Part II – Pressure, Pain, and Prayer
I’m still thinking about Hannah’s difficult situation (I Samuel 1:9-20). And I believe many of us identify with her inner turmoil. A desire for relief, for our burdens to be eased. We need a way to cope with intense suffering.
Can we can learn from Hannah’s example?
These verses reveal the depth of her anguish, her desperation, and her despair. We get the sense that this is her final plea – she knows that only God has the power to change her situation.
She stands at the altar – broken and vulnerable. Surrendered to the Lord, pleading for a miracle.
How many of us have been there? Kneeling before the Lord, our souls exposed and raw, yearning for a touch from our Savior because our burden is so intense. We can’t utter a word or share the pain with others. God knows the depth of our suffering, and only He has the power to remove it.
At the altar, Hannah vows to dedicate her son to the Lord, to consecrate the child to God’s service “for all the days of his life” (I Samuel 1:11).
Her action makes me ask myself if there are dreams, goals, and desires that I need to sacrifice to the Lord.
How many of us are seeking God for things that have not happened? Have we considered surrendering those desires, asking God to make them a reality or change our hearts? Will we ever have the courage to let go of the things we long for and ask God to let His will be done in our lives?
While Hannah prayed, the priest, Eli, watched her and thought she was drunk (I Samuel 1:12-14). But after Hannah explained her torment (vs. 15), Eli told her to “go home and stop worrying. I’m sure the God of Israel will answer your prayer” (I Samuel 1:17 CEV).
Everyone gets misunderstood at some point in their life. Other people witness the desperation and make their judgements. However, their capacity to comprehend the situation is limited, and they totally get it wrong.
When we get to our lowest point, like Hannah, we don’t care if we are misunderstood, judged, ridiculed, or shunned. We forget to be self-conscious, as we cling to God with every ounce of strength that we have left. Like Hannah (vs. 12), we refuse to let go until the Lord touches us.
Ego is gone. Pride is non-existent. Self-protection is not considered. The only thing that concerns us is God – His touch, His will, His love.
The morning after Hannah spoke with Eli, she worshiped (vs. 19).
She didn’t know if God would grant her petition, but she worshiped.
I want to learn from her. I want to worship God because He is God. I want to put aside my agenda and focus my attention, energy, heart and mind on God – my Creator, Sustainer, Maker and Lord. I want to praise Him and thank Him and give Him glory in spite of the challenges I face. In spite of the pain I endure. In spite of the despair that tries to crush my soul.
Hannah received the son she prayed for and named him Samuel, which means, “because I asked the Lord for him,” (vs. 20).
Sometimes God answers our prayers just as we imagined, and we’re overjoyed. Our faith gets a boost. Other times the answer seems like the worst thing that could happen to us. We try hard to keep trusting. When we sense that God will say no or make us wait, we wonder how we can maintain our belief.
Living with the challenge of chronic pain and illness takes its toll. I become weary with the struggle. I battle to keep my hope and not give in to fear and despair.
Like Hannah, I have something in my life that is a constant reminder that I’m not whole – that I’m different from others. It’s not a person like Peninnah. It is a THING – chronic pain and illness.
The restricted movements, the locked joints, the debilitating pain, and the suffocating fatigue might as well have voices, because they call attention to each area of weakness.
They force me to hold onto God for strength. Most of the time, I desperately need Him to ease the suffering that is in my soul – not my body. To feel His presence and peace when everything about me screams, “Failure!” “Weakling!” “You’ll never be useful to God.”
These are the dark times when I’m learning to worship. To let go of what I feel in my body and see with my eyes. To close my ears to life’s clamor and focus on God – His goodness, His mercy, His love, His care for me, His provision for me – on HIM.
Before long, I feel the peace that Paul describes in Philippians 4:7. Physically, nothing changes, but in my heart and soul, everything shifts.
My focus leaves the weakness in my body and rests on the glory and majesty of God.
I’ll admit, some days it’s hard to surrender my desire for a pain free life, because when things are really bad, I’d settle for five pain-free minutes.
But, those are the times I have to hold onto God and keep trusting Him, believing that relief will come.
It always does.
And, that’s evidence of my miracle:
– a full night’s sleep
– the ability to stand long enough to cook dinner
– learning exercises to ease the stiffness in my joints
Small things. But even these tiny steps show me that God is at work in my life.
He’s helping me accomplish small tasks and replacing my usually anxious response with peace and the ability to accept my limitations without allowing guilt to overwhelm me.
I have no idea what represents the Peninnah in your life. Maybe there is a person, or situation placing extreme pressure on you. Something that makes you feel overwhelmed, like you can’t go on.
Please don’t quit. Don’t give in to despair. Don’t let the enemy win.
Pour your heart out to God. Seek Him like never before and hold onto Him until He gives you the peace and the strength you need to keep fighting.
You are loved by God. He has a plan and purpose for your life.
Just trust Him to use you to bless the lives of others.
