This sermon is part of the sermon series "Miraculous Births". See series.
This sermon is part of the “Miraculous Births” sermon series. See the whole series here.
On December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat down to a quiet dinner with his children in his home near Cambridge, Massachusetts. Henry had been widowed in a tragic accident two years prior when his wife’s dress caught on fire. Henry, awoken from a nap, desperately tried to extinguish the flames first with a rug, then with his own body. But he was too late. His wife suffered severe burns and died the next morning. Henry’s facial burns were so severe that he was unable to attend his own wife’s funeral. He would later grow a beard to hide the scars and feared being sent to an asylum because of his grief.
Earlier that spring in 1863, his oldest son, Charley, had enlisted as a private with the 1st Massachusetts Artillery, and he had advanced quickly to second lieutenant. So far he had survived, but on this night in early December, a telegram came in. Charley had been severely wounded four days earlier in a skirmish. A bullet had traveled across his back, narrowly missing his spine. He was being transferred to Washington, DC.
Immediately, Henry and his younger son boarded a train and arrived in Washington, DC, on December 3 to visit Charley. Charley arrived a few days later and surgeons began working on him. Henry was alarmed to hear that his son might be paralyzed. The surgeons later thought he might be able to make a recovery, but it would be a long process, at least six months.
This was the situation for Henry Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863: a 57-year-old widower stricken with grief, father of six children, the oldest of whom might be paralyzed for the rest of his life, as his country fought a war against itself. As the Christmas bells rang, as he heard carolers sing “peace on earth,” he thought about how all the injustice and violence and suffering of the world around him seemed to mock those ideas. He sat down and wrote this poem:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
I wonder if you can at least partly identify with Henry Longfellow. As you look at the country, as you look at your circumstances, as you look at your own life, it’s hard to see what the festivities of the Christmas season have to do with all your troubles and fears. If anything, it all seems a mockery. For so many people, their goal this season is simply to get through it. And even for those who look forward to it, we also know it is but a passing thing. Very soon, festivities will be over, families will be apart, and we’ll be back in the grind of our lives.
The Bible is not oblivious to the troubles of our lives. No, the Bible is refreshingly honest about them. And it is in the midst of our troubles, when all hope seems gone, that God carries out his purposes.
The Book of 1 Samuel begins around the time of the Judges. The story that we see here in 1 Samuel 1 would have overlapped with the time of Samson, when Israel was living more or less contentedly under Philistine oppression. But all that is just backdrop. 1 Samuel 1 zooms in on a woman, Hannah, and all her troubles. Could it be that the God who orchestrates kings and nations and world events is involved in the details of a troubled woman living in the country?
If you’re taking notes, I want us to think about three points:
Your troubles belong to God
Your prayers matter to God
Your salvation comes from God
As small and hidden and broken as you may feel, you are not too small or hidden or broken for God. We’ve all come with troubles this morning. Let’s see them in light of God’s Word.
Your troubles belong to God
(Read 1 Sam. 1:1–8)
The story begins by focusing in on the family of Elkanah. We don’t know much about the region he’s from, but we can tell from his genealogy that he comes from a respected family. And the story indicates that he’s a pretty devout man. He travels every year to Shiloh to worship at the tabernacle with his family. Not only that, but he seems to be a pretty successful man, able to travel and offer sacrifices and feast with his family every year. And even more, he’s able to afford two wives.
How did Elkanah come to have two wives? Well, the story doesn’t exactly say, but another way to understand verse 2 might be to say that “he had two wives; the first was called Hannah and the second Peninnah.” It’s possible that Elkanah was first married to Hannah, but Hannah was unable to bear him any children. For a rich man in that time not to have an heir would be to see his land and his possessions forever lost to the family name. Clearly in verse 1, Elkanah has inherited a rich legacy, and he wants to see that passed on. So as the years went on and Hannah was unable to bear him children, they began to despair. So Elkanah took on a second wife. Was this Elkanah’s idea? Or was Hannah more like Sarah, recommending Hagar to Abraham? We don’t know. But for Hannah, this would have been a source of deep sorrow and shame. As in every culture, to not be able to bear children was a sorrow that would have struck to the core of her being, her identity.
