Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hannah Received a Miracle But What About Me?

Based on 1 Samuel 1:1-20

Hannah prayed to the Lord and said: “Remember me and do not forget your servant” (1:11). She wanted a child. She poured out her heart to the Lord in the temple. She worshipped Him. She pleaded with God to give her a child. She vowed to dedicate her son to the Lord all the days of his life (1:11). This was more then the usual 25 year commitment, which was the Levitical custom at that time. The next day she rose early in the morning to worship the Lord again. Then she went back to her house. She was thinking to herself: “Is the Lord going to hear my prayer? Why doesn’t He grant me a baby? Why is God granting other women like Peninnah babies and not me? Are they doing more for the Lord then me? Will the Lord remember me? Or has He forgotten about me?” Then there is a shift in the story. The text says: “The Lord remembered her” (1:19) and “in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the Lord” (1:20). The Lord remembered His servant Hannah and granted her a son.

Hannah’s experience reminds me of my time at the seminary. I’m going to share with you two stories from the seminary. The first is about my wife and I’s experience with pregnancy and prayer at the seminary. My wife and I got married in December of 2004 and we decided that we wanted to have children right away. Why wait? Children are such a blessing from God! So we prayed and asked the Lord to remember us, and not forget His servants. We prayed and prayed. But for over a year and half we were unable to achieve pregnancy. We had a problem on our hands. We felt like the Lord forgot about us. But then miraculously the Lord remembered us and granted us pregnancy in August of 2006. On May 6, 2007, we were blessed with our first daughter, Miriam Grayce. The Lord remembered us. On the other hand, we were friends with another couple. They had a different experience. They achieved pregnancy, but the problem was sustaining it. So they prayed to the Lord. Daisy and I prayed for them everyday at one point, hoping that God would remember them and cause them to maintain their pregnancy. But tragically, they had a miscarriage. This was very hard for them. They even got pregnant again at one point. But then they lost their pregnancy again. Two miscarriages. Why? Why did not the Lord remember them? Why did He answer our prayers but not theirs? These questions lead us back to our text.

Why doesn't God answer prayer sometimes? And why does He answer Elkanah and Hannah’s prayer? Was it because of anything that Elkanah and Hannah did? Was it because Hannah vowed to dedicate her son to the Lord all the days of her life? Was it because of Hannah’s commitment? Let’s explore this one first. After searching the Scriptures, this isn’t the reason. In the New Testament, Jesus comes along and reveals the Lord’s true heart towards vows on the Sermon on the Mount. He says not to make vows anymore. He reveals that God never intended vows to be present among His people forever. Vows were like other Old Testament principles that were elementary until the time of Christ. Now that Christ had come His people were called to maturity. Instead of vowing to God that you are going to do something, Jesus says, “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” God knows the futility of man’s vows and commitments. Vows are man-centered. A simple “yes” to the Lord is God centered. So we know that Hannah’s vow was not the reason. If it were, we would all make vows to the Lord and negotiate with Him so we could get what we wanted. On to the next possibility…. Did God answer Hannah’s prayer because she was constantly praying to the Lord and worshiping Him? Was it because she was pious and faithful? Does God answer the prayers all the time of people who are faithful? This isn’t the answer either. The Scriptures say that Job was the most faithful man on the earth. But God allowed the devil to take his seven sons and three daughters from Him! Why didn’t God remember Job? Job was faithful. If anyone deserved to have peace and blessings, it was Job. But God did not grant Job the preservation of His children. So the answer to our question is not altogether known to us. We can gain some insight from Scripture. But we will never know all the answers in this life. The complete answer to this question has been hidden from us. So what shall we do? Should we speculate? Should we try and figure it out?

My word to you today is: Release yourself from trying to figure out the answer to this question and it will bring you freedom. Now I know that some of you do not like this idea. But it is necessary. There have been many theologians who have tried to come up with answers to explain God’s hidden ways in this life. And none of their answers do justice to the Scriptures. God is God. And you and I are not. God is going to be God. He is going to do things that you and I do not understand. His thoughts are higher than your thoughts. His ways are higher then your ways. His ways are beyond finding out. So He calls on you and I to focus on what He has revealed to us. When you and I release ourselves from trying to figure out the hidden ways of God it brings us freedom. It gives us freedom because it takes us from speculation to focusing on what has been revealed. What God has revealed to us is certain. What He has hidden from us is uncertain. God has revealed to us some things that I am certain about. One thing that I am certain is about is:

God’s will is going to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We know this is especially true when we recall what took place in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was in agony. He was praying to the Father earnestly. He was in such agony that his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. Would the Father remember His Son and free Him from suffering? Jesus prayed: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus prayed that the Father would remove suffering from his life. But he knew that the Father’s will had to be done. God’s will was that Jesus Christ would be mocked. That He would be struck. That He would be beaten and scourged. That He would suffer. And that He would be crucified and experience suffocation on a cross. On the cross Jesus said: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was asking the question that Hannah asked. Father, are you going to remember me? He was asking the question that our friends at the seminary asked. Jesus was asking the question that some of you are asking right now. Why did not the Father release the Son from suffering? Why does He allow us to suffer and not answer our prayers all the time? The truth of the matter is, is that we don’t always know why in our own lives. But we do know that Jesus Christ redeemed the whole world. Jesus Christ took upon Himself the sins of the whole world. He experienced death on a cross to bring us to the Father. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself not counting man’s trespasses against them. His suffering and death was for all the suffering we experience in this life as a result of sin. For while you were weak, Christ died for you. By His wounds you are healed. And by Christ’s presence in your life you will experience love and healing even in the midst of tragedy and suffering. Christ is present in your weakness. And the Spirit helps you in your weakness.

