My Sunday morning Bible reading this past week included the first two chapters of I Samuel. Here we read about a woman named Hannah who was despondent over her inability to bear a child. Exactly how long she suffered this plight we do not know, but I Samuel 1:7 indicates that it was over a period of years.
Hannah’s longing for a child was not merely for happiness in the present, giving her something to occupy her days or so she could go to Little League games with the other moms in the neighborhood. It was also about having hope for her future. In Hannah's day, having children was also a woman’s social security. When she became too old to care for herself or should she be widowed, there were no retirement communities with nursing wings available. Her only security was her children. Hannah had none.
Hannah’s biological plight soon became a spiritual one. In her anguish and fear she took the matter to the Lord: “And she, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” (verse 10). But her spiritual journey through this plight ended up leading her to a place that might be quite surprising to us. She pledged to the Lord that if He would give her a son, she would “give him to the Lord all the days of his life.” The very thing she had so long yearned for, she pledged to give back to the Lord. But again there is more: With no reason to expect she would have any more children, she pledged to give her son to the Lord. In other words, she was giving her future into the hands of God.
But there is still something more amazing about this scene. After God granted Hannah her request and she bore a son, Hannah followed through with the vow she made to the Lord! After the crisis was averted, after her torment of soul was assuaged, when Hannah might have been tempted to change her mind and keep her son as a deserved reward for her prior suffering, or to rethink the will of God to surely want her to be happy, Hannah remembered her promise. And when her son was weaned she brought him to the Lord saying, “For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So I have dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.” (1:27-28).
Over the last couple of weeks I have been hearing some stories of how the current crisis we are facing in our country has been drawing people to the Lord. For them the present crisis has become a spiritual one too. In a time of great anxiety they are seeking solace in God. They are falling to their knees in prayer. They are opening their Bibles. They are receptive to the gospel in ways they weren’t before. I am truly heartened by this. The only problem is—I have heard this tune before.
Many of you will remember another national crisis—the tragic events of 9/11. The weeks that ensued were also filled with great fear and anxiety. And in those same weeks church pews were filled to capacity with people seeking the Lord. But soon the storm passed. Eventually life assumed the rhythm of normalcy, and with it the pews were emptied to a level even less than before 9/11.
The problem was basic: Spiritual pursuit absent a heart of repentance will not only go nowhere, but “the last state of the man will become worse than the first.” (Luke 11:26). It’s merely an emotional appeal without true surrender that looks for our anxiety to be assuaged rather than our hearts being humbled before God, resulting in a life that is deepened with devotion to Him. It withholds from God what we want for ourselves rather than give Him what is rightfully His!
What lesson is God teaching you right now in this time of economic and social uncertainty? What inner commitments have you made to God? What changes has this time so far made in your faith? Consider if these penetrate your emotions and have truly become a matter of your heart—a contrite and repentant heart. And when God brings you through this, will you remember it on the other side?
Prayer: “Boast no more so vey proudly, do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and with Him actions are weighed.” (I Samuel 2:3)