Even though polygamy might have been a culturally acceptable practice during that time, Scripture is clear: This is not part of God’s design. God’s design from Creation has always been for marriage to be between one man and one woman. And we see here the grief that it brought. If Elkanah and Hannah thought things would get better after children came along, she was wrong. Even though Scripture tells of men who took multiple wives, it never presents that in a positive light. As we see here, deviating from God’s good design brings nothing but grief.
And so, Peninnah is able to bear Elkanah children, but Hannah had none. And just as Hagar despised Sarah, Peninnah begins to despise Hannah. And it would all come to a head during their yearly trip to Shiloh, at the family feast, where the family would partake of the sacrifice, celebrating their covenant relationship with the God of Israel. As Elkanah distributed the portions of meat, giving portions to Peninnah and each of her children, he would deliberately give Hannah a double portion, because he loved her. Could it be that he was also conscience-stricken by the role he played in Hannah’s grief?
As Peninnah watched this, she would let Hannah have it. One commentator imagines the conversation at the table:
“Now do all you children have your food? My, there are so many of you; it’s hard to keep track. Hannah, can you give me a hand?”
“Mommy, Miss Hannah doesn’t have any children.”
“Miss Hannah? Oh yes, that’s right—she doesn’t have any children.”
“Doesn’t she want children?”
“Oh yes, she wants children, very, very much! Wouldn’t you say so, Hannah? Don’t you wish you had children too?”
“Doesn’t Daddy want Miss Hannah to have kids?”
“Oh, certainly he does—but Miss Hannah keeps disappointing him; she just can’t have kids.”
“Why, because God won’t let her.”
“Does God not like Miss Hannah?”
“Well, I don’t know—what do you think? Oh, by the way, Hannah, did I tell you that I’m pregnant again?! You think you’ll ever be pregnant, Hannah?”
As a second wife, Peninnah was herself suffering a kind of injustice. But the text is clear that she used God’s blessing on her life to provoke Hannah to tears so that she could not even eat. This covenant meal, this occasion for celebration and worship, instead became an annual reminder of her barrenness and sorrow.
And Elkanah was not much help. Maybe he meant well. But there in verse 8, I think every husband here has been in Elkanah’s shoes. Kind of clueless. We want to solve the problem by giving stuff. But this doesn’t help. Especially not when he is part of the problem. There are points, fellow husbands, where sometimes it’s better just to be quiet and to not try to solve it, but to sit with our wives and to grieve with them.
Hannah’s situation is desperate. Her body has betrayed her. Her rival, Peninnah, is blessed and is using all that against her. Her husband can’t do anything about it but only makes things worse. And there seems to be no way out. I wonder if any of you can identify with Hannah?
And yet, at the bottom of it all, is God. That’s what the narrator repeats for us in verse 5 and 6. “The Lord had closed her womb.” All of Hannah’s troubles can be traced to the sovereignty of God. After all, it is the Lord closing Hannah’s womb that has led to this rivalry, to these miserable meals, to Hannah’s deep sorrow. And as a worshiper of Yahweh, the Lord Almighty, Hannah would have understood this. She would have believed in God’s reign over all of universe, even her life. But what could this mean? Did God hate Hannah? Was he out to get her? Had Hannah done something wrong?
Surely, some of those questions must have crossed Hannah’s mind. And perhaps here was the deepest pain, because if God has rejected you, what hope is there?
Clearly, Hannah’s troubles belonged to God. But as we’ll soon see, far from this being a source of despair, it is this truth that is her best hope, and it is our best hope.
