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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Help in the Time of Need

9 After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

We pick up Hannah’s story after her husband talked to her about her all consuming sorrow. Although we don’t know if it happened immediately or easily, Hannah eventually responds to her husband’s rebuke with action. Verse 9 suggests that perhaps she finally emerged to participate in the worshipful feast by eating and drinking. More importantly, we do know that she finally poured her sorrowful heart out to God. Rather than remaining introspective or merely walking through the outward motions of participating in the feast, Hannah sought her Loving Father with a sincere and honest heart. In doing so, Hannah was living out Philippians 4:4-7:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Interestingly, this verse commands us to rejoice. Yet, we cannot muster up joy. This task seems particularly impossible sorrowful circumstances. We are simply powerless to obey this command to rejoice in ourselves! However, this section of Scripture does give us the solution to this dilemma. Firstly, we are called to rejoice in the Lord. Our joy is not tied to our circumstances. If we are believers in the good news of the gospel (that our Good and Gracious God loves us and paid the ultimate sacrifice for relationship with us despite our rebellion against Him and redeems us from our sin so that we can enjoy Him forever) there is always reason for thanksgiving and always reason for joy. Secondly, it tells us that the Lord is at hand. He is near to us always. Thirdly, it tells us that we have access to our Lord to receive help. Rather than being anxious, we can pray and present our requests with thanksgiving to God. Finally, this section of Scripture tells us that God is faithful to give us peace that rises above our understanding. This peace defies our circumstances! HE is the one to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus! Although we cannot rationalize our way to joy, it is God Himself can supernaturally fill us with the fruit of His Spirit—love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. He delights to answer our prayers for this.

Luke 11:9-13: 9"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 11"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

We should never underestimate the value of going to Him in our sorrow. I love this illustration from one of my favorite theologians, Dr. Bruce Ware. In a sermon I heard him preach (I couldn’t find the link online unfortunately), Dr. Ware told us to imagine if one of his young daughters was riding her bike in the street in front of his house while he was sitting on the porch watching. He told us to imagine that his daughter fell off of her bike, scraped her knee, and started crying. Seeking comfort from her pain, the daughter immediately runs past her loving, concerned, father who is right in front of her, and instead runs over to the neighbor mowing his lawn. This would grieve a father who wants to comfort and protect his daughter in a way that only a father can. In a similar way, God wants us to go to Him with our sorrows! Unlike an earthly father, our Heavenly Father created us, knows us completely, loves us perfectly, designed us to need Him and to be fulfilled in Him alone, has the answer to every problem we face, and can do all things. He is the only One who can help us in the way that we need!

Getting back to Hannah…. she doesn’t try to clean herself up before going to the Lord. She doesn’t pretend to have things “together”. Instead, she is honest before her Loving Father and she pours out her heart to Him. She respectfully and humbly presents her request before God with faith in God’s ability to do anything He pleases.

Additionally, Hannah makes herself vulnerable and receives help from God’s people. We are told that she was so focused on her conversation with God, that Eli the priest mistook her intensity for drunkenness. Rather than getting indignant, proud, or rude because Eli misunderstood her situation, Hannah responded graciously in humility. Rather than shrinking back from community when she was misunderstood and wrongly rebuked, Hannah patiently explained her situation to Eli, which enabled him to join her in her prayer for a child. This is not an easy response. How many times do I shrink back when I hear an insensitive or misunderstanding comment about my infertility! However, I can also testify to the great blessing it is to allow myself to be real and honest with Christian brothers and sisters who can in turn encourage and pray for me!

After pouring her heart out to the Lord and confiding in a Christian brother who joined her in prayer, Hannah experienced peace. She was able to eat and her face was no longer sad. She did not have the child for which her heart longed, but she did have peace that surpassed all understanding because she finally laid out her heart to the Lord and He was faithful to give her peace.

Isaiah 53 calls Jesus “a man of sorrows”. Jesus responded to sorrow perfectly, and His life serves as our perfect model. He suffered greatly, and His time in the Garden of Gethsemane tells us that He took His sorrows to the Father! We are told in Luke 22:44 that “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly”. He did not make demands of God to change His circumstances. He humbly asked for relief, but He sought, asked for, and ultimately desired that only the Father’s will to be done. Jesus loves the Father and therefore desired to obey the Father more than He desired relief from His circumstances. He was ready to accept what the Father would give, even if it would break His heart. He sought strength and power from the Father through the Spirit to endure the Father’s will. He had faith in His Father’s character and purposes. He anticipated the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross”). He was not immobilized by His pain, but rather moved forward in loving sacrificial service to others in the ultimate form. Because of this heart, the Father “highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10-11)

While I cannot do these things in my own strength, I can follow Jesus’ example in going to the throne of grace (through prayer and the Word) to receive the help I need! I can honestly say that every time I have earnestly poured my heart out to God, He has been faithful to meet me as I sought Him--through my study of His word, through the Body of Christ, through circumstances, or through a song, a sermon, a book, etc.

Hebrews 4:14-16 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for your faithfulness! Thank you that we have access to you through Jesus! Thank you that you give us your Spirit to guide and empower and equip us to live as you would have us to live. Thank you, Jesus, for your perfect example to us! Help us to follow that example by your Spirit, as we are powerless to do so without you! Thank you that you do not leave us as slaves to our sin or even to our emotions or circumstances. We believe your promises and truth about this. We come to you with our sorrow. We cry out to you for help, comfort, and peace. Protect us from sinning against you and against others. Reveal our sin to us and grant us repentance. Fill us with the power to endure patiently and lovingly. Give us joy in you despite our circumstances! Remind us of your faithfulness always. We are so grateful to you for the gospel! Help us to come around each other as the Body of Christ to give and receive love in sorrow. We also pray that you would grant our requests for our deferred hopes—whether that would be children, a spouse, a job, the salvation of a loved one, or whatever godly longing is in our heart. You are the giver of all good gifts. You are our Great Provider. All things are possible for you. Yet, we pray that your will would be done because we love and trust you, our Great Father. Please meet us in our time of need. In Jesus Name, Amen

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