Father, thank You for Hannah’s example. Give us the mindset and heart to come to You with our deepest burdens. Fill us with hope and strength and courage. Use the very things that cause us the most pain. Transform this pain into a miraculous testimony of Your love and mercy.
Coming Next: Part III – Fulfillment
Part I – Difficult Circumstances
Studying the life of Hannah makes me wonder if I could have survived during her times. Could I bear the daily struggles?
Hannah lived during one of Israel’s spiritual low points – a corrupt priesthood (I Samuel 2:12-17, 22-26); the absence of the Ark of the Covenant at the temple (I Samuel 4:3-7:2); the practice of idolatry (I Samuel 7:3-4); and dishonest judges (I Samuel 8:2-3).
And she also endured a difficult home life. Even though her husband Elkanah loved and cherished her, Hannah was barren, a physical condition that brought disgrace.
I’m sure Hannah placed enough pressure on herself. She did not need anyone to remind her that, month after month, her body betrayed her. That once again, she could not give her husband a child.
During those days, it was common for a man to have multiple wives. In some cases wives used their servants as surrogates to produce an heir (Genesis 16; Genesis 30). Sometimes, these women desperately cried out to God and to their husbands for children (Genesis 25:20-21; Genesis 30:1-2).
Their stories revealed their plight and illustrated just how much value their cultures placed on a woman being able to produce a child.
Their lives were often filled with anxiety, pressure, competition, jealousy, and misery.
Homes filled with strife.
Hannah’s life was no different because Elkanah had another wife, Peninnah. Peninnah had children and constantly taunted Hannah (I Samuel 1:6-7).
The scriptures don’t reveal if Elkanah tried to intervene between Hannah and Peninnah, if he tried to make the situation better. We only learn that Hannah’s grief concerned him. He believed his love for her should compensate for the lack of children between the two of them, and he wanted her to be happy (I Samuel 1:8).
Although we may not understand the minute details of Hannah’s life, can’t we relate to her despair? When we attempt to function normally, our limits are harsh reminders that we are “different”.
Sometimes those closest to us, can’t get past our barrenness, the illness or situation that separates us. Their comments and judgments lash into us, making us feel worse off and less than. If we can’t work, are homebound, and can’t contribute to the household, a cruel word, or insensitive question can push us into a downward spiral.
And when the pressures to fit in increase, our panic rises. We reach out to God, trying to understand and to find our hope and trust in Him once again.
In the chaos, we often forget that God made us this way (Psalm 139:13-15). And, if He created us with bodies that others think of as useless, we have to trust Him and understand that He has a purpose in store for us in spite of our limits (Jeremiah 29:11).
We must learn to do like Hannah and keep our focus on God, because our strength to persevere comes from Him. When we cry out desperately for relief or the ability to continue the fight, we have to remember that our hope is in the Lord.
It helps when we recall the times God answered our prayers, helped us endure, and showed us how to manage our lives, in spite of the hardships we deal with.
What is your daily struggle?
Illness. Debt. Divorce. A rebellious child. Death. Betrayal. Gossip. Slander. Hate. Bigotry. Fear. Depression. Bitterness.
How do you manage to get up and keep fighting? Do you go to God for help? Have you made the decision to keep seeking Him and praying for a breakthrough?
Or, maybe you just get tired and frustrated. Anger, doubt, fear, frustration, and hopelessness cause you to abandon your hope. You sink into despair.
But is this what God wants from us? In the book of Isaiah, we learn that His ways and thoughts are different from ours (Isaiah 55:8-10). If we truly believe He is love and wants the best for us, (Matthew 6:25-34; Matthew 7:11; I John 4:8), we have to find a way to conquer the doubt, calm our minds, and refocus our attention on God – our source for everything.
Because I live with illness and pain every waking moment, I understand the toll that the constant pressure of hardship takes on you. You’re tired of the burden and overwhelmed when you think about the future.
Please hang on and don’t quit.
When we feel beaten down by life, Jesus gives us an invitation to seek Him for rest (Matthew 11:28-30); Paul assures us of God’s sustaining power when we experience our weakest moments (II Corinthians 12:9-10); and God promises to help us and to hold us up (Isaiah 41:10).
It takes both faith and courage to take God at His word, to trust Him with our deepest hurts and largest burdens. To surrender control and cling to Him as His trusting child.
I may not understand this current medical trial. I may not like it. I may not want to endure it. But, if I stay the course, remain focused on God, and allow Him to work in my life, I will come away changed for the best, stronger for the next challenge, and forever reminded of His love and compassion for me (Romans 5:1-5: James 1).
What I loved discovering about Hannah was her decision to keep seeking God in spite of her distressing circumstances and to keep praying until He moved on her behalf.
Hannah showed me the power of seeking God with abandon. Next month I’ll share what I learned from her when she could no longer accept her torment – how pain and pressure ushered in a personal miracle for her and a spiritual miracle for her nation.
Coming Next: Part II – Her Desperate Prayer