(originally published February 2, 2015)
Have you ever waited a long time to see an important prayer answered?
A child returned to the Lord.
A job offer after being unemployed for six months.
A healing to take place in a body, or perhaps a relationship.
I'm coming out on the other side of a four and half year prayer. I know what it's like, and I'm sure many of you may, to pray month after month. To feel as if your prayers are hitting the ceiling and the room is silent. To cry your heart out, vent to God, and muster up the smallest amount of hope to keep going.
It's what many call long-suffering. The long and patient endurance to an answered prayer.
Hannah was a woman who knew what long-suffering meant, more than most. A true woman of faith and endurance, and one we could all take a page from. She doesn't have a book named after her, or even cover the span of many chapters. We find her briefly, but powerfully, in 1 Samuel 1-2. Hannah was the mother of the great priest Samuel.
Hannah is believed to have been the first wife of a man named Elkanah, and they lived not far from Jerusalem. The Bible says that her womb had been closed, as we know for a divine purpose. But at that time Hannah did not know why she couldn't conceive, and it brought her great anguish. Elkanah took another wife named Peninnah, presumably so that she could give Elkanah children.
I find the first chapter so sad. Peninnah was a proud woman with many children and she is noted in the Bible for her cruelty towards Hannah. We read that Peninnah "provoked" Hannah on a regular basis for the inability to bear children. The literal meaning for "provoke" is "to thunder against." Can you imagine?To thunder against someone must be to come loudly and strongly against someone in a harsh manner. Peninnah came like thunder against the barren Hannah in a home and a husband they shared together.
Take a moment to place yourself in Hannah's shoes. As a woman, many of us are created to give life to others; to bear children and mother them. More than not, we feel this to our very core, but back then, it was the purpose of existence. Hannah was a wife who could not conceive...who could not fulfill her role at that time as a woman. To make matters worse, her husband took another wife. We know her husband loved her deeply, and we can assume that she loved him as well. She had to watch the man that she love marry another woman. To further push the dagger, that woman taunted Hannah everyday for what she already felt so heavy inside of her about her inability to conceive. The grief was so heavy that Hannah could not even eat at times.
I can safely safe that this would have to be one of the hardest experiences a woman could ever go through.
All Hannah wanted was a child. A precious baby to hold in her hands and rock to sleep. A child she could share motherly love with and raise to be a good person, to the delight of her husband.
Every year Hannah would go to multiple feasts with her family to worship God. Every year Hannah cried out to God for a child. At one particular feast Hannah was at the tabernacle, calling out to God to remember her. She had felt alone and forgotten, and with this request pleaded with God to pay special attention to her.
I can relate to Hannah, can you?
Hannah wept bitterly and humbled herself before God, beginning her prayer by identifying herself as a servant. She continued to pray that if God would grant her a cild, she vowed to give that son back to God. While this was happening, the priest Eli was watching her pray, mostly because she was praying so intensely without uttering sounds that Eli thought she was drunk. When confronted by Eli, she shared her prayer for a child, to which Eli said a blessing that God would grant her request.
And Hannah conceived Samuel.
Samuel is one of my all time favorite heroes of the faith. He grew up knowing and loving God; serving in God's house all the days of his life. His walked until his death in faithfulness and commitment to his Lord. Samuel was not easily shaken and did not waver. He truly is a tremendous example for us all.
He came in when the house of Eli fostered corruption in God's house. Eli had allowed his sons to do horrible things at the great displeasure of God. Samuel came on the heels of this scandal to restore faith and purity. He served as priest and judge, essentially bringing leadership to the nation of Israel until the first king was appointed. He's a man worth reading about.
When I think of Samuel, I think of greatness. An ordinary man who did extraordinary things through his commitment to God. A true testament to serving and loving God, and he came from the long-suffering Hannah.
What if Hannah had lost faith and given up? What if one year prior, or perhaps even one day prior, she got so frustrated at God that she counted it hopeless she would ever conceive and stopped praying? We wouldn't have had Samuel! And what a shame that would have been.
Hannah's long-suffering was honored and she did conceive, not just Samuel, but many more children. What's key to note is that she followed through on her vow to God, in giving Samuel to Eli to serve in the house of God. Her commitment to God was honored, and a nation was blessed.
I know what it's like to be years into a long-suffering journey. To pray and pray and pray. To be at the brink of giving up but finding the smallest hope to hold on to. To hit rock bottom but still believe when all was in despair. However, as someone coming out on the other end of that long-suffering journey, I can tell you it was worth it! I can truly stand knowing that the beautiful place I am in now was not my own doing, but is due to the great faithfulness of our God. Because that's the whole jewel in this story...that God is faithful!
You may be finding yourself in a challenging season of praying earnestly for something very good. Perhaps your years into it and right now you feel like you want to give up.
Please don't give up.
Out of the long-suffering of the faithful comes greatness. Stand firm in your faith...humble yourself...keep praying...cry out to God...and watch. Watch for God to show up in beautiful and wonderful ways that will bless you like you've never been blessed before! Allow God to take your patient endurance and produce anything beyond your wildest expectations!