What this text highlights is the truth that God is sovereign over everything that happens in our lives, even our troubles. People struggle with this idea. Because the troubles that we face can be horrific in this world. The Bible does not deny this. And yet, Scripture is also clear that God can superintend the evils in our lives, even while remaining perfectly pure and holy and righteous, and even while people are still responsible for the evil that they commit.
It is the fact that God reigns over the evil in this world that assures us that God is able to use even human evil and suffering to accomplish his purposes. Yes, there is horrific evil and suffering in this world, but none of that is outside of God’s perfect control. When evil, when loss, when sickness, when disasters happen in your life, it is not because God has been defeated or his purposes have been thwarted by Satan. No, our troubles belong to God. And we need to know this because if that’s true, then the suffering of our lives is not beyond God’s power to redeem.
And yet a story like Hannah’s reminds us that God is not indifferent or callous to our suffering. No, God inspired a book like this. Though God reigns over our suffering, God does not rejoice in the suffering of his creatures. In this story, God is the only one who perfectly understood Hannah’s sorrow and who saw every single one of her tears.
In a congregation our size, undoubtedly there are women who know Hannah’s pain firsthand, the pain of childlessness. It affects men too, but it affects women uniquely. This text recognizes that. Hannah in the midst of her sorrow had no answers as to why, and oftentimes neither will you. But what this text makes clear is that it’s not wrong for you to grieve. It’s not wrong for Christians to grieve. For good reason, Christians often emphasize all the good that God has done for us in Christ, and that is right … and yet, there is a place in this fallen world for us to grieve loss, for us to grieve our fallen bodies. You’re not somehow a lesser Christian for doing so. In fact, it is that kind of honest grief that God uses to draw us to himself.
And yet this is true not just for barrenness, but for all kinds of troubles that strike to the core of our being, our identity. The challenge of singleness. Various struggles related to our sexuality. Physical disability. Mental illness. Addictions. Abuse. And much more. These and many others are a part of living in fallen world. They isolate us from all those other normal people, who seem to be enjoying normal, happy, healthy community.
Is our church primarily a community for “normal” people? For those who are happily married, Caucasian American, middle-class, funny and chipper, with 2.5 children? Or is it a community for people like Hannah? For broken sinners of every kind, of every background, of every life circumstances and struggle, united not around worldly expectations but around Christ. I pray it’s the latter, because this is what the family of God is like.
Which means, in the church, there is no place for hurtful provocation. We do not slander; we do not gossip; we do not lash out with words, seeking to provoke and injure. We do not praise God with our mouths and then slander those made in his image with the same mouths. There is no place for that among God’s people. And yet, in our sin, I don’t doubt that this happens, even intentionally. Is there anyone you need to go to this week, to confess, to ask for forgiveness?
Most of the time, when this happens, it’s done so unintentionally. We live in a culture that’s increasingly diverse, in background, in culture, in politics, in ideas, which means opportunities for disagreement and conflict are growing. A side comment, a joke, an insensitive remark, and unintentionally, we communicate disapproval, we offend, we exclude. Here is where we need the courage to communicate with one another and the grace to bear patiently with one another. In those situations, if someone confronts you, listen. Don’t be defensive. Seek to understand. You didn’t mean it that way, yes, but don’t minimize their hurt. Hear them out. Seek to make it right.
What you don’t want is to minimize the pain like Elkanah. “Don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons?” Elkanah, that’s not the point. We minimize the pain because that makes us feel better. But that’s not what Christ commands us. The church is where we weep with those who weep, where we bear one another’s burdens. So instead, we say to one another, “Help me understand where you’re coming from. Help me understand this burden God has given you.” And then once you understand, help them carry it. Walk with them in it. Involve them in your life. In other words, be their friend.
Don’t just befriend people who are like you, but befriend those who are different from you. Different backgrounds, different life stages, single, married, widowed, healthy, sick, old, young, American-born, international-born, and on and on. The elders can’t assign you to different friends. That won’t work. No, but in recognition of the reality of our unity in Christ, you have to pursue that. Do so, for the sake of Christ, who has made us one body.
