Monday, April 11, 2016

Do You Want Peace? Pray Earnestly and Be Prepared to Defend Yourself!





Has an event or person in your life succeeded in robbing you of your peace? Today’s study will show us how praying earnestly, and sometimes defending ourselves, can lead to peace, and blessing!

           
            This week, in our continual quest for peace, we will open the book of Samuel and begin right away in Chapter 1, verse 8. But let me give you a little backstory first to get a better understanding of our star players.
           
            We’re immediately introduced to a mountain dweller named Elkanah who has two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah has born Elkanah children, but Hannah is barren—a deficit that tortures Hannah’s heart and marks her as a pitied woman.
           
            Every year Elkanah journeys north to the secluded city, Shiloh—which can be translated “the peaceful one”—to present his peace sacrifices to the Lord. (Not to be confused with the type of peace we’re studying, and which we’ll get to later.) This is an edible offering, and Elkanah doles out portions for his wives and children to present. But he plays favorites with Hannah by giving her double portions. Why does he do that? The text says he does it because “he loved Hannah” in spite of the fact that “the LORD had closed her womb.”







           Elkanah’s favoritism in all likelihood doesn’t play out well with Peninnah, (who wants to be the wife who isn’t loved, even though in that society she has more value because she’s fertile!?), and she makes Hannah’s life miserable by severely provoking her for her baby-bearing deficit. Peninnah taunts Hannah. (No happy “sister wives” saga in this polygamous household!) Year after year after year, the family packs up and goes to Shiloh, Elkanah doles out the offerings, plays favorites by giving Hannah a double portion, (which everyone witnesses), and Hannah endures ridicule from her husband’s other wife, a woman she has to live with on a daily basis. Ugh! 
           
            (As a footnote here, it is likely that Hannah was Elkanah’s first wife, and he married Peninnah for utility reasons when he discovered Hannah couldn’t bare children.)
           
            Well, all of this upsets Hannah so much that she weeps and refuses to eat. It must have been heartbreaking for her. Weeks before the trip, she must have felt stressed and physically ill at the anticipation of the unrelenting mean treatment she knew she’d receive.  The reminder—in that society—she wasn’t a fulfilled, or valued woman.
           
            And it’s at this point that we enter the action, at verse 8.

            “Then Elkanah her husband said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? Why
            do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than
            ten sons?’

            “So Hannah arose after they had finished eating, and drinking in Shiloh. Now
            Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the
            LORD.  And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in 
            anguish. Then she made a vow and said, ‘O LORD of hosts,  if You will indeed
            look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget
            Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give
            him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.’

            “And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched
            her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice
            was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk, so Eli said to her, ‘How
            long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!’

            “But Hannah answered and said, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful
            spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my
            soul before the LORD. Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for
            out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.’

            “Then Eli answered and said, ‘Go in Shalom, and the God of Israel grant your        
            petition which you have asked of Him.’

            “And she said, ‘Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.’ So the woman        
            went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.”

           
           
            Before we meditate on this passage, let me just interject—because, as a woman, I just can’t help myself—that Elkanah’s response to Hannah is self-absorbed and clueless, and it didn’t do anything to help her or lighten her burden, but that’s a talking point for another post, or sermon!


Want Peace? Really Pour Out Your Heart to God
           
            Old Eli, the high priest and judge in Israel, 
is eyeballing Hannah, thinking she’s a drunk making                

a spectacle of herself in the temple. He’s so upset about            
it that he pads over and chastises her. (Note that he’s 
pretty quick to judge before finding out all of the 
facts!) But Hannah graciously, patiently, and articulately 
defends herself and denies his charges against her.

           
            Eli listens to her pour out her heart and speaks 
a gentle word of peace to her: “Go in Shalom, and the 
God of Israel grant your petition, which you have asked 
of Him.” Eli prays for her and blesses her with a priestly 
blessing.


What’s the Message Here?

           
            What can we learn from this? First, God saw and heard Hannah's troubled soul. Her anguished thoughts and heart pleas were as good as spoken words to Him. It was a sincere, earnest, secret prayer mouthed in a public place, and Hannah was not ashamed to be seen demonstrating her anguish. She did not let pious pride deter her from pouring out her desires and frustrations to the One who could do something about them.
           
            Hannah is first chastised by her husband. Evidently he’s frustrated by her sad countenance, and her refusal to eat and enjoy the peace offering, and the fighting going on in his household, especially during the times when they’re making peace offerings to the LORD and are supposed to be happy and thankful!
           
