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Sunday, October 30, 2016

From the Ash Heap

I love this line:

“Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.”

Hannah, who would become Samuel’s mother, is deeply grieved that she is unable to conceive. She has gone up with her husband to the house of God in Shiloh, and she has prayed for a son, vowing that if her prayer is answered, she will raise him as a Nazirite and give him wholly to the service of God. Then she gets up, relieved of her distress, and goes her way — not yet having received an answer to her prayer.

Seems a bit counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

Small Dark Roast … Black, Please

Not to me. I’m pretty sure the act of taking our cares to the Lord and laying them out in his presence is more important than whether or not we eventually get what we are asking for.

Evidently Hannah did too. She had nothing to indicate that she would receive a favorable answer to her request beyond the fond wish of a retired priest: “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him”.

Thanks, pal. Nice thought. That and $1.50 will get me a small Tim Horton’s coffee. This week anyway.

No Miracle, No Voice, No Promise

Hannah had no solid evidence she would receive a “yes” from God. She saw no miracle. She heard no voice. She received no promise. But she clearly felt better.

Looking at her story, the agnostic might suggest Hannah was just superstitious, and that she stopped being sad because, like any member of a primitive society, she was swayed by the aura of a holy man. She figured the priest knew what he was talking about. Then by lucky coincidence, perhaps, she managed to become pregnant right after making her vow, and thereafter attributed it to God.

A plausible theory from an unbeliever’s perspective.

The Prayer Panic Button

The Christian, however, knows why Hannah went her way and ate, and why her sadness lifted. Most of us have, at one time or another, come to the Lord in melancholy, deep grief, overwhelming concern, fear or even blind panic. I sure have. It is in the act of laying before God the reason for our condition that we are reminded to whom we are speaking:
“He regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.”

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

“This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
Did Hannah have this sort of God? I think she did.

World’s Worst Mom?

After all, what woman in the world could agonize for years over having a child and finally receive the answer to her prayers — and then, right after he was weaned, take that beloved child and hand him over to be raised by priests and to serve God for the rest of his life, far from home, family and especially his mother? What sort of mother would be content to see her firstborn son once a year?

Only a mom who had full confidence of the character of the God into whose care she entrusted her son. If Hannah had the slightest doubt that God regards, knows, hears and responds to the needs of his children, she could never have brought Samuel back to Shiloh and handed him over.

Up from the Dust

But we know she did, because she prayed this prayer of thanks. She also very likely taught it to her son; and Samuel, if the Talmud is correct, wrote it down for our benefit:
“He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful ones.”
If we really understand the character of the One to whom we are praying, then whether or not we receive exactly what we have asked for is irrelevant.

Good / Acceptable / Perfect

Sometimes we receive what we have asked for, sometimes we don’t. That’s part of the process of learning to pray “according to his will”. Because that will, we are assured, is “good and acceptable and perfect”. If God doesn’t want something for you, trust me, you don’t want it either.

Even when you really, really think you do.

I have a feeling that on some level Hannah grasped that truth long before she received the answer to her prayer.

If she hadn’t, she’d have walked away from Shiloh with the same sad face as when she walked in.

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