We have hope in the midst of our troubles because we know that our troubles belong to God. And yet we don’t stop there.
Your prayers matter to God
(Read 1 Sam. 1:9–18)
The story picks up during one of these annual trips, after one of these painful meals. Peninnah once again has provoked Hannah to weeping. And so after the meal, Hannah makes her way to the tabernacle. And in her sorrow, Hannah prays to God. I don’t know what your idea of prayer is, but the text gives us a sense of the deep honesty and anguish of Hannah’s prayers. Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul, Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” Verse 15 and 16: “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord … praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” Far from this prayer being some ritual act or rote words, Hannah bares her soul before God in prayer. This couldn’t have been the first time Hannah prayed to God for a child. But here, she has reached a new place of desperation.
There’s no question that her desperation is tied to her barrenness. And yet, part of that anguish is wondering, Where is God? Has God forgotten me? Which is why she prays as she does. Verse 11: “Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant.” Hannah’s prayer was for a son, yes, but even more for God himself. That God would show her that he has not forgotten her, that he sees her misery and remembers her in love. So much so, that Hannah makes a vow. If God gives her a son, she will devote him to the Lord for all the days of his life. She invokes the Nazirite vow, meaning that Samuel would be set apart for God’s service, for his entire life. And this is an astonishing vow.
For this son to be set apart like this means that he won’t inherit his father’s business. He won’t be around to defend Hannah in her old age. Hannah will still be sitting alone when Peninnah comes at her. And Hannah isn’t concerned whether he’s ever famous or rich or used powerfully by God, but as far as she’s concerned, even if he’s an obscure tabernacle servant for the rest of his life, she is devoting him to God. Because the point of her prayer is not so much for a son but for her God. Would God remember her?
Hannah was so overcome with sorrow that she didn’t notice that Eli the High Priest was there. Apparently, Eli was quite used to chasing out drunk men and women who came to the tabernacle after feasting. This gives you an idea of Israel’s spiritual condition at that time. He sees Hannah praying, and he assumes that she must be drunk. And yet, impressively, Hannah responds with gentleness rather than anger. How often do we justify our anger or impatience because of our suffering? That’s not what we see here. Hannah explains to Eli her sorrow and how she was praying to God. And Eli offers a word of blessing and assurance.
And notice in verse 18, nothing has changed, in one sense. But as Hannah has poured out her heart before God and has been reassured by Eli, she is comforted. She is no longer downcast but goes her way and is even able to eat something. There’s something life-changing about prayer that goes even beyond our circumstances.
I think the first thing that should surprise us about this passage is simply the fact of prayer. If you’ve never prayed before, this passage presents a great encouragement to you. There is a God out there. A God who set the galaxies into place. A God who reigns over history and over all the nations. A God who is sovereign over every single meticulous event in this world. And a God who cares about you. Do you see the audacity of Hannah’s prayer? She addresses in verse 11 the Lord Almighty, literally, the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of the Armies of Heaven. The God who commands thousands upon thousands of angelic forces, who reigns over the cosmos, sovereign over all and all power. And yet that same God bends down to hear the prayer of a relatively obscure woman in the hill country of Ephraim.
Prayer is simply talking to that God. It’s not about fancy religious language. It’s not about a particular form of words. It’s not about a certainly length of prayer. No, prayer is pouring out your heart before God. It is speaking to God from the heart. It is talking to God just as you are, using your words, using your thoughts, confessing your needs and your desires. The prayers that God loves to hear most are honest prayers, where you’re not trying to hide your troubles, where you’re not trying to hide your fears and sins, but you’re coming to God just as you are. Which means prayer is not simply for religious people. Prayer is for desperate people. Even if this is your first time at church, you too can pray to God.
