Standing on the Rock
The first time I heard Joni Eareckson Tada speak to an audience, her message was unexpectedly powerful. Joni spoke about the faithfulness of God and of the wisdom of trusting Him, no matter what.
But the impact of her message was more potent because her words—which were both personal and profoundly theological—were framed in her long history of paralysis. Pain, suffering and frailty remained in her body, yet she radiated joy and strength.
When Hannah took a very young Samuel to Shiloh and knelt with him in worship before leaving him behind to serve the Lord all the days of his life, the frame around her words was her long history of infertility, suffering and persecution for her faith in God. Her heart, though doubled up with pain at the prospect of parting with Samuel, was nevertheless at peace and overflowed with praise and thanksgiving.
Understand, Hannah lived in a world that was just as uncertain and frightening as the one we know. Righteousness was in decline, and wickedness was on the rise. The nation of Israel was entering a tumultuous phase as God's people transitioned from the judges to the kings.
Moreover, Hannah was being severed from the child she had longed for and loved with every fiber of her being. And, at the end of the day, she would have to go home to Elkanah and Peninnah—the same two people who had broken her heart 100 times before by their words and actions.
Yet Hannah was secure and uncharacteristically confident. Why? She had come to understand that God is on His throne; and the one who trusts in Him, though she is hurting, is standing on a solid rock.
Hannah was under no illusion that because she was God's child, she would be spared the painful side of life. Like the rest of us, she still had to contend with the fact that suffering knocked her off her feet.
By her life and her words, Hannah shows us that the struggles that humble us are important, regardless of the outcome. God uses the hard places of life to make us strong.
"'Those who stumbled are armed with strength,'" Hannah prayed in 1 Samuel 2:4. Hannah was strong because she had stumbled and fallen flat on her face!
Like us, Hannah had moments when she wondered if her faith would last. That's how she discovered that God will "'guard the feet of His saints'" (1 Sam. 2:9).
Hannah realized she wasn't holding onto God so much as He was holding onto her. He was gripping her by the ankles, keeping her from falling over the edge of her spiritual cliff. She could stumble and still be victorious because her strength was in the Lord.
A Mother's Theology
One of the wonderful things about prayer is that God isn't the only one who listens. Prayer is also a way of talking to ourselves.
By giving thanks to God, Hannah reminded herself that God was in control, that He was at work in her pain. She reminded herself that He was holding her tightly, and He was not about to let her go.
Hannah's child was also listening to her prayer. The whole time she was speaking, Samuel was listening to every word.
As a result, Hannah's theology lodged in Samuel's young heart, preparing him for the road ahead. Later, as an adult, Samuel could easily have spoken the words of Sonya Carson's illustrious son: "I not only saw and felt the difference my mother made in my life, I am still living out that difference as a man."
The impact of Hannah's theology didn't stop with Samuel. Hannah arrived on the scene when Israel was spiritually and politically adrift. Her son grew up serving the Lord during a perilous time—through the rise and fall of Eli, King Saul, and King David.
Thankfully, the same theology that helped Hannah through her barrenness guided and fortified Samuel to walk with God during this difficult period. In this way Hannah became a major theological influence and a shaper of the nation's character—all as a result of the theology she learned when the Lord closed her womb. God's purposes were advanced through a mother who trusted God, even as she struggled to understand Him!
Things haven't changed much since Hannah's day. Life remains unpredictable. We still struggle to understand the God who holds our lives in His hands and who, at times, withholds the blessings we crave.
Women—moms, grandmothers, mentors and friends—still pray and contend for the souls of the next generation and still, no doubt, underestimate the enormity of their influence on these young lives.
Hannah is proof that a mother is a force to be reckoned with when she herself is a sword in God's hand. The spirit of Hannah lives on in us when we courageously fight for the lives of those God entrusts to us—and when we point a new generation of kingdom warriors to the God who is worthy of their trust.
Carolyn Custis James is a popular conference speaker and author.
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