July 1, 2015

Arrogance, assumption, and faith

1 Samuel 1:1–2:21, James 1:1–8, Psalm 119:1–16

Today’s readings start two new books. The first part of the OT story of Hannah and Samuel often make me chuckle. Actually, I need to be careful what I laugh about, for these verse point to human arrogance and assumption, and I can be guilty of both . . .

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:4–8)

First thought (very fleshy): Isn’t this just like a man to think he is sufficient when his wife desperately wants a child? A better thought is that he was trying to encourage her, to help her be thankful for what she did have. He wasn’t good at this, but he tried. Sadly, the problem was not resolved as seen in that little phrase, “it went on year by year.”

Hannah took the situation to God, and it sounds as if she did it year by year as well. “As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 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.” (1 Samuel 1:12–13)

Eli made an assumption. Maybe the only people he ever saw moving their lips like Hannah were drunk. Maybe praying like this was not the habit of most of his congregation. I relate to Hannah in her method. I normally pray aloud in my home. When I go for a walk, praying aloud keeps me focused, but it any onlookers wonder if I am daft, so I usually move only my lips. If any passersby still stare and wonder if I am mentally deranged, that adds to my conviction that most people are prone to presumption.

Those familiar with Hannah’s story know that God answered her prayer and Samuel was born. When we pray to God, He shows up. When in dire circumstances, or deep need, He hears our call. What it means to know our Lord and Savior often is revealed when we are in pain. It is in our deepest trials that God promises answers . . .

“Count it all joy, my brothers (this word includes sisters), when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:2–8)

When I am in trouble, God promises to use it to build steadfast patience, a mark of maturity. He also says when I ask for wisdom, trusting Him, He will give it. That is amazing. Because He affirms this promise, I have stopped caring what people think when they see my lips moving!

Psalm 119 is a favorite psalm because it describes the blessings of those who know the Word of God and do what it says. Hannah is an example. While those two main men in her life seemed out of sync with reality, to their credit they also set their hearts to follow the Lord and of those who do this, God says, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!” (Psalm 119:1–3)

As for me, I can be convicted by the goof-ups of Elkanah and Eli for I sin in the same way. I can also be encouraged by the patient persistence of Hannah. Most of all, their story points to God who cares about every situation in life, and who hears and answers prayer. For that reason, these verses are also my prayer and focus: “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:10–11)

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