I think the temptation for us is merely to let prayer be an activity that we do, that we check off, and that we pat ourselves on the back about. I’m not saying that being disciplined in prayer is not helpful or important. So often that discipline is a reminder of my need for prayer. But just because it’s planned doesn’t mean it’s from the heart.
D. A. Carson writes this:
The Puritans ... exhorted one another to “pray until you pray.” Such advice is not to become an excuse for a new legalism: there are startling examples of very short, rapid prayers in the Bible. But in the Western world we urgently need this advice, for many of us in our praying are like nasty little boys who ring front door bells and run away before anyone answers.
Pray until you pray. Meaning, pray until you are praying from the heart. Don’t be satisfied with distracted, rote prayers. Pray aware of the wonder and audacity of prayer. Pray until you are consciously bringing to God the true concerns and fears of your life. Not because this earns us anything with God. But simply because we have a God who loves us and loves to hear from us. And this act of prayer, this turning to God, and crying out to him, this in itself is life-changing.
Notice that Hannah was comforted after praying. Prayer is not valuable because this is how we get stuff from God. No, prayer is valuable in itself because in it, we turn to God, and God is our greatest Treasure.
We go through our days surrounded by troubles, and these troubles challenge our faith in God. “Does God really love you? Is the gospel even true for you? Does God care about your suffering? Has God forgotten you?” These doubts, perhaps even more than our troubles, can produce deep bitterness and hopelessness.
But! When we dare to pray, even in the act of prayer, we are acting out our faith. We are rejecting those lies and aligning ourselves to the truth that there is a God out there who cares about us, who has not abandoned us, who can redeem our suffering. Hannah cried out to God, and she walked away comforted because in that prayer, she realized, “This is what I really believe. God hasn’t abandoned me. God still cares for me.” The very act of prayer itself is a gift from God.
Which means Spurgeon was right when he said, “Anything is a blessing which makes us pray.”
The God who is sovereign over all your troubles has brought them into your life in order that you might turn to him in prayer, in order that you might no longer think you’re self-sufficient but might depend on him wholeheartedly. I’m tempted to think that God is bringing these troubles in my life because he’s abandoned me or angry with me for my sin, but could it be that God has brought these troubles in my life because he loves me and wants to help me draw near to him?
If you don’t know what to pray about then just take the time to write down your problems. You’ve got problems right? Problems with the world around you. Lost loved ones and family members. Enemies who are giving you trouble. And your own sinful heart. Write them down and allow those troubles to drive you to God. Express those things to God, honestly, from the heart. Ask for his help. Ask him to reveal himself. Ask him to help you trust him and live faithfully in the midst of it.
If prayer is itself a blessing, then our biggest problem is not our troubles. Our biggest problem is our pride and our unbelief. If you continue to feel like you’ve got things under control, or if you’ve been hardened in your cynicism and hopelessness, then maybe that’s where you need to begin. Confess those things to God. Cry out for his help. Ask him to change you.
Will you set aside time this week? Put it on your calendar to spend time with God in prayer. Make plans to pray until you pray. Because your prayers matter to God.
Even though Hannah was comforted by prayer, the story doesn’t end there, because …
Your salvation comes from God
(Read 1 Sam. 1:19–28)
If the story ended with Hannah being inwardly comforted in the midst of her trouble, we would be left with an incomplete picture. The salvation God brings is not merely that we find inner peace, that we attain to some inner higher consciousness. No, we serve a God who acts in time and space and reality on behalf of those who cry out to him.
And just as God remembered Noah (Gen. 8:1), just as God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 2:24), God now remembers Hannah. It’s not that God’s memory is faulty. But this is language that indicates God is about to work out his unfolding purpose.
God loves to use the unlikely, the impossible, because this is how he gets the most glory. And so God opens Hannah’s womb, and she conceives and gives birth to a son. Can you imagine Hannah’s joy? I love how when barren Sarah bore a son, she laughed. I bet Hannah laughed too. And in the midst of her joy, she has not forgotten how this happened. She names her son Samuel, a reminder that this child came from the Lord.
