When Things Don’t Go Your Way
Most if not all of us know what it is like to wake up with the thought that life isn’t anywhere near what we would like it to be. Perhaps you felt like that when you woke up today. Physically, emotionally, relationally, financially, and even spiritually, we may be facing especially difficult days, and as a result, we’re tempted to become disillusioned. What are we to do?
One helpful place to start is by asking God for His protection from three powerful sources of spiritual trouble: the “silent killers” of bitterness, resentment, and self-pity. These three will slowly strangle our faith and spill over into envy and malice toward those who have what we so want. So in the situations we face, perhaps known only to us and to God, we need His help in responding with soft hearts instead of harsh spirits.
In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul encouraged—in fact commanded—them to put away all bitterness, wrath, and anger. While it’s easier said than done, Paul’s command itself is that straightforward. In fact, there’s never a command in the word of God that we cannot obey, no matter how difficult it seems, for God always empowers what He commands. So if He says, Get rid of something, you and I can be certain that He can apply the power of the Spirit within our lives to enable us to do what He’s commanded. When we live with bitterness, resentment, or self-pity filling our hearts, then we have only ourselves to blame. Much as I may want to, I can’t put the responsibility on God.
One individual who could have argued that her circumstances legitimized these three poisonous feelings is Hannah, whose story we read of at the beginning of 1 Samuel. She must have battled each one as another month passed by without her falling pregnant, and as another day brought the taunts of her husband’s other wife and the sight of the children God had given to that woman. But she took her frustrations and sadness and she did something good with them: she prayed. She poured her heart out to God. And, knowing she was heard, she walked away at peace. Although at that point her body remained infertile and her circumstances remained unchanged, her spirit had been freed by her heavenly Father.
God protected Hannah from the silent killers of bitterness, resentment, and self-pity—and He will protect us too. You don’t need to stay awake at night, then, trying to ensure that your life works out how you want it to. And you don’t need to be dominated by that sinking feeling upon awakening to another day of unwanted circumstances. Rather, you can use those moments to learn the value of leaving your heart’s questions and the situations you don’t understand in God’s care—which, after all, is exactly where they belong.
The Birth of Samuel
1There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. 4On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.1 6And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7So 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. 8And 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?”
9After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
12As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” 17Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
19They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”2
Samuel Given to the Lord
21The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. 22But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.” 23Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. 24And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull,3 an ephah4 of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. 25Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”
And he worshiped the Lord there.
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