Jesus Christ helps us even in the midst of tragedy. This was Greg Boyd’s experience after the loss of his mother. The Spirit helped him with his weakness. Greg Boyd was a former agnostic but is now an Evangelical Pastor in St. Paul, Minnesota. In the early 70s his mother was dying. He prayed and prayed as a teenager that God would not let her die. He was too young to experience the death of his mother. He thought surely the Lord would answer His prayer. His father thought surely the Lord would hear the prayers of young kids. But sadly, Greg Boyd’s mother, Arlyle, passed away. In October of 1989, Greg’s father who was an agnostic himself at that time, wrote to his son, Greg, who had become a Christian Pastor. He said, “When Arlyle was dying, we all prayed till we were blue in the face. Even you kids prayed. Maybe God doesn’t listen to the prayers of sinful adults, but He should have at least heard the cries of you kids!” The next month Greg wrote a letter in response to his dad. He wrote: “My question [concerning why God did not spare my mother’s life] still remains, but Christ has won my trust in Him by showing me His beauty – the beauty of a love, a grace, a tenderness, a gentle strength which no mere human being could ever match. He won my love and trust through the healing compassion of His eyes and the warm understanding of His embrace. He provided an understanding in the heart which the mind could never grasp.” Greg experienced Christ’s healing presence in His life during the midst of suffering and unanswered prayer. How did Greg come to such understanding? We know the answer from the same letter. In Greg’s first year of college he went through a long period of doubt concerning the truth of Christianity. The problem of suffering and unanswered prayer was at the heart of it. As he approached his car on a cold February night something occurred to him. He wrote: “Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God enters smack-dab into the middle of the hell we create. Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God was born a baby in a bloody, crap-filled stable…that He suffered, firsthand, the hellish depth of all that is nightmarish in human existence. Only the Gospel portrait of God makes sense of the contradictory fact that the world is at once so beautiful and so ugly.”

The world is at once so beautiful and so ugly because the kingdom of God is present today but not yet completely fulfilled. That is, through the redemption of Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has come upon you. Jesus Christ is King. And His people make up a spiritual nation, a people belonging to Him. However, while Jesus reigns, there is sin in the world. And with sin comes death and evil. Satan still roams around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. One day Jesus promises to come again to conquer Satan, death, and sin forever. So the kingdom of God is now, but not yet. It is here among you today, but it has not yet completely fulfilled. For example: You and I are forgiven of our sins, but we still sin because of our sinful natures. That is we receive the assurance we are forgiven through the gospel, but we still sin in our weakness. Another example: Jesus Christ has come, but He will come again. He came once and we have been redeemed. But our complete redemption will not come until His second coming. Another example: Jesus Christ has given you and I spiritual resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit. But when He comes again you and I will receive resurrected bodies. In the new heavens and new earth there will be no more unanswered prayer or tragedy. Sin, death, and the devil will be completely wiped out. There will be no more darkness, but only light. There will be no more hate, but only love. There will be no more tears, but only joy. So today, you and I await with joyful hope the second coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. And until then we witness that the world is at once so beautiful, but at the same time so ugly. We witness His saving presence in our lives, but at the same time also experience times of unanswered prayer. But we do know one thing that is true today: Our God has not retired. He is active in this world, seeking and saving the lost.

While God has not fully established the new heavens and the new earth, He has not retired. He is living and active and interceding as we speak. He may be interceding and working in your lives in ways that you do not see. Because you and I are so busy, sometimes we miss all the ways He is working. Christianity is about God becoming a person in Jesus Christ. Christians are not Deists. We believe in a God who descends to us. This incarnational approach to us did not stop at the birth of Christ. It continues today every time Christian preachers throughout the world proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit descends and is currently drawing people to His kingdom. In baptism, God descends to us and gives us new life and washes away our sins. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ descends to us again and is present with His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit is being poured out into the hearts of non-believers and believers on a continual basis. The Holy Spirit is living and active pointing people to Jesus Christ throughout the world. He appears in dreams to the nations who have not yet heard the gospel. And on the mission field He is miraculously healing many.

So when you pray remember that God is all-powerful and almighty and cares about every detail of your life. And even if He does not answer your prayer the way you want, He still has given you Jesus Christ to suffer on your behalf. During times of pain and tragedy, He will be with you with His healing presence. He promises to never leave you nor forsake you. He will never forget you but always will remember you. In Jesus Christ all people are remembered and not one is forgotten. In Jesus Christ all people have had their sins atoned for, and not one has been forgotten. Remember that the kingdom of God is now, but not yet. And pray with faith which is optimism that God will actually do something. Hannah was persistent and never gave up, but continued praying to the Lord. She exhibited faith. In the gospels, Jesus did not perform miracles unless people had faith that He could do something. He may not perform a miracle the way you want Him to. But He will always miraculously be present in your life with His healing presence. And in those times we are reminded to say to the Lord: Remember me in your kingdom and teach me to pray. Pray with me: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, yours, now and forever. Amen.

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