And now the time has come to go back to Shiloh for the annual sacrifice and feast. Finally! Here’s Hannah’s chance to go and not be alone! Here’s her chance to shut Peninnah up, to be vindicated, to have her shame removed, to look upon her rival in triumph. But she decides not to go. Why not?
We see the answer. She has not forgotten her vow. She knows that Samuel does not belong to her. He doesn’t exist to vindicate her own pride. He doesn’t exist to boost her own self-esteem. No, he belongs to God. The next time she returns to Shiloh, it will be to devote Samuel to the Lord forever. Amazingly, Elkanah is supportive. I can’t imagine that they would have been willing to do this if they hadn’t gone through all this. And yet, in God’s strange and wise providence, he brought them through all these sorrows and joys so that they might serve him in this way.
You know, Hannah could have hidden her vow from Elkanah. Nobody heard her prayer and vow to God. Eli thought she was drunk! And now, God had finally given her a son. All her life she had prayed for a son. Could she really be expected to give him up?
And yet, to our astonishment, we don’t get any sense of reluctance from Hannah at all. No, it’s the opposite. She plans to care for Samuel not until he’s a teenager or eight, but until he’s weaned. In that culture, a child would be weaned around the age of two or three.
We might have thought that the whole weaning thing was a delay tactic, but we see in verse 24: “After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was … to the house of the Lord at Shiloh.” In other words, when Samuel is weaned, she doesn’t wait until the next annual family trip. No, as soon as he is weaned, she is resolved to go. She’s not waiting to fulfill her vows. She brings not a three-year-old bull, but literally three bulls with her, and all the other ingredients for the sacrificial feast. In other words, this is a rich sacrifice of thanksgiving. Hannah is not doing this begrudgingly.
And yet those sacrifices pale in comparison with her giving of Samuel. This child that she asked for, this child that the Lord granted, now she gives him to the Lord, devoted for his entire life to the Lord. Elkanah and Hannah would soon go home. Samuel would remain in Shiloh, ministering before the Lord under Eli the priest.
And though at this point, no one could have foreseen it, Samuel would grow up to be a mighty leader, the last judge of Israel, who would usher in the greatest king that Israel has ever known.
What is the point of this story? Is it simply that if we pray hard enough, God will give us whatever we want? No. Hannah’s response clearly shows in the end that Samuel was not the point of her joy. As Hannah reflected on how God answered her prayers, on how God worked this amazing reversal—bringing vindication out of her shame, bringing low those who are proud, acting for the salvation of his servants—she saw in her story a microcosm of how God will act in history to save his people, to save the poor and needy who cry out to him. In other words, this story is pointing us to God.
You can read about all this in chapter 2, in Hannah’s prayer. Why was Hannah able to do what she did? Only because in all that took place, Hannah came to be in awe of the God who loves her and who will bring about her ultimate salvation. In the end, her joy was not in Samuel. Her joy was in the Lord.
My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.
There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God. (1 Sam. 2:2)
No matter who you are this morning, this is the God that you can know for yourself. Because Hannah understood that her experience was only a shadow, pointing forward to a greater salvation that was to come. And this salvation has come, far beyond what Hannah could have imagined.
We are those trapped with no way out in a fallen world. Surrounded by enemies, afflicted by suffering, plagued by our own sinful hearts, we are those who have wandered away from God and are headed for an eternal death and separation from God.
But the amazing news is that God has provided a Son. Not Samuel, not just any son. But he has provided his own Son. Jesus, the Son of God, was given to us. Yes, Hannah devoted Samuel to the priesthood. And yet, God did something far more radical, unthinkable. He devoted his Son to our humanity. More than 2,000 years ago, born miraculously of a virgin, the Lord of Hosts took on our finite, limited, vulnerable, hurting, weeping humanity. Though he was perfect without sin, he was not without our suffering. He lived out the full extent of our troubles, our temptations, our sorrows. All the griefs and sorrows that you carry, he also carried. Though perfect in every way, he was rejected by men, stricken, smitten, afflicted, and, in the end, nailed to a cross. Hannah devoted Samuel to service, but God devoted his Son to a sacrificial death. We are those who deserve God’s judgment, but there on the cross, Jesus bore our death and our judgment and died in our place.
