There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not. Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children. So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat. 1 Samuel 1:1-2 (NLT)
I think it’s safe to say that Hannah had problems right? To be honest I think Elkanah had a problem or two of his own with those two wives but that’s another conversation.
Hannah had problems. She was childless, which in her culture was a big problem to have because children were a sign of God’s blessings toward you. She also had a rival who continually reminded her of everything she didn’t have. She was taunted, provoked and reduced to tears. And just to rub it in, in our very introduction to Hannah, she is defined by her problems. She was not defined by what she had or could do, or by the kind of person she was. She was defined by what she didn’t have and couldn’t do – she was defined by her lack.
Have you ever had a problem? A taunting, provoking problem?
I think we would all agree that on a daily basis we face problems. Rich or poor, good looking or not, short or tall, single or married, qualified or unqualified, employed or unemployed. None of us can escape problems. Even the person who causes you problems has problems. The person who you look at and think “I’d love their life”, guess what? They have problems too. Everybody has problems.
The question I want to ask today is, where do we go with our problems?
What I love in our story is that Elkanah built a particular habit into his family’s way of life. He was the habit of going to Shiloh a certain number of times a year. Shiloh means “place of rest”. Elkanah built such a habit in his family that in Hannah’s time of striving, pain, conflict and turmoil she had somewhere to go – she had somewhere to take her pain, her problems, her turmoil and her brokenness and receive rest and peace.
It is so important that we build the right habits into our lives. Because when our problems threaten us, taunt us and provoke us we will have somewhere to go and take our problems. What habits are you building now that will be your place of peace in the midst of your problems?
Are you building a habit in the Word? Are you building a habit of prayer? Are you building a habit of worship? Are you building a habit of getting to church – even when you don’t feel like it? Are you building a habit of offering? Giving? Sacrifice? Elkanah built a habit.
So what did Hannah do with her problem?
Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle. Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.” 1 Samuel 1: 9-11 (NLT)
1. Hannah gave her problem purpose.
In fact, Hannah turned her problem into her purpose. Hannah came to God saying, “Lord – I have a problem but I don’t want it to simply remain a problem, I want purpose to be born out of this problem”. From a position of brokenness and desperation Hannah was determined to give birth to purpose in a way that would glorify God!
Your problem serves a purpose.
Often when we have a problem we try and pray it away and we try and get God to take it away instead of realising that perhaps there is a greater purpose at work amidst the problem. Perhaps through the problem God might be trying to produce something in you that would, in time, give glory to him.
What is God trying to birth in you through the problem? What character is he trying to build? What story does he want you to tell? What does he want to teach you about himself?
“Give me a son, and I will give him back to you”. I have a problem, but may it have purpose.
2. Hannah took her problem into the presence.
While she continued praying in the Lord’s presence… 1 Samuel 1: 12 (CSB)
Let’s be honest, we love to talk about our problems right? We talk to our friends, our husbands or partner, our work colleague. We talk to the pastor, the doctor, the naturopath and the receptionist. We talk to our neighbour, the dog, we even tell the Uber driver about the problem but we fail to go to the one who can actually bring peace, rest, purpose and promise to our problem.
We too often take our problems to enablers – because it feels good to have our problems confirmed and justified.
We go to the enablers instead of going to the God who is able.
Hannah didn’t lash back at Peninnah and she didn’t whine to Elkanah. She took her problem and she went into the presence of God and she prayed.
Steven Furtick: “The presence of God will not fix your problems but it will clarify your perspective”.
While she continued praying in the Lord’s presence, Eli watched her mouth. Hannah was praying silently, and though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to be drunk? Get rid of your wine!” “No, my lord,” Hannah replied. “I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the Lord. Don’t think of me as a wicked woman; I’ve been praying from the depth of my anguish and resentment.” Eli responded, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request you’ve made of him.” “May your servant find favor with you,” she replied. Then Hannah went on her way; she ate and no longer looked despondent. The next morning Elkanah and Hannah got up early to worship before the Lord. Afterward, they returned home to Ramah. Then Elkanah was intimate with his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. After some time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, because she said, “I requested him from the Lord.” 1 Samuel 1:12-20 (CSB)
I love that Samuel’s name means “Asked of God”. Designed to continually act as a reminder of God’s favour to her in answering her prayers. Upon every mention of his name – it gives God the glory!
The story goes on to tell us that Hannah waited until Samuel was weaned from her (we can’t be sure at what age but commentaries place him to be at about pre-school age somewhere between two and five). She then takes Samuel back to the place of her desperation and she dedicates him back to the Lord. She gave him back!
“Please, my lord,” she said, “as surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this boy, and since the Lord gave me what I asked him for, I now give the boy to the Lord. For as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” Then he worshiped the Lord there. 1 Samuel 1:26 – 28 (CSB)
It’s one thing to have faith and believe for an answer and receive it. It is another thing to receive what you have been believing for and then let it go again, giving it back to God.
Luke Brough: “The true test of faith is not in the praying, believing and receiving of what you are asking for. The true test of faith is, can you give it back to God?”
You might be asking for a job, but are you willing to tithe? You might be asking for a home, but would you be willing to make a commitment to build God’s house? You might be asking for purpose but will you go wherever God sends you?
So often we make promises in our desperation that we forget about once we have our answer. The question is, when God delivers on his side of the bargain can we honour our commitment? Can we give it all back to God and still have faith and believe that God is good?
The beautiful part about this story is that we know from 1 Samuel 2:21 that God gave Hannah five more children after Samuel. Because you can’t out-give the God of Heaven’s Armies.
Now, go out there and live like you believe it.