings, and hopes to Him. Both Abraham and Hannah desperately desired to have a child, but only in their willingness to surrender that child back to God were they able to receive the gift from God. And only in our willingness to surrender all we hope to gain can we truly receive it as a gift from God.

But when we do surrender, just like it did for Hannah, Our surrender frees us to worship God.

1 Samuel 1:18-19 “Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah.”

When Hannah surrendered her desires and all hope of its fulfillment...only then could she worship God. It wasn’t until she surrendered all her hopes and dreams for having a child that she could feast and celebrate and worship in the presence of God.

So many times, we remove ourselves from the presence of God because we hold on to our hopes and desires. We refuse to really surrender them back to God. We won’t to let go, and in refusing to surrender we can not truly worship Him.

God requires what we value most. He will not share space and time in our lives with anything else. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus responds, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Hannah surrendered her deepest longings to God, and it freed her to worship Him. She surrendered the situation to Him, and it was no longer her’s. She removed her hands from it, and turned it all over to Him. She never received a promise that she would conceive and have a son, but she trusted that however things turned out God was at work.

When we surrender our struggles and our deepest desires to God we are free to worship Him. We no longer have to worry. Whatever the outcome, we can trust, with the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28, that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

We can say with James in 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

We can declare with Jesus in Matthew 7:11, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

There is an old story...whether it is true or serves to demonstrate a point.

A young girl was visiting her grandparents, and while there got her hand stuck in a very expensive vase. Try as they could to get her little hand out of the mouth they couldn’t. Finally, they decided to just break the vase. When her hand was free they discovered she had been clutching a penny she dropped in the bottom of the vase.

So often we hold on to something we treasure at the expense of something with far greater value. But once we surrender...we are free to experience all that God has in store for us. Our barrenness is taken away, and in its place we are given life and fruitfulness. Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”

God’s design and desire for us is to live a fruitful, abundant life. A life that overflows with his presence. A life of worship. This doesn’t mean we won’t have trials and struggles, but living a life of surrender enables us to trust the One who can really handle it all anyway.

This morning we have the privilege to dedicate our children into the hands of God. It is a symbolic act that both reminds us that God is ultimately in control and that we as Parents and as church community have been charged with the responsibility to raise our children in the presence of God. These children are Gods. We must release them into His hands. But also recognize that we have been charged with the stewardship of their care.

We recognize it is important to ground our children in the Word of God, in prayer, in Worship, and in serving.

This morning we have four children being dedicated, we are going to do this as a two part charge. The first is a charge to the parents to raise their children in such a way that reflects God’s presence and directs them ever closer to Him. The second is a charge to us as a church to come alongside and do our part to support and empower them in their endeavor.

Parents do you promise to give your child to God all the days of her/his life. (I Samuel 1:11), to show them how to love God with all of their heart, soul and strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5), to teach them about the Lord, both at home and as you go about your daily lives (Deuteronomy 6:7), to train them up in the way of the Lord so that they will not depart as they grow older (Proverbs 22:6), and to thank God regularly for this blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3)?

If so, answer, “I will!”

Church, do you promise to love these children as God has loved us (1 John 4:11), to encourage them to love others and do good deeds in the name of Christ (Hebrews 10:24), to rejoice with you in times of rejoicing (Romans 12:15), to help them through difficult times and carry their burdens (Galatians 6:1-2), to pray for them throughout their lives (I Thessalonians 5:17), to treat them as a blessing and responsibility from the Lord (Psalm 127:3)?

If so, answer, “We will!”

Almost like a marriage, huh?

Pray the prayer over these parents you would want prayed over you if you were in their place.

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