            Then she makes a vow to the LORD to give her child in service to Him, if he’s a male. She specifically prays for the baby to be a boy and promises to give him up to the LORD’s service forever, if He’ll but grant this request for her. (The “no razor coming upon the head” part denotes that he will be forever marked as a man of God, totally given over to the LORD, like John the Baptist.)
           
            While she’s praying this prayer, Eli the priest watches her, misinterprets her behavior (I’m sure none of the rest of us have ever done that!), and pads over to chew her out for what he is sure is sinful behavior needing correction. But when she defends herself (kudos to Eli for listening and humbling himself about his mistake), Eli changes his heart about her and blesses her.
           
            Hannah’s reaction is significant. Her outpouring in prayer seems to have cleansed her soul. Eli’s words of blessing seem to have quieted and uplifted her heart. Refreshed, relieved and contended, she leaves her petition at the throne of grace, confident that it is in good hands. She seems satisfied that the God of the Universe will do what is right and just.
           
            The happy ending is that Hannah does conceive a boy, whom she dedicates to the Lord. He, Samuel, grows up to be the priest and mighty prophet in Israel during the time of Saul and King David. And Hannah goes on to have five more babies, three sons and two daughters, after receiving another word of blessing from Eli for her sacrificial gift of giving her firstborn son to the Lord’s service.
           
             For years, though, Hannah’s heart lacked Shalom until she prayed fervently, turned her petition over to the LORD, and received a word of blessing from a man of God. (And, she made a promise to God that she kept!)
           

Questions to Ponder

1. Have you ever been so distressed about something that you couldn’t eat and couldn’t contain your tears? Has someone close to you worsened your emotional and spiritual agony by her taunts about it? Has this problem or burden wiped out your peace?

If you find yourself in that situation, employ Hannah’s example. Take your agony to the Lord in prayer. Cry buckets of tears at his feet and speak with your heart. Mouth your words if you can’t speak them aloud. Do not be ashamed of your suffering. If you feel compelled to do so, pour out your heart to God right now. And when you’ve done it, trust the God of the Universe to manage the problem in the best way possible.


2. And don’t be afraid of doing that in a public place, maybe before your congregation, before the church elders. While it is not always the case, perhaps you need to “share” your burden with them so they can see your agony, and understand it. So they can say a prayer for you and a blessing over you. So you can depart in peace.


Is there a situation in your life that needs sharing? Do you have someone with whom you can share it, someone who will listen and pray with you? Find someone. Their worth is as precious as gold! They can help you restore your peace.






3. But when you pray in agony in public, do not be surprised if your behavior or intentions are misunderstood. And be prepared to give a patient, gracious word of self-defense. As Matthew Henry says in his commentary on this passage:
            
           “When we are unjustly censured we should endeavor, not only to clear ourselves, 
           but to satisfy our brethren, by giving them a just and true account of that which 
           they misapprehended.”



Sometimes it is, indeed, helpful and warranted to speak a word of self-defense. But we must be gracious in our speech when we do so. Henry goes on to say:
           
            “By our meek and humble carriage towards those that reproach us because they 
            do not know us, we may perhaps make them our friends, and turn their censures 
            of us into prayers for us.”


Have patience with those who don’t know or understand you. Help them to understand you. Turn their naysaying into a blessing for you, and enlist them as prayer warrior partners. Your gentle word may turn away their wrath.


Is there someone who has misunderstood you that you need to explain yourself to? Do that as soon, and as graciously as possible. And pray that God goes ahead of you to prepare their heart for listening and understanding!

Doing all of these things has the potential to help restore your peace of heart and peace of mind, and add mighty blessings to your life! Hannah ended up being blessed six times over!

And by the way, the name Hannah means “grace.” How appropriate it is that a woman named “Grace” would end up receiving so much of it after suffering for so long…



But now I will ask the tough question: Is there someone in your life for whom you have been a peace-stealer because of your insensitivity toward his plight or because of your chastising words directed at him? Even snide little comments and digs that indicate your displeasure toward them? Ask the Lord to reveal them to you and go to that person to ask forgiveness. Ask them to share their heart and pray for them. Give them a gentle, patient word of blessing. And set a guard over your lips.



Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter! Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!

In Christ’s love and peace,

Andrea

When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

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