And yet, incredibly, by that perfect sacrifice, Jesus exhausted our sin and exhausted God’s wrath against us, and he proved it by rising from the dead! Three days later, he rose from the dead victorious as the Lord of life. Why did God go through all that? Because he loves you. This is the final Word about God’s love for you. Your troubles are many, and they tempt you to think that God doesn’t care about you. But the truth is that as big as they are, they are small compared to the truth of what God has done for you. The proof of God’s love for you is not in your circumstances. The proof of God’s love for you is in the salvation that he has accomplished through his Son, Jesus Christ. You see what’s happened here? God’s answer to your problems is not simply waving his hand, making it all go away. No, his answer is giving us himself. God did not remain at a distance but has entered into our troubled world to bear our sin, to conquer our death, and to bring life to us forever.
The salvation you need most fundamentally is not a change in your circumstances. It is not just a subjective, inner peace. It is to know God rightly and to be restored to a right relationship with him. It is to know that your sins are forgiven and that you are accepted and loved by God. And this is possible even today if you will abandon your self-righteousness and self-sufficiency and place your trust in God through Jesus Christ. Pray to him. Cry out to him.
For those of us who will do so, know that God will not leave you in your hopelessness. God may never change your circumstances in this life. But he promises to change you. What a dramatic transformation that we see here in Hannah! As someone who saw a glimpse of God’s salvation, she now knows that she has nothing to fear. She now knows that her hope is not herself, in how Elkanah or Peninnah treat her, or in how many children she has but in God. And so, she is able to act in radical obedience.
Particularly for my sisters, seeing the story of Hannah here should make clear to you that your role in God’s redemptive purposes is not a second-class role. No, God has heroic, bold, gospel-fueled, God-glorifying works for you to do. There will be things that you can do to advance God’s purposes that no man here can do, and I don’t just mean bearing children. This has been true throughout church history, through the history of this church. So don’t shrink back. God delights to use you. Like Hannah, proclaim God’s praises wherever he takes you.
And God uses us powerfully when we are devoted to him like this. This applies to all of us. Because in the gospel, God doesn’t just save a part of us. No, he redeems all of us: our minds, our hearts, our bodies, our relationships. Everything has been purchased by God and, therefore, belongs to God. Hannah’s sacrifice made sense because she understood that God had given her everything. So it is with us. In the Old Testament, the Israelites offered animal sacrifices, but now through the gospel, we are living sacrifices. Our entire lives belong to God. Our energy, our resources, our time, our money, our families, our church—it all belongs to God. So devote yourself to him.
I wonder what worldly dreams and treasures you’re needing to let go of this morning? Holding on to these things so tightly has brought you nothing but fear and stress. Loosen your grip. There is a far better way to live.
Letting go of those things will seem like death, but this is part of God’s salvation. God is teaching us to let go of those things which cannot save us and to cling to the One who alone can. As Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” We entrust our lives to the God who has given us his life.
In the midst of all of our troubles, this is the hope that the Christmas season brings.
When Longfellow heard the Christmas bells in 1863, he reflected on the circumstances of his broken world and of all his troubles. And yet, in the midst of that, he recognized a deeper reality: God has not forgotten his people. God has acted to save. There is a hope that is deeper than the brokenness of this world. And so he penned this last verse:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Today, all our troubles mock our hope, but the day will soon come when God will end all our troubles. The Wrong will fail; the Right will prevail. And there will be peace on earth, good-will to men.
Do you know this peace today?
Geoff Chang is an associate pastor at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, OR.