Lately I have been thinking about the different ways God answers prayer. Sometimes, He seems to say no because He has something even better. Other times He delays the answer we long for while working deeply in us during the waiting period. I think of Hannah, for example, in 1 Samuel 1, who was deeply distressed because she could not conceive a child. Year after year, she asked God to look upon her aching heart and grant her a son and, in time, He did. But when Samuel is finally born, we see see that Hannah’s deepest joy is not found in the coveted gift, but in a greater love for the Giver Himself.
Scripture draws back the curtain just enough to show us the transformation God was working in His daughter during her years of waiting. We read that after she had weaned her son Samuel, Hannah gave him back to the Lord with this prayer: “For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.”
While Hannah’s sacrifice was great, it seems she was empowered by her deeper knowledge and love for God. Her sacrifice was mitigated by a greater joy which came from knowing that God had chosen her to bear a son who would be a prophet and anointer of kings. For a mom who loves the Lord, “There is no greater joy than to hear your children are walking in the truth” 3 John: 4.
But what about the mother who, having fervently prayed for a child she committed to raise in the fear of the Lord, finds her journey looking far different than Hannah’s did? What if that child is born with a physical or mental disorder that unravels all that mother’s dreams for the life she imagined for him? What if the one she has dedicated to Christ has a greater taste for things of the world than the things of God? How do we respond when our prayers don’t seem to be answered? We must learn to trust God even then.
When my daughter and son-in-law chose Hannah’s prayer as our grandson’s dedication verse they envisioned family devotions that proclaimed the Gospel, days filled with laughter and joy, and a son who loved sports as much as they did. That was their plan. But God had a different plan. Six years, many doctors, and countless prayers later, the diagnosis of a Sensory Processing Disorder has finally brought some helpful insight, but the road ahead still looks long and uncertain.
While we might still have unanswered questions, I know this. God’s purpose for Samuel, His purpose for the child we love, and His purpose for whatever you are facing is the same; to demonstrate His steadfast love and faithfulness, to empower us for the eternal mission He has called us to through the Gospel, to conform us to His Son’s likeness, and to bring glory to His Name.
As the Director of Women’s Ministry in a large church I have the privilege of coming alongside of women, often during times when they are wrestling to make sense of something they never planned or wanted: single women who never expected to remain unmarried; married women who really believed they would live happily ever after; mothers who buried a part of themselves when they buried their child; or women who have been betrayed by someone they trusted.
The Gospel alone breathes life into the death of our dreams lifting us beyond our small self-oriented worlds to a glorious Kingdom that cannot be shaken. The Gospel teaches us that our greatest problem is not at all what we think. As we go through trials and suffering, God comforts us while exposing sin that has the potential to destroy us. In His mercy He sent His Son to bear our sins on the cross so that we might have everlasting joy in His Presence. God’s Word points us to a better hope; that those who trust in Him will not be put to shame and that every loss and heartache will be redeemed for our eternal good and the glory of His name.
Perhaps you are wrestling with disappointment, anger, bitterness, or despair over circumstances that are far from what you envisioned. As John Piper says, “Don’t waste your pain!” Pray that God would reveal where unbelief and idolatry are at work in you and repent where there is conviction. Ask Him to make Himself your chief joy. Meditate on His goodness in the Gospel. Consider how Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension can empower you to trust Him in your hour of darkness so that, when others see your faith, they may be drawn to Him.
Finally, persevere in prayer. Just as God did immeasurably more than Hannah asked or imagined,(Ephesians 3:20) so He will do for all who put their hope in Him.
“And Hannah prayed and said: “There is none holy like the LORD; for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and He exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them He has set the world” 1 Samuel 2: 1, 7-8.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you. I’d love for you